Lose weight with pills? Not so fast, not so easy.

March 07, 2006|By KYLE LEFLER

The pressure is everywhere - in magazine ads, on your favorite television show and in your favorite store. Thin is in.

Everywhere you look, super thin models and celebrities are getting all kinds of attention. It is easy to associate being thin with getting attention. A recent poll of 11,631 high school students conducted by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 43 percent of girls surveyed were on a diet. The most popular methods of dieting used by these girls were skipping meals; making themselves throw up after eating; and using diet pills.

Someone who is uneducated about these pills might assume that, just by popping pills, you can lose weight. But it's not that simple. Healthful weight loss comes when you gain muscle and naturally burn fat through physical activity and a balanced diet.

Side effects

Diet pills come in one main form. According to, a Web site featuring weight-loss news and advice, most prescription diet pills help a person lose weight by suppressing the appetite. However, as you eat less, your metabolism slows and so the weight loss slows as well.


Before you use any diet pills, you should be aware of the most common side effects. An article on entitled "The Skinny on Diet Pills" by Christy Brownlee reports that the side effects can include dizziness, depression, high blood pressure, heart palpitations (irregular beats), blurred vision, headaches, insomnia and anxiety.

You should also talk to your doctor before you use the pills because they could interfere with a medical condition that you already have.

Some pills not OK for girls

A more serious side effect comes from pills containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that pills containing PPA be labeled "for use by people 18 years of age or older." However, these pills are sold over the counter, so anyone could potentially use them.

The PPA in the pills can possibly increase the likelihood of bleeding on the brain, which can cause stroke. This bleeding was most often noticed among young women, according to the FDA's Web site,

Michael Weintraub, director of the FDA's Office of Drug Evaluation, released a statement saying, "PPA diet pills are not recommended for use by teenagers also because they are still growing and if they suppress their appetite, they may not get proper nutrition. This is especially true for teenagers who don't need to lose weight but think they do."

Pills popular with jocks

There is one group of teens that is typically very concerned about weight - athletes. Runners do not want to carry a lot of extra weight, nor do wrestlers.

Long-time physical education teacher Dotty Piccolomini of Boonsboro High School doesn't recommend the use of diet pills to any student.

"Athletes in particular are putting a greater demand on their bodies than the average student to start with," she says. "Keeping in mind that these young people are still in the growing years, the damage that may result from the intake of diet pills could be life-altering."

Athletes should maintain a healthy weight that allows them to compete, without taking a negative toll on their bodies, she said.

Sometimes helpful

Nurse practitioner Tracy Galloway of South Mountain Women's Health Center in Boonsboro has been trained in lifestyle education, and she often advises people on weight loss. She thinks diet pills can be a useful tool to lose weight for some people.

"I don't think they are safe for everyone," she said. "You should always have a full physical and talk to your doctor before you use them. I don't like to prescribe them to teens because of the dependence issue."

Like any medication, one can become dependent on diet pills. According to, stimulant-based diet pills can be habit-forming and are easily abused.

Best plan: Change habits

Galloway recommends a lifestyle change to her patients instead of the use of pills or supplements. She encourages a change in eating habits as well as the introduction of exercise.

"I recommend no fast food or sodas," says Galloway, "(but people should) exercise - a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour every day."

Joining a support group can also help people lose weight. Galloway mentioned one local group - Overeaters Anonymous. Robinwood Medical Center also provides dietary counseling for those trying to lose weight.

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