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The Dangers of Diet Pills



You may have heard the sad news that the death of actor Bubba Smith has been linked in part to the use of diet pills. I have no idea where the former all-pro football player obtained the pills, but there are numerous varieties on the market, as well as online info, on how to obtain prescription pills without a prescription.

Some consumers believe that a product wouldn’t be available if it wasn’t proven to be safe, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In late 2008, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to purchase or consume 28 different products marketed for weight loss. The products, marketed as dietary supplements, were sold on various websites and in some retail stores. Some which claimed to be natural or to contain only herbal ingredients actually contained potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the labels, such as sibutramine (a controlled substance), rimonabant (a drug not approved for marketing in the United States), phenytoin (an anti-seizure medication), phenolphthalein (a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer causing agent), and bumetanide (a diuretic). In another investigation, a diet pill from Brazil was found to contain untested amphetamines as well as tranquilizers, anti-depressants, diuretics, and laxatives— all in the same pill!

The FDA continues to warn consumers, but diet pills aren’t illegal, and new varieties sprout like dandelions. There are useful dietary supplements manufactured with integrity that I do recommend to my private practice clients, but diet pills aren’t among them. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is, so if you feel compelled to try a product that you’ve seen advertised, do some homework before spending your money and putting anything into your body. Ask your doctor, dietitian or an unbiased health professional for his or her opinion – someone who is familiar with the product, its ingredients, the claims, and research about its safety and effectiveness. “Better safe than sorry” was never more right on.

What’s your take on this topic? Do you or have you ever used diet pills? Were you aware of the FDA warnings? Please share your thoughts here or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches



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