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Slimming Pills : Separating the Fact from the Fiction
This week I’m tackling the subject of slimming pills and revealing the truth behind the sensational claims. From fat-burners and metabolism boosters to appetite suppressants and carbohydrate blockers, the highly lucrative slimming pill market proposes the enticing prospect of obtaining maximum results with minimum effort. However, are the claims justified, or are we just simply throwing our money down the drain?
Slimming Pills : The Different Types Explained
Fat Binders and Blockers
The claims vary from blocking cellular enzymes that take up fat to helping us reduce the amount of fat our body absorbs from the food we eat. However, there is one major flaw: the whole premise of these pills is based on the mistaken assumption that eating fat makes us fat, and, as you would have read in my previous blog (see http://www.evolve-nutrition.co.uk/2/post/2013/07/newsletter-2-healthy-fats.html), this is simply not the case. Fat is an essential nutrient critical for normal body function, and eating the right kinds of fat is actually conducive to weight loss. Thus, starving the body of nutritious fats is counterproductive to health, wellness and weight management. Unfortunately, the marketing message behind these fat-binding and fat-blocking pills perpetuates the myth that dietary fat makes us gain body fat, and encourages us to opt for low fat foods which are packed full of refined carbohydrate (i.e. sugar), which is by far the major culprit in weight gain and obesity. A further downside of these pills is that they speed up the transit of fat through the intestines in order to minimise its digestion, and, as a result, can promote diarrhoea and discomfort, and so their sustained use is just not practical.
Carbohydrate (Starch) Blockers
These pills purport to inhibit the uptake of carbohydrates from our digestive tract into our bloodstream by blocking the action of the starch-digesting enzyme amylase; as a result, the carbohydrate foods are claimed to pass through our intestinal canal undigested, and are excreted in our stools, thus sparing us the calories. Whether or not this is true, and this remains contentious, there are a number of shortcomings. Once the carbohydrate enters our colon nearing the end of its journey through our intestines, our large population of resident colonic bacteria cause it to ferment producing undesirable symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhoea, a far from desirable side-effect which presents compliance issues, and with no quality trials to confirm the effectiveness of these pills, such discomfort seems unnecessary. More importantly, despite the alleged no-show of the ingested carbohydrate in our bloodstream, our bodies nonetheless detect the ingestion of the carbohydrate food, which generates the release of insulin (the hormone which regulates carbohydrate metabolism) into our blood system. Failure of insulin to then locate carbohydrate in the blood has the potential to mess up our insulin pathway and promote insulin resistance, which is the major predetermining factor in Type II diabetes which predisposes to weight gain!
Professing to speed up our body’s metabolism by making us burn more energy, these aids are touted as the answer to all our weight loss questions. However, caution should be exercised. Many metabolism booster pills work by speeding up our heart rate placing undue pressure on the central nervous system, which can produce unwelcome side effects, such as heart palpitations, excessive sweating, nervousness and tremor, and should therefore only be taken under medical supervision.
In reality, the most effective physiological way to boost metabolism is to become more active and increase lean body mass. Lean body tissue has greater energy demands than fat tissue, and therefore burns more calories. Exercise is the key to building lean body mass – take up weight training or weight-bearing exercise and keep on the move!
These pills profess to make us feel fuller for longer helping us to control the amount of food we eat in and between meals. They purportedly work by increasing the release of the body’s hormones that regulate satiety and hunger. However, as someone who used to struggle with their weight, the mere concept that hunger controlled my eating habits is ridiculous! I very rarely used to eat when hungry, but more when bored, upset, or in response to food cravings and addictions. Indeed, the vast majority of people who struggle with their weight have actually lost the mechanism to feel hunger and fullness, and eat for any other reason but hunger! In this context, appetite suppressants are plainly ineffectual.
There is no magic pill for weight loss. Slimming pills lull us into a false sense of security in which we believe they will do all the hard work for us, and we don’t need to do anything. Since there is little scientific evidence to support their efficacy, and they have the worrying potential to mess up our metabolism causing yet greater health problems, my advice is to avoid them. In reality, weight loss is about tackling the underlying mechanisms of weight gain, as well as about changing poor dietary and lifestyle habits and embracing new healthier ones, and no pill can make that happen!
Note: It is essential that you talk to your GP before making any changes to your prescribed medication.
Juliet Schaffer from Evolve Nutrition is a fully qualified and accredited Nutritional Therapist with a degree in Nutritional Medicine. If you are seeking nutritional advice regarding a specific health concern, or would like guidance for achieving and maintaining a health-promoting diet, take the option of a free 20 minute telephone consultation to see how professional nutritional advice can benefit you. Check out Evolve Nutrition’s website at
www.evolve-nutrition.co.uk for contact details or phone 01279 726640 to book a free initial telephone consultation.
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition