Obesity (Weight Loss) (cont.)
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Obesity facts
- What is obesity?
- How common is obesity?
- What are the health risks associated with obesity?
- What causes obesity?
- What are other factors associated with obesity?
- How is body fat measured?
- What about weight-for-height tables?
- What is the body mass index (BMI)?
- Does it matter where body fat is located? (Is it worse to be an "apple" or a "pear"?)
- What can be done about obesity?
- What is the role of physical activity and exercise in obesity?
- What is the role of diet in the treatment of obesity?
- What is the role of medication in the treatment of obesity?
- What about herbal fen/phen?
- What about meal substitutes, artificial sweeteners, and over-the-counter (OTC) products?
- What is the role of surgery in the treatment of obesity?
- How can patients choose a safe and successful weight-loss program?
- Metabolism FAQs
- Find a local Internist in your town
What about herbal fen/phen?
Since the withdrawal of fen/phen from the market, "herbal fen/phen" has been proposed as an alternative in treating obesity. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning that "herbal fen/phen" has not been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for obesity and may contain ingredients that have been associated with injuries.
The main ingredients in most herbal fen/phen products are ephedrine and St. John's wort. Ephedrine acts like amphetamines in stimulating the central nervous system and the heart. Ephedrine promotes weight loss in part by an increase the body's temperature, and when this happens, the body burns more calories. Ephedrine use has been associated with high blood pressure, heart-rhythm irregularities, strokes, insomnia, seizures tremors, and nervousness. There have been reports of deaths in young individuals taking ephedrine. St. John's wort has been used in Europe to treat mild depression but not obesity. The action, effectiveness, and side effects of St. John's wort either alone or in combination with other agents have not been adequately studied.
What about meal substitutes, artificial sweeteners, and over-the-counter (OTC) products?
When used as substitutes for regular meals, meal substitutes are a convenient way to reduce calories as part of a low-calorie diet plan. A typical meal substitute available in powder and liquid form is Slim-Fast. Ensure is another meal substitute available in both liquid and bars. Meal substitutes should provide protein and be low in fat and calories. The label should include the amount of calories per serving and the percentages of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The total number of calories per serving is predetermined so it is easier to keep track of the daily consumption of calories. As with all dramatic changes in your diet, you should consult your health-care provider to make sure that these changes will not have negative consequences.
Saccharin (Sweet'N Low) and aspartame (Equal) are sugar substitutes that provide little or no calories. They may be used as a substitute for table sugar. Using saccharin instead of a teaspoonful of sugar eliminates 33 calories from the diet. People with phenylketonuria (a serious genetic disease in which an individual is unable to break down and eliminate an amino acid, phenylalanine) should not use aspartame because it contains phenylalanine.
Fructose, sorbitol, and xylitol may be used as alternatives to sugar, but they provide more calories than saccharin and aspartame. Excessive use of sorbitol also may cause diarrhea.
OTC weight-loss products
Despite claims by manufacturers, the use of OTC products alone does not cause weight loss. Herbal weight-loss products or preparations called "fat burners" are even more misleading. These products may contain a combination of ma huang (a botanical source of ephedrine), white willow (a source of salicin), Hoodia gordonii, and/or guarana or kola nut (a source of caffeine). These agents are stimulants, which theoretically increase the metabolism and help the body break down fat. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that they are effective for weight loss. In addition, ma huang has been linked to serious side effects such as heart attacks, seizures, and death. Chromium also is a popular ingredient in weight-loss products, but there is no evidence that chromium has any effect on weight loss.
Weight-loss teas contain strong botanical laxatives (Senna, cascara sagrada) and diuretics (Rhamnus purshiana) that cause diarrhea and loss of water from the body. Diarrhea and water loss lead to the depletion of sodium and potassium and can lead to dehydration. Although an individual's weight may decrease, the loss is due to a decrease in fluid and is only temporary. Moreover, low sodium and potassium levels may cause abnormal heart rhythms and can even lead to death.
Guar gum preparations have also been promoted as a weight-loss agent. Guar gum is thought to work by leading to a feeling of fullness early in the meal. It has not been scientifically proven and has been associated with abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea.
All of the OTC products discussed above are not considered drugs and are therefore not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, there is little information on their effectiveness or safety. You should discuss any OTC weight loss products you are planning on taking or are taking with a health-care professional.
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