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Diet Pills, Supplements, and Surgeries


Given the amount of time and effort that a sustainable weight loss plan requires, quick fixes such as diet pills, supplements, and surgeries can hold a certain appeal. But those weight loss methods are often unregulated, unsafe, or too good to be true.

For most people, cutting calories while increasing exercise is the best way to lose weight. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medications, surgery, or other treatments.

It’s always important to talk to your doctor before taking new pills or considering surgery. All surgical procedures carry a degree of risk, which may include the risk of death.

Take some time to research your options and speak with your doctor. They can help you learn which weight loss options are a good fit for you.

Pills and supplements

Some medications may help you reach your weight loss goals, when combined with a healthy diet and regular physical activity. But many over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills and supplements are unregulated. Some of them even contain risky ingredients. That’s because supplements don’t have to adhere to the same strict standards as prescription drugs.


One common weight loss drug is orlistat. It’s also sold over the counter (OTC) under the name Alli. It’s available at a higher dosage as a prescription medication (Xenical).

Unless you’re directed otherwise by your doctor, you can take orlistat up to three times a day with meals. It lowers your body’s ability to absorb dietary fat from food. This unabsorbed fat is removed from your body in your stool. For that reason, it’s crucial to get less than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat when you’re taking this drug. Otherwise, you’ll experience side effects, such as loose stools or gas with oily spotting.

You should also pair this drug with a daily multivitamin or other supplements containing fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta carotene.


Ephedra was another popular weight loss tool. It was a supplement taken to decrease hunger. It was once widely available, but it’s now considered unsafe.

It was found to cause trembling, headaches, irregular heartbeat, seizures, strokes, and even death. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of ephedra weight loss pills in 2014.

Green tea extract

Green tea extract is sometimes sold as a weight loss supplement. Some people believe it boosts fat metabolism, but scientific research findings have been mixed. One promising study reported in Physiology and Behavior found that participants who drank green tea had higher metabolisms. They lost more weight than participants who were given a placebo.

Studies involving green tea supplements are scarce. The amount and quality of actual green tea in supplements varies from pill to pill. You may experience the same effects from taking green tea supplements as you would from drinking green tea.


Hoodia is another product sold as a natural weight loss aid. It’s a cactuslike plant, native to the Kalahari desert in Africa. Traditionally, Kalahari Bushmen used it to control their hunger on long hunts. Now, it’s usually used as an appetite suppressant.

Hoodia is sold in capsule, tablet, and powder form. It can also be made into liquid extracts and teas. But according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, no studies have been published on hoodia’s potential perks. Its potential risks, side effects, and interactions with other medications and supplements haven’t been studied either.

Bariatric surgery

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend weight loss surgery. Your doctor will probably only recommend surgery if you’re obese and have weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, or sleep apnea. Generally speaking, you need to be at least 100 pounds overweight if you’re a man or 80 pounds overweight if you’re a woman to be a candidate for this surgery.

Weight loss surgery alters your digestive tract in ways that result in weight loss. There are a few common types of weight loss surgery:

  • Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery reduces the size of your stomach and causes food to bypass part of your small intestine.
  • biliopancreatic diversion surgery with duodenal switch maintains some of your stomach function, while causing food to bypass most of your intestine.
  • laparoscopic gastric banding uses an inflatable band placed around the upper portion of your stomach to restrict the amount of food you can eat.

After surgery, you will be asked to follow a special diet with drastically reduced food intake. This diet will give your body time to heal, while also encouraging weight loss. You will usually start by following a liquid diet for a day or two after your surgery. Then you may spend two to four weeks eating pureed foods.

In the third phase, you will start to add soft solid foods to your diet. After about eight weeks, most patients can return to eating firmer foods.

If you’ve had weight loss surgery, your doctor will probably advise you to avoid hard-to-digest foods, such as:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • popcorn
  • dried fruits
  • stringy or fibrous vegetables
  • tough meats

It’s also important to know that surgery carries risks. Side effects can include:

  • infections
  • hernias
  • blood clots
  • nutritional deficiencies

Since your stomach is smaller after surgery, you may also experience nausea and vomiting if you eat or drink more than a small amount in one sitting. Eating or drinking too quickly may cause dumping syndrome. Food and liquid enter your small intestine rapidly, in larger amounts than normal, and may cause the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • sweating

With proper care and attention to your diet and exercise, you can expect to lose 50 to 60 percent of excess weight within two years of weight loss surgery.

Consider your options

Your doctor will probably encourage you to try other options before considering weight loss drugs, supplements, or surgery. A reduced-calorie diet paired with increased physical exercise is the safest way for most people to lose weight.

If diet and exercise don’t work for you, or your progress is too slow and other medical conditions are a concern, your doctor may recommend other strategies. They can help you weigh the risks and benefits of weight loss drugs, supplements, and surgery. Talk to them about your weight loss goals and options.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Leslie Goldman, MPH
Medically reviewed on: Jun 15, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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