A wide range of over-the-counter substances are marketed as appetite suppressants. Some contain ingredients, such as bran, gums, pectin, and plant fibre, that act indirectly by swelling the stomach and making the consumer feel full. Even that arch enemy of the dieter, sugar, is supposed to reduce appetite if taken immediately before a meal (so those mothers who said that eating sweets ruins your appetite were right after all!). Although some gums reduce appetite when taken in abnormally high concentrations, tablets containing small quantities are unlikely to have significant appetite-suppressant effects. High intakes of gums are potentially dangerous. In 1989, appetite suppressants containing more than 15 per cent guar gum or locust bean gum were banned in Britain after a number of deaths were linked to their use.
Prescribed appetite suppressants, on the other hand, are effective. They include fenfluramine (a derivative of amphetamines) and related drugs which act directly on the parts of the brain that control appetite. A review of recent studies showed that over a three-month period, slimmers who took prescribed appetite suppressants lost an average of 1.4 kg (3 lb) more than a control group who took placebos (dummy pills). Although the effect of most appetite suppressants wears off after a few months, they may be useful as a short-term measure to encourage dieters. Most doctors prescribe appetite suppressants only to those who really need them (such as the clinically obese), but their effects are also exploited by some members of the slimming industry. An investigation by reporters from the BBC revealed that several slimming clinics prescribed amphetamine derivatives to people who wanted to lose weight, even though there was no medically justifiable reason; the people were not obese nor did they have any other urgent need to lose weight for health reasons. This is a dangerous practice. Slimming drugs are potentially addictive and can have harmful side-effects such as headaches and nausea. Administration and withdrawal can be followed by severe bouts of depression and hallucinations.
Some tablets marketed as appetite suppressants are no more than sugar coated pills. They do no great harm (except to a person's bank balance) but neither do they help to reduce weight. In the UK, new regulations have been introduced to control the use of appetite suppressants and to reduce their misuse. See also slimming pills.
Subjects: Medicine and Health.