Dying to be slim?

A dangerous legal loophole means doctors registered in the UK can prescribe unlicensed (non-NHS approved) medicines, provided they take personal responsibility for them.

“These medicines may include addictive, amphetamine-like drugs or those unsuitable for weight loss, such as diuretics or thyroid drugs,” says Dr. Haslam. “They’re typically given out at private, high-street weight-loss clinics. Patients’ medical history may not be taken, they might not be suitable to take the drugs and they’re often not warned about side effects.”

Description: Dying to be slim?

Cindy Cartwright began taking fen-phen 23 years ago to drop some weight she had gained following the birth of her youngest child. She only took the drug for six months, but more than two decades later, Cartwright’s health has suffered because of fen-phen.

Commonly abused diet drugs include amphetamine-like appetite suppressants phentermine (trade name Duromine), Diethylpropion (also known as amfepramone), dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine (Phen-fen). They’re highly addictive, disrupt sleep and can cause mood swings, chest pains, palpitations, nausea, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, hallucinations and high blood pressure. Also abused is methylphenidate (trade name Ritalin) – a drug for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – and sibutramine (Reductil), an appetite suppressant banned in the UK due to possible links with heart disease.

Slimming pills – shop savvy

If you’re intent on trying a pill for some extra help, Dr. Ruxton has the following advice:

Buy from a well-known UK pharmacy or ship. This way you know the product is safe, even if its efficacy hasn’t been proved.

If you buy online, only buy from EU sources. ‘Natural’ or ‘herbal’ from other countries doesn’t necessarily mean safe, say the MRA.

Remember they’re slimming ‘aids’ not ‘solutions’. If your diet and lifestyle have caused you to put on weight, then it’s your diet and lifestyle that will have to change.

If you’re worried about the safety of a product, call MHRA on 020 3080 600.

Warning: It won’t be pretty!

Doctors won’t suggest a weight-loss drug unless your BMI is over 30 – or 28 and you have a related condition such as diabetes. And if they do, “The only pills currently available for prescription are ‘fat binders’ called orlistat – trade name Xenical,” explains Dr. Haslam. “Taken properly, they can help patients lose 5 – 6% of their weight, which is enough to make a meaningful difference to their health.”

Description: The BMI (Body Mass Index) scale uses your height and weight to determine if you are underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

The BMI (Body Mass Index) scale uses your height and weight to determine if you are underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

The downside? “They can have very unpleasant side effects if you don’t take them properly,” he warns. “they work by binding to the fat you eat and transporting it out via your bowels, so 30% of the fat you ingest won’t be digested – an easy way to cut calories. But this means you can get greasy stools and if you eat too much fat, it can leak out. Some people find this an incentive to eat a healthy, low-fat diet,” he continues. “It does make Orlistat an effective medication because it’s hard to abuse – in other words, to continue to eat unhealthily – without real embarrassment and discomfort.”

If you have less weight to lose, Alli is a milder form of Orlistat available from pharmacies. “It’s 85% as effective, with only 50% of the side effects,” says Dr. Haslam. You’ll need a consultation with the pharmacist, “But this does make it accessible to more people. And of course you’ll still want to eat well to avoid the side effects. If you do, Alli can help you lose an extra 1lb for every 1lb you lose yourself, which is a responsible approach and a realistic outcome.”

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