Are you thinking about buying a “herbal” weight loss pill? What you in reality might very likely get is the drug sibutramine, that due to its side effects was pulled off the market.
What Is Sibutramine?
Before we get into the herbal part of the various weight loss pills offered on the internet we have to talk a bit about sibutramine, which, as we will see, plays a crucial role in very many of the herbal weight loss drugs you can buy.
Sibutramine is a drug that influences the levels of three chemicals in the brain: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. These three act as neurotransmitters – signal transporters which relate information between different parts of the brain. One of these tasks is the regulation of appetite and by increasing the level of these neurotransmitters in specific brain regions, sibutramine helps enhance satiety.
That looked like a really working weight loss pill was finally on the horizon. One that was actually safe; early studies came to the conclusion that the only negative side effects of sibutramine were a slightly increased pulse and blood pressure.
The SCOUT Trial
The stress being on “early studies,” because then the SCOUT trial (“Sibutramine Cardiovascular Outcome”) came along.
This was a trial that began in 2002 and enrolled over 10,000 patients, that were either given a placebo or sibutramine. The results were presented in January of 2010 and showed that participants given sibutramine had an 11.4% chance of heart problems compared to 10% in those who were on a placebo. This might not seem like much, but if we assume that 5000 patients were given sibutramine and 5000 the placebo, a 1.4% difference means that an extra 70 people were at risk, while the average weight reduction over a year and due to sibutramine was just 2.4 kg ( 5 1/3 lbs).
“[It's] continued availability is not justified when you compare the very modest weight loss that people achieve on this drug to their risk of heart attack or stroke”, where therefore the words with which in October 2010 a FDA spokesman explained the recall of Meridia, the name under which sibutramine was sold in the US. The EU had already banned sibutramine in January of the same year.
All Natural Sibutramine
But that doesn’t mean that sibutramine just disappears. “Xi You Su”, “Jia Yi Jian” or the fanciful “Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) Natural Weight Loss Formula (HX-1)” are just three names for weight loss drugs sold by internet “pharmacies” and marketed with the promise that they contain nothing but “natural” or “100% herbal” ingredients. A look at the ingredient list shown on one of the various websites where these pills are sold reads as follows:
Functional Ingredients: Flos Lonicerae (Microsphaera linicerae Wint. In Rabenh): 25.83%, (73mg), Nomame Semaherb (Cassia Nomame): 18.68%, 52mg, Perilla Leaf extract: 15.52%, 43mg, Fleeceflower Root (Radixe Polygoni Multiflori): 12.36%, 35mg, Mignonette (Reseda odorata Linn. ): 8.15%, 23mg, Aloe Vera (Aloe): 7.36%, 21mg, Starch: 12.1%, 34mg
What isn’t mentioned here or in the description of any other of these products is that many, many of them come with a healthy, or rather unhealthy, dosis of sibutramine.
Examinations have shown that the amount can range from double to three times as much as was found in the strongest prescription form of Meridia. If the officially sibutramine-containing Meridia caused heart problems, I invite you to imagine what a double or triple dosis can do.
A Hydra With A Thousand Heads
Of course, these pills are confiscated and banned as soon as they are found, but every time one is found, another springs up, with a slightly different name and the whole game starts anew. The FDA’s recall list of these drugs is ever-growing.
There is a simple course of action you can follow, if you want to be safe: Research what you buy in stores and don’t buy drugs from dubious websites. If an unknown, slightly seedy looking person stopped you on the street, trying to sell you a fancy-looking box of pills, would you buy them? Probably not.
And if you want to lose weight, why not go for a plan that requires you buying nothing at all?
Picture courtesy of Fernando Mafra.