"Even magazines whose sole purpose is to show us how to treat our bodies better, stuff their pages with diet pills and ads, giving us the option of either listening to their latest exercise regime, or finding the quick fix in a supplement pill. Everywhere I look, I keep getting the message that I’m not enough." -- Sarah
In a world obsessed with beauty and body image, many people turn to diet aids in hopes that these supplements will help them to shed extra pounds. It is estimated that the diet aid industry does over a billion dollars in business each year, evidence of the widespread use of their products.
Many diet aids are available over-the-counter without a prescription though some can only be obtained through a doctor. There are literally hundreds of diet aids available on the market.
Many Diet Aids are Stimulants
Many over-the-counter diet aids contain some sort of stimulant, the main one being caffeine. Stimulants slightly increase the metabolic rate, decrease the appetite and also provide an extra boost of energy. Caffeine can come in many forms and is not always listed as caffeine on a lable but rather it may be provided from a variety of sources such as Green Tea, Guarana, or Bitter Orange.
Some Diet Aids Increase Feeling of Fullness
Other diet aids purport to increase fullness and thereby decrease the amount of food consumed. One product, Hoodia, is a supplement that recently gained popularity. It is a desert succulent plant found in Africa thought to decrease the appetite. Other diet aids that increase fullness include liquid coconut oil. The "healthy" fat in this diet aid stimulates satiety. When taken a half hour before a meal, it causes a person to consume less food than they normally would.
A new product called Sensa has appeared on the market that is said to affect the sense of smell. This diet aid is sprinkled on food and though seemingly odorless and tasteless, it is detected by the olfactory glands and sensed by the brain, stimulating satiety.
Other diet aids aim to affect insulin to induce weight loss. Chromium picolinate is a trace mineral used this way. Chromium picolinate is thought to have an effect on insulin receptors and may increase insulin sensitivity. Cassia Cinnamon is another herb used for this purpose in diet aids.
Diet aids may also contain substances that increase the body temperature and thus increase energy expenditure. These substances are called thermogenics. Cayenne pepper, bitter orange, capsicum, ginger, guar gum, pyruvate, caffeine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and green tea are all considered to be thermogenic substances.
Some diet aids are aimed at changing body composition, increasing the amount of fat-free mass (lean mass). DHEA (dehydroepiandosterone) and CLA (conjugated linoleic acids) are used in this manner.
The now notorious hCG diet has increased the popularity of hCG as a diet aid. hCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone released by the placenta upon implantation in the womb. It is also the hormone detected by pregnancy tests. Authentic hCG can only be obtained upon a valid prescription and must be injected to retain its potency. Combined with a very low calorie diet, use of hCG requires medical supervision.
Other diet aids that are available also require a prescription. Phentermine is a stimulant and controlled substance that increases the metabolism slightly while decreasing appetite. Sibutramine is another prescription diet aid that influences the neurochemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, again decreasing appetite.
As with any herb, medication, or supplement, no diet aid can be taken without any risk of adverse effects. Some diet aids have been removed from the market for just this reason. Ephedrine, Ephedra, and phenylpropanolamine (PPA), have all been removed from the market by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) after they were found to have an unacceptable risk versus benefit profile. These supplements, in particular, raised blood pressure and increased the risk of stroke.
A person should discuss any intent to use a diet aid with his or her regular healthcare professional before using it as it may exacerbate medical conditions, interact with current medications, or complicate eating disorders.
Diet aids Always Carry a Risk
Finally, it is important to remember that diet aids may or may not be beneficial in all cases and always carry a risk. They can never take the place of a healthy relationship with food, a sensible diet, and regular exercise (not over exercise). There is no "magic bullet" diet aid and all should be taken only with proper caution and supervision.