Most weight-loss drugs that are now illegal or restricted have shown to be unsafe in one way or another. The most common risks associated with weight-loss products tend to be issues with the heart and blood pressure. Many of the drugs in this category put added stress on the heart, which can sometimes result in serious events such as heart attack, stroke or death. The FDA will eventually ban weight-loss drugs that prove to be dangerous, whether through studies or reported incidents.
Ephedra, an evergreen plant found in Central Asia and Mongolia, contains the active compound known as ephedrine. Ephedrine is a powerful stimulant of the central nervous system that has been used in India and China for thousands of years. Ephedra was used to treat colds, fever, flu, headaches and more. Ephedra, in recent years, became popular as a dietary supplement for weight loss, increased energy and athletic performance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a ban on supplements containing ephedra in December 2003, which marked the first ban on an herbal supplement. Research based on more than 16,000 reports showed that ephedra could be dangerous. In addition, the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide reports roughly 155 deaths have been linked to ephedra.
Sibutramine is a weight-loss drug that was sold under the brand name Meridia. The group Public Citizen organized a 2002 petition against the drug. In 2003, studies noting adverse effects from the drug, including significant increases in blood pressure, pulse rate and heart palpitations were added to the petition. The FDA denied the petition in 2005, but in October 2010 Sibutramine was taken off the market because of safety concerns and public pressure. Medline Plus notes that the manufacturer of sibutramine decided to stop producing the drug based on evidence of increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Fen-Phen is a weight-loss drug made of two substances: fenfluramine and phentermine. Fenfluramine is a drug that causes the body to release more serotonin, while phentermine is a stimulant. In 1983, a pharmacologist Michael Weintraub combined the two drugs in an attempt to create counterbalance. Weintraub ran a four-year study that found the drug to be effective, but later studies revealed pulmonary hypertension and heart-valve abnormalities, which may have been caused by excessive serotonin. Fen-Phen can also cause heart-valve problems that require heart surgery, as well as primary pulmonary hypertension, a serious disease with no cure.
DMAA, also known as 1,3-dimethylamylamine, methylhexanamine or geranium extract, is a stimulant that is often combined with caffeine to increase energy and promote weight loss. The FDA reports that DMAA can cause serious health risks, including elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and even heart attack. Supplements containing DMAA became illegal in 2012, and the FDA has issued warning letters letting companies know that they need to either reformulate their products containing DMAA, or take them off the market. At this point, there aren’t any manufacturers still selling DMAA. One manufacturer was even forced to destroy $8 million worth of supplements containing DMAA.
- National Institue For Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Ephedra
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Ephedra Ban
- Heygood, Orr & Pearson: FDA Recalls Herbal Weight Loss Drugs Containing Banned Meridia Ingredient
- Public Citizen: Petition to Ban Sibutramine
- PBS Frontline: Fen-Phen Nation
- FDA: FDA Announces Withdrawal Fenfluramine and Dexfenfluramine
- Medline Plus: Sibutramine
- FDA: DMAA in Dietary Supplements