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Consumer Reports Advises Against Taking Diet Pills

Tim Boyer's picture
Diet Pills

Here are some compelling reasons why Consumer Reports recently advised consumers not to spend their hard-earned dollars on diet pills.


According to a new Consumer Reports survey, consumers are generally misinformed about the safety and effectiveness of weight-loss pills used in place of exercise and dieting.

The fiscal significance of this is that according to the 3,000 participant survey, nearly one in four of consumers buy into diet pill supplement labeled promises.

“The barrage of advertising leads us to think there’s a magic way to melt away 10 pounds—even when we have no evidence that supplements work,” Consumer Reports quotes Pieter Cohen, M.D., a physician at Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance who studies supplements.

The primary reason why consumers buy into those label claims? Well for one, who doesn’t want to lose some weight?! The other, is that consumers mistakenly believe that those official-looking labels must be backed by FDA approval for their effectiveness and safety.

“The labels on weight loss supplements look like those on over-the-counter medications, and the supplement facts are organized like nutrition facts labels,” Cohen says. “There’s no way for consumers to tell the difference. It gives you the sense the products are being scrutinized by the FDA.”

The truth is that supplements typically get about as much scrutiny as that basket of apples sold by your local grocer. According to Consumer Reports, the government treats the level of safety of weight loss supplements like a food item, with respect to that they are generally considered safe—until shown not to be.

The survey revealed that one health consequence of having a misguided trust behind diet supplements is that consumers tend to view supplements as being safer and having fewer side effects than prescription drugs because many are labeled as “natural.”

Furthermore, the survey also showed that the majority of consumers who buy supplements do not tell their primary care physician about what kind or how much they take. In fact, more than one-third of those on supplements are also on prescription medication—which depending on the type of medication, could lead to health-threatening kidney or liver damage from unexpected supplement/medication interactions.

In some cases the side effects of taking a supplement alone could have embarrassing consequences. Colloidal Silver—a supplement used by some to self-medicate their rosacea, or psoriasis—has been reported to cause a permanent bluish discoloration of their skin.

And, just because a particular supplement ingredient has been caught and banned by the FDA, there’s no guarantee that the banned substance will not be available in another supplement under a different name.

Dr. Cohen told Consumer Reports that last fall a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that of 27 recalled supplements, two-thirds of those sold for weight loss still contained the banned ingredients.

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“There’s no way to know what’s in the bottle," Cohen says. “You’re at the mercy of the manufacturer.”

So now that we know at least some of the truth about the safety, what about actual weight loss?
According to the Consume Reports survey:

• One- third of those who took supplements didn’t lose any weight.

• Another third lost some weight.

• Only nine percent said they lost all the weight they hoped to and kept it off, but chances are the supplement had little to do with it serving only as dieting reminder to help keep the consumer mindful of his or her dieting efforts.

“If you’ve spent money on something you think will help, you’ll probably pay more attention to what you’re eating,” Cohen said. “Taking the pill acts as a reminder.”

So what does Consumer Reports recommend for weight loss? Plain old diet and exercise. But to help consumers with their weight loss efforts, Consumer Reports does recognize that some supplemental help is needed and encourages consumers to enroll in a weight loss plan such as one of these best diet plans for 2015 for safe and effective weight loss.

For more weight loss advice from Consumer Reports, here are some informative links on what they recommend:

The Top 5 Easiest Diets to Follow for Weight Loss

Prevent Walking Workout Burnout with 10 Tips from Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports Rates Best Pedometers for 2012


Consumer Reports― “Taking diet pills? Don't waste your money.”

“Presence of Banned Drugs in Dietary Supplements Following FDA Recalls” JAMA. 2014;312 (16):1691-1693. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10308, Pieter A. Cohen et al.