Should Over The Counter Diet Pills Be More Regulated?

Should over the counter pills be more regulated or is it just too late to put the slimming pill genie back in the bottle? We look into the secrets behind the OTC diet pills industry to find out more.

OTC supplementsThe weight loss business is a huge and complex commercial sector. Large Pharmaceutical companies compete with small operations armed with a website and perhaps just one herbal supplement knocked up in a kitchen and yet all come together to make up the multi million diet pill industry. Some diet pills are imported too – making manufacturing standards and ingredients used extremely hard to regulate.

There are thousands of diet pill products of all qualities and types on the market. The FDA, European and British authorities have real concerns about the safety and efficacy of some of them.

It’s A Lucrative Business

As the rise in obesity increases, the more consumers look to diet pills as a solution.

The US weight loss market alone is estimated to reach around $66 billion by the end of 2013, beating the previous record of $60.9 billion in 2010. This is according to market data published by The U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market. Although OTC diet pills are not the only share of this market, which includes diet plans and cosmetic treatments, they are a major component of the industry.


Figures are not available for exactly how many different diet pill products are on sale at any time. Taking the on-line market into consideration as well as the number of diet pills sold in retail outlets, thousands rather than hundreds of different diet pills and supplements are currently sold worldwide.

Across the globe, the rate of obesity is growing and as countries previously considered as developing nations become more affluent, so the problem increases. China is now beginning to experience obesity and a corresponding increase rise in OTC diet pills too.


Too Many Supplements on the Market?

Diet supplementsWith such a high number of diet pills on the market, you may be forgiven for thinking that this industry is highly regulated. This is not so. The diet pill market is essentially a free for all where anything goes and practically anything can be said. Diet pill advertising is powerful and persuasive and designed to make you reach for your credit card, regardless of whether the pills actually work or are even safe.

With this in mind, you really cannot believe everything you read. There are some good reputable diet pills and there is some regulation out there but you certainly cannot assume that everything that you read is true.

Phrases like “magic diet pills”, “burn fat fast” are typical advertising expressions and even if you realise that this is probably hype, the phrase “clinically proven” give credibility and some scientific backing to some of the claims made in the advertising. Clinically proven is a tricksy phrase that does not always mean how it sounds.

So What is Wrong with the Phrase “Clinically Proven”?

Some manufacturers provide research to back their claims but although studies show the ingredients themselves may have a weight-loss effect, in most cases there is no evidence the product in the capsule results in any weight loss. The amount of active ingredient contained in the diet pill capsules as well as the testing conditions of the clinical trial all have to be taken into consideration.

Take green tea. Many diet pills contain green tea as an active ingredient for weight loss and cite clinical testing as proof but results are not unanimous.

For example, a study carried out by the University of Halifax in Canada reported:

Green tea preparations appear to induce a small, statistically non-significant weight loss in overweight or obese adults. Because the amount of weight loss is small, it is not likely to be clinically important


However, an alternative randomised trial has proved that green tea can have a more positive effect on weight loss. In a larger test carried out in Thailand, the conclusion was that;

green tea can reduce body weight in obese subjects by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation.

In other words, clinically proven to burn fat and enhance energy levels!


The big problem with some diet pills is that clinical results do not really match with what is being offered. This makes the whole industry look suspect and reflects badly on the reputable companies.

Only Natural Ingredients

We all love the idea of natural ingredients in our diet pills. Natural ingredients sound safe and steeped in country lore. However, some diet pills described as containing only “natural ingredients” have anything but natural ingredients contained in their capsules.

Take a look at one of our recent reviews, LipoBlast for example. This diet pill is advertised as being a “natural” way to lose weight and “get high” and is the type of diet pill that gives the industry such a bad name. The ingredients list reads like a chemistry experiment but the advertisers still claim it is made from “natural ingredients”.

Side Effects

Side effects of some diet pills can vary greatly. Potential problems such as heart palpitations, stomach pain and even throat blockage – common side effects associated with some slimming pills.

Many diet pills contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants so it is very important to ensure that your supplement has a comprehensive ingredients profile.

Not all diet pills will cause side effects, but in such an open market, it is important to take care before you buy.

Surely, There is Some Regulation?

Supplement regulatorsYes, there is. In the USA, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) monitors the US diet pills industry and federal regulators routinely investigate dangerous diet pills. They have made it a priority to seek out dangerous products and take legal action against firms that import or distribute them. Recently they discovered diet pills being sold containing Sibutamine a prescription drug ingredient removed from the market in 2010 because it was found to cause heart damage and strokes.

According to Michael Levy, director of the FDA Division of New Drugs and Labelling Compliance, speaking on the FDA website:

We’ve found weight-loss products marketed as supplements that contain dangerous concoctions of hidden ingredients including seizure medications, blood pressure medications, and other drugs not approved in the U.S.

The problem is that the size of the diet pills industry is so vast that the FDA cannot investigate every diet pill that comes onto the market. Recently the agency has turned to the dietary supplement industry and ordinary consumers to help eliminate dangerous products.


In the UK, The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are responsible for ensuring that medicines work. Like the FDA, they issue warnings about some of the diet pills sold on the internet as weight loss aids. As in the USA, testing has shown that some diet pills contain banned substances, prescription drug ingredients and toxic ingredients, which pose a risk to health.


As well as the MHRA, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays a role in the regulation of the diet pills industry. This body examines thousands of diet supplements and the science behind the advertising claims, to protect consumer interests and safety.

However, the diet pill sector does employ added legislation that may fool consumers into believing that any OTC diet pill conforms to some sort of safety and quality standard. This is a legal loophole that helps manufacturers’ get round the problem of ingredients and the fact that some of these diet pills will not actually work. This is the classification of “certified medical device”.

The Legal Loophole

You may have noticed that some diet pills are described as a “certified medical device” and although this phrase may sound as if it is an indication of safety, the reverse is true.

A “medical device” does not have to conform to foodstuffs standards and unlike products described as drugs or foodstuffs, does not have to provide any proof that it is safe or even works. Even the ingredients do not have to be outlined. A certified medical device is a legal loophole that enables the manufacturers to get away with selling products without an adequate ingredient profile or any benefit to the end user.


Does Official Approval Make Diet Pills Safe?

Despite the fact that Government agencies and the health authorities are trying their best, the sheer volume of diet pills on the market can make it hard work to test all of them.

It is also important to remember that just because a slimming pill may be approved; it still may cause side effects. Weight loss drugs for example are still available by prescription in some countries, including the USA yet have well known and proven health risks.

UK doctors sometimes recommend Alli – a fat binder diet pill manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and sold over the counter. This diet pill is safe but causes a range of side effects that will not suit everyone and include diarrhoea and flatulence.

There are better over the counter diet pills on the market that will help you lose weight safely and without these unpleasant side effects. The fact that a major pharmaceutical company produces Alli has probably helped it become accepted by the medical establishment.

Risks of So Called “Underground” Diet Pills

DNP dangerous diet pillAlthough many of the diet pills sold online are safe, anything that makes unrealistic claims of major weight loss without a change to lifestyle should get your alarm bells ringing.

Some consumers are attracted to danger and there is a dieting “underground” community that looks for powerful drugs to help with weight loss and body-building.

A recent sad case reported in the UK press told the story of a young Leeds student who died following taking a weight loss aid containing DNP. This substance used as a pesticide as well as an anabolic steroid is sold openly over the internet. This student already had issues around anorexia and took this substance secretly.

Despite the fact that DNP is banned for human consumption, it is still possible to find on the internet if you search for it and it is extremely easy to find. According to figures, this substance has causes around 62 deaths worldwide.

For the casual browser who just wishes to lose some weight, it is unlikely that he or she will come across dangerous substances like this. You have to search for a specific ingredient or product. If it is a banned substance, don’t buy it! It is extremely unlikely that you will find a dangerous and illegal slimming pill by accident.


So, Are All Diet Pills Dangerous?

No, of course not. There are some good reputable products out there, which will help you support a healthy weight loss and give you the extra help you need. This is a huge industry after all and in most cases, people will use slimming pills without suffering any dangerous side effects.

Obesity is a major problem with many associated health risks and if a diet pill can help, you lose weight in a safe and gradual way then it is something that you may wish to consider.

The number of dangerous diet pills is insignificant when compared to the amount of safe products on the market but you do have to be careful and not simply believe everything that you read. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns and always read the list of ingredients and do some research into potential side effects if you have any worries.

So Should Over the Counter Diet Pills be More Regulated?

Yes, they probably should. In an ideal world, there should be more regulation regarding the sale of diet pills but sadly, it just does not work. There are regulations in place already but there are always going to be exceptions and products that slip in under the net.

The sheer volume of diet pills on the market makes the industry difficult to regulate and even banned substances are just driven underground and still available if you want them. It is therefore important to look at the advertising and the credibility of the manufacturer extremely carefully.

Full transparent details including contact information show that the company has nothing to hide. The FDA and similar authorities may be struggling under a tide of products but they will investigate slimming pills once they are on their radar. The danger really comes from new and untried products on the market that lack information.

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