If your New Year’s resolution involves losing x amount of weight, it’s hard to avoid at least a few months of eating cleaner and leaner. But for the commitment-phobes among us, the idea of going on slimming pills can come across as a tempting shortcut.
Based on recent market research by Euromonitor International, more Singaporeans are resorting to slimming pills as a quick fix for their weight problems. In 2017, we spent more than S$490 million on supplements – an increase of nearly $40 million from 2012.
Our increasingly hectic schedules mean we have less capacity to be physically active and also less capacity to prepare or purchase healthy food, said a research analyst of the study.
It’s easy to imagine how the hassle-free supplement can be an incredibly attractive option for time-poor people. But should you pull the trigger?
For those who are new to the world of slimming pills, here’s a guide to help you make an informed choice.
1. Appetite suppressants
Appetite suppressants set out to reduce your hunger, and there are three different types available in the market. The first type of pill is loaded with a tremendous amount of fibre. When it comes into contact with the fluids in your stomach, it expands and takes up space, which makes you too bloated to continue eating. The second type of pill manipulates serotonin and norepinephrine levels, hormones that govern mood and appetite. These can potentially trick your brain into thinking that you are full. The last type of pill suppresses hunger by triggering the chemical processes that interrupt hunger signals sent from the brain.
In Singapore, some of the most well-known brands include the clinically proven Duromine. Doctors only prescribe Duromine to people who are obese, that is to say a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30. Its claim to fame is that it increases the heart rate and blood pressure in a way that short-circuits your brain’s hunger signals.
As popular as it is, Duromine has some serious drawbacks. Common side effects include increased blood pressure (obviously), irregular heartbeat, breathlessness, sleeplessness and dizziness to name a few. You do not want to touch this if you have pre-existing heart disease or if you are pregnant.
2. Metabolic enhancers
Metabolic enhancers are slimming pills that promote fat loss via thermogenesis.
Thermogenesis is a process that results eating ingredients that require more energy to metabolise, absorb and store. These ingredients include caffeine, capsaicin, green tea and other plant extracts. In theory, these ingredients actually burn calories just by virtue of consuming them.
Metabolic enhancers are full of these fat-burning ingredients. But here’s the thing: the actual fat-burning effect of these foods are almost negligible. One would require a minimum daily dose of 270mg of caffeine before your body would experience a small weight reduction. Most of these slimming pills contain less than 200mg of caffeine.
Combine the recommended dosage of two to three tablets a day with a cup of instant coffee (about 93mg of caffeine) and a cup of afternoon tea (between 40 to 120mg of caffeine), and you would have risked caffeine overdose way before you see any weight loss. Not ideal!
3. Fat blockers
Fat blockers prevent your body from absorbing the fats you consumed from your diet. Unlike metabolism enhancers, fat blockers prevent the storage of fat by inhibiting the action of an enzyme called lipase in your digestive tract. The undigested fat then passes out of the body in your bowel movement.
There are many types of fat blockers that you can get at pharmacies, but you may have heard of Xenical, a drug that can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. At the recommended dose, the pill can prevent the absorption of dietary fat by approximately 30%. This sounds fantastic in theory, but Xenical has its limitations. It does not block the absorption of calories from carbs and other non-fat foods. Many experts have identified carbs as the leading cause of weight gain today, not fat. Don’t expect fat blocking to solve all your weight problems – you will still need to follow a strict low-carb diet when consuming this pill.
It’s no surprise that Xenical comes with a laundry list of side effects in your gastrointestinal region. These include cramps, oily stools, uncontrollable bowel movements and of course diarrhoea. Just forget this drug if you love to wear white.
Are there any safer alternatives?
Local readers might recall the Slim 10 saga in 2002 when TV actress Andrea De Cruz became critically ill after taking Slim 10 slimming pills, a popular brand by Yuzhitang Health Products. She survived only because of an emergency liver transplant, owing to her then-fiancé who donated half of his liver to save her life.
Unfortunately for Selvarani Raja, a 43-year-old logistics manager who also went on Slim 10 pills, there was no suitable donor. She subsequently died from liver failure.
One of the dangers of slimming pills is that you can never be certain about what these products contains. Manufacturers may not list all the ingredients on the product label, depending on how stringent local regulations are. You will be taking a risk by experimenting with products which may not have undergone the rigour of third-party testing.
Rule of thumb: Research, research, research. And always consult a doctor before starting on a slimming pill regimen.
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*Results may vary between individuals.