Post No.: 0654
We examined the pros and cons of bariatric surgery not long ago in Post No.: 0647. Another broad area of medicine that could help in tackling the obesity crisis is anti-obesity drugs or so-called ‘slimming pills’, ‘weight loss pills’ or ‘diet pills’.
These pharmacological agents may aim, or claim, to burn fat away by increasing your metabolism; decrease feelings of hunger or increase feelings of satiety (appetite suppressants or anorectics); or otherwise employ some kind of chemical mechanism that will ultimately affect your hunger levels, absorption of nutrients, reduce fat levels or increase the rate you burn calories.
Research and development is advancing rapidly and continually so this is all in highly general terms (and I’m not here to promote any types or brands of drugs anyway as this is an independent overview) – but ‘slimming pills’ are once again only really about buying a bit of time until a person changes their lifestyle and habits properly i.e. until they learn to eat more healthily and incorporate regular physical activity habits into their lives.
Even the manufacturers themselves (must legally) state that their products are only of benefit if people are already committed to a healthy diet and regular exercise. Thus even they acknowledge that a change in lifestyle is the key way for anyone to lose weight and keep it off.
Most ‘slimming pills’ are only intended to be taken for a temporary period of time (e.g. up to 6 months), they come with some (often nasty!) side-effects, and they aren’t cheap for a public or private healthcare system. And like surgery – they won’t improve your mood, confidence or of course fitness levels in ways that those who regularly exercise know that regular physical exercise can. They’re not a substitute for exercise because they won’t help with improving muscle tone, for instance.
There has been plenty of investment and many years spent trying to develop slimming pills yet relatively few have been released and many of these have been subsequently withdrawn due to severe side-effect risks. Even though we know that hormones play a key role, it’s still very complex chemically.
Certain hormonal injections claim to suppress your appetite. Trials have shown some promise for a drug called semaglutide, when combined with changes in lifestyle. Other ‘slimming injections’ presently being trialled include tirzepatide. The former aims to mimic the hormonal effects of a gastric bypass. However, this won’t help habitual or boredom eaters who’ll eat despite not feeling hungry. The data also reveals that for most people they’ll swiftly gain much of their original weight back on as soon as they come off it. As a drug, taking it perpetually poses the risk of long-term side-effects, such as acute pancreatitis in this case. Semaglutide only produces on average a 15% weight loss reduction anyway, thus a 20 stone person would still be 17 stone! Meanwhile, those who aren’t overweight, including those with anorexia, might wish to abuse such drugs.
Statins, which aim to reduce your LDL or ‘bad fat’ cholesterol levels in your blood, are again not a substitute for a healthy diet and regular physical activities, and cholesterol levels will still rise if one fails to improve one’s lifestyle sufficiently.
‘Fat burner’ pills that contain ingredients such as caffeine or cayenne pepper do statistically nothing compared to control groups. And many people do hold misunderstandings when they think they can take products that increase their metabolism to flatten their bellies concurrently with taking an excess of protein (and thus calories) via protein supplements to bulk up their muscles. This is because all food globally goes to the stomach and then is processed onwards from there instead of ‘this low-calorie food goes to cut down the fat around my belly’ yet ‘this high-calorie food goes to give my muscles energy’. This misunderstanding is probably because of the way these products are marketed. You likewise cannot, as effectively as you’d probably like, locally exercise the fat away from only one area of your body. Although different people genetically place relatively more fat around their hips than their bellies or vice-versa for instance, we all put on and lose fat globally around our bodies unless it is surgically removed from a particular spot. That’s why people with obese bellies also tend to have proportionally obese necks, faces, arms, bums and legs too, and vice-versa.
A pill that contains the hormone irisin claims to help people burn fat more easily. These claims are disputed though. Indeed, we must be wary in this area of ‘slimming medicine’ because there are so many myths and over-hyped assertions being made because we have researchers and manufacturers hoping to make billions from discovering and selling the ‘miracle pill’ that millions of obese people have been longing for ages for! For example, the term ‘melting fat away’ is marketing nonsense. Think about it – if you have a block of hardened lard in a glass and melt it then it’ll still be inside the glass, so if fat did melt inside your body then it’ll still be inside your body!
Drugs marketed as ‘slimming aids’ or similar – especially those that act on or affect the function of the brain – all have potential side-effects that may be worse than the problem they intend to deal with, such as effects concerning heart regulation and the reproductive system.
And if you think about what it means to lose your appetite – which many of these slimming pills are designed to do – a loss of appetite is usually a negative sign when it comes to the healthy homeostatic balance and functioning of the body. We often don’t feel hungry when we’re feeling unwell. Thus drugs that make people feel less hungry by messing around with the brain are usually adversely messing around with the body’s essential functions in a fundamental way, for which ‘a loss of appetite’ is the actual side-effect. (It’s analogously like a medical procedure that’ll make your skin look paler – because that’s what you want – by draining away much of your blood(!)) This side-effect is what’s being marketed, whilst the other potentially dangerous main effects that lead to this ‘loss of appetite’ are not being barked about enough or at all.
Even ‘fat binders’, which don’t aim to affect the brain, come with some ghastly side-effects – such as uncontrollable diarrhoea-like releases with an oily discharge. DISGUSTANG!
There is a massive health difference between eating very little, and eating well plus exercising well – even if one may weigh the same or look roughly as slim in the end. It’s another example where many people heuristically assume that ‘if you look like something (in this case ‘healthy’, at least according to the crude measure of one’s weight or size) then you are that something’ – when it doesn’t reliably at all. Showy abdominal muscles, for instance, may mean that one is too gaunt and weak; not strong. Therefore even if there are appetite suppressant pills, liposuction surgeries and gastric surgeries – these will only tackle half of the issue at most. Again, nothing escapes the need to ultimately modify one’s lifestyle and diet if one is unhealthily obese. Woof.
Many alternative medicine or herbal/botanical slimming or weight loss supplements are unregulated and aren’t approved by regulatory bodies.
Hypnotism may work though for some people. Some report being hypnotised into thinking they have undergone gastric band surgery and now have a small stomach and therefore they cannot consume very much anymore. But the mid-to-long-term efficacy is questionable.
Tapping into economic incentives and motivators is another alternative approach. One experiment claimed a ~75% success rate in getting people to lose weight by getting them to essentially put their own money on the line in a wager against an opponent who would spend the winnings, if this opponent lost more weight than them, on a cause they didn’t like. But problems with this approach include the risk that wagerers will use unhealthy temporary crash dieting methods to try to win (although one solution was to make the duration of the competition unknown) and how the participants’ behaviours may revert back to old ways once the financial incentive was no longer there. When we approach something understanding that ‘it’ll only be for a month’, we’re not likely going to make it a long-term habit, and so we’ll probably just revert back to our old ways once we know it’s all over. If one is obese then some weight loss, even if only temporary, is better than none at all – but for most people, if they want to make lasting habit changes and improvements to their health, it’s usually better to build up from something small, manageable and sustainable, like having one or two meat-free days per week. Motivation has to ideally eventually come from internal sources, like a habit. Plus prevention is once more better than treatment, or even cure, after illness.
…While extreme poverty and famine or starvation still exists around this world (even for some families in ‘developed’ countries), and the threat of severe global food shortages are possible in the near future due to several factors – when it comes to ‘fat burners’ or ‘fat binders’ in particular – many affluent people want to be slimmer yet they don’t want to cut down on their personal consumption! They’d rather seek some pill, injection, operation or device that will allow them to continue eating copiously but without getting or staying overweight(!) Is looking for quick and easy fixes so that one can carry on being gluttonous sensible or ethical?
It’s not all about personal responsibility (e.g. food manufacturers, marketers and retailers, and parents, play a key part in the obesity crisis too) but there remains some fundamental personal responsibility within each of us if we choose to regularly over-consume. Over-consumption is an environmental issue too, not just a health issue. Food production uses a lot of land, water, pesticides and other resources.
What’s more, wherever there are desperate people who desire quick and easy fixes, there is the taking advantage of desperate people through marketing over-hyped (supposed) solutions to their problems. The desperate, greedy and/or lazy have always been prime targets for cons or to extract inflated profits from in all kinds of industries. Ongoing treatments that manufacturers hope you stay on indefinitely or periodically come back to are particularly perfect money-spinners for them, and slimming pills would fall into that bracket.
And does partially alleviating a problem just encourage more of the problem – in this case over-consumption?
Research into individual molecules or supplements aren’t producing clear conclusions yet – likely because we must look at a diet holistically and not just at individual vitamins, compounds or ingredients. So there’ll likely never be a true ‘miracle pill’ – we must look at our overall diet, lifestyle and our immediate wider culture.