NEDA Awareness Week, Day 2: A look at some weight-loss supplements

In the developed world, we are a poisoned, and oft contradicting, society. Most of the commercials on television today consist of ads for an upcoming reality show, a new foodstuff, or weight loss methods. Women and men are barraged with images of what they should look like – an often unattainable likeness.

One evening I was watching television. There was a commercial for Shipping Wars, where they replaced the heavier-set older couple with a “hot-shot” couple – a rail-thin girl with sex appeal and her boyfriend that they probably found on the set of the Jersey Shore. The very next set of commercials? Advertisements for the Olive Garden, Papa John’s, Dominos, and IHOP. One of the most disturbing commercials I’ve seen is for a breakfast sandwich advertised as under 100 calories. The sandwich is presented to a group of women, who giggle shyly and turn down the offer, citing as the reason: “I didn’t work out today.” The person presenting the sandwich informs the ladies it’s quite alright as the sandwich is low in calories – but offers no other nutritional information.

For Day 2 of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’re going to take a look at two different types of weight loss pills: over-the-counter and prescription.

Over-the-Counter Weight Loss Pills

 1. SENSA: These days it seems you can’t get through any newspapers, magazines, or other such periodicals without an ad for SENSA. I was reading one newspaper, and adjacent to an article concerning a recent school shooting in California, was an ad for SENSA. “Shake Yourself Skinny!” the ad reads next to a smiling hour-glassed “after” photo of Audrey, who lost “50 lbs in 16 months.*” The asterisk? It’s for the tiny, barely readable text at the end of the ad that reads: “SENSA advocates a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and portion control. Studies show average weight loss of 30.5 lbs in 6 months. Audrey used SENSA for 16 months.”

         So, what is SENSA made of? Aside from some inactive preservatives and flavorings [FD&C Yellow 5, Carmine and soy/milk], the active ingredients in SENSA are: [maltodextrin (derived from corn starch it acts as a preservative in many candies), tribasic calcium phosphate (an important raw material for the production of certain fertilizers), silicon dioxide (primarily used in the production of glass)] – none of these substances are particularly shown to be harmful to humans in small doses, in fact, a recent study extrapolated data over 15 years showing that silica may actually decrease instances of dementia.

         But whether its harmful or not isn’t the point. It’s merely principle. SENSA is expensive. $59.00 gets you two 0.7 oz vials of crystalline flakes. – a one month supply of SENSA. Since consistency is key, SENSA recommends using it at every meal, every day. In a year, you’d cough up an estimated $720.

         Sprinkling SENSA on your food just plays into a society where healthy eating is not encouraged. There is no emphasis on exercise. Most importantly, it doesn’t even touch the issue of eating disorders and weight issues – so emotional eaters will continue suffer or it may get worse. The only potential upside I can see is that it may help anorexics eat, if you can stomach trickery. 

Bottomline: SENSA contains no harmful hidden ingredients, the ingredients it does contain aren’t necessarily harmful in small doses (unless you have an allergy to any of them), and it may help anorexics be more comfortable with eating. On the other hand, it’s expensive and it doesn’t emphasis healthier living.

2. Ephedrine: Also known as chinese mahuang, Ephedrine is available in pill or leaf form. It has been used for centuries by various cultures in a careful, responsible, and respectful way as a treatment for asthma. In terms of weight loss, however, the recommended safe amount does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier. This results in a highly agitated peripheral nervous system that cannot suppress appetite.

         Labeling a substance as “herbal” makes it sound deceptively safe, however, herbal drugs are not subject to FDA regulations, so there is no guarantee of safety or product identity. There is no reliable guide therefore, the user may take dangerous amounts in an attempt to establish an effective dose.

         Ephedrine is sometimes hailed as herbal x-tacy because it is known to increase blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, suppress appetite, and produce a sense of heightened energy and alertness. It has also been clinically proven dangerous if taken in conjunction with MAOIs, and fatal increases in blood pressure and heart rate have been seen when used with caffeine. Side effects typical of Ephedrine include cardiovascular problems: jitteriness, anxiety, tweeking, heart attack and stroke, death, chest pain, seizures, insomnia, and acne – sometimes at just 2-3 times the recommended dose.

         The risks involved are greater than the benefits – users typically experience a loss of usually ten pounds in 6 months without diet and exercise.

Bottomline: The effects on the cardiovascular system is much stronger than its effects on weight loss and appetite suppressant. It might increase metabolism a little but in a negligible way.

Prescription Weight Loss Pills

  1. Qsymia (formerly known as Qnexa): Side effects include a fast heart rate and metabolic acidosis – a dangerous medical condition evidenced by highly acidic blood. Meant to replace the now banned “fen-phen” diet cocktail [Fen-phen/fenfluramine and phentermine], this weight loss drug will only be available through mail order. One of the two drugs in Qsymia has been shown to damage the heart in some cases and in others caused pulmonary hypertension, where fluid builds up in the chest, bringing on a feeling of breathlessness.

Bottomline: Qsymia costs average $160 for a month’s supply. Qsymia does carry some serious side effects and weight loss is dependent on appetite suppressing.


2. Rimonabant (generic for Acomplia): Works by aiding in a reduction in appetite by acting on CB1 receptors in the brain. These receptors regulate food intake and the body’s ability to break down sugars and fats in the blood. The U.S. FDA had voted not to recommend the drug’s approval in the United States, however, due to frequent reports of severe depression and suicidal ideation in users. After recommendations from the European Medicines Agency in 2008, the drug’s production was suspended in Europe. In 2011, the BBC reported that at least one person in Britain taking the drug committed suicide and there have been nearly 1,300 reports of other psychiatric side effect. 

Bottomline: Depression and suicidal tendencies are approximately twice as frequent with rimonabant as with  a placebo. With only a 10% decrease in body weight while taking Rimonabant you’d get more out of traditional exercise and eating healthier – all without the nasty side effects.

There’s no magic pill. Really. Instead of destroying your body, you should be improving your body image. If you don’t want to work to change, then don’t complain. It took years to put that weight on – it won’t shed overnight. Learn to love yourself for who you are instead of punishing your body and getting yourself down. There’s a reason why the FDA either does not endorse weight loss diets or completely rejects them and pulls them off the market: many weight-loss pills and herbal supplements have been clinically proven to produce side-effects and risks outweighing the benefits. And most weight loss pills are simply appetite suppressors. Many people are misguided into believing a weight loss pill will slough off or dissolve fat. It’s just simply not true.


Bottomline: To effectively and safely lose a healthy amount of weight, modify your lifestyle, get active and eat food that is natural and nutritious. A typical healthy daily calorie intake for women is 1400 to 1600; for males 1600 to 1800.

 Love you for you. Consider weight loss for health reasons not perception. 

3 thoughts on “NEDA Awareness Week, Day 2: A look at some weight-loss supplements

  1. Just wanted to tell ya that ur article’s pretty astounding. u write with such clarity that i can only assume u are a professional regarding mental illnesses.

  2. One amazing blog! May I share an important tip regarding weight loss: A pedometer is a great investment when you are planning on walking or running. A pedometer keeps an accurate count of the number of steps you take per day. This can help make sure you are walking enough throughout the day. Taking an average of ten thousands steps a day is good. If you often come up short, add a nightly walk to your schedule.

  3. I really have to keep myself engaged to not think about food. So my recommendation is, in the event that you’re possibly a binge eater when not busy and also unhappy, Get involved your self in some kind of exercise which will keep your mind off everything that bothers you and food!

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