You're desperate to drop a few extra pounds — or perhaps more than just a few. While most people would gladly shed any fat they can, many are after belly fat, which hangs over your belt line and is particularly dangerous to your health.
Belly fat heightens your risk for many health conditions, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure and gallbladder problems. Belly fat consists of two types of fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat sits just below the skin, and can be notoriously hard to lose. Visceral fat lies deep and wraps around your organ systems within your abdomen, where it releases fatty acids and hormones that adversely affect critical organs, including your liver.
Smart dietary strategies and more physical activity are tried-and-true ways to lose belly fat, but these take patience and work. Over-the-counter diet pills promise a quick and easy solution. These are available online, at drug stores and at health food stores, but only a select few have been demonstrated by third-party research to help you lose weight and burn belly fat.
The Skinny on Belly Fat Pills
Before you start taking over the counter pills with dreams of melting away that belly fat, take a deep breath of reality. There is no pill, no specific food and no exercise that specifically target belly fat.
When you lose weight, by whatever means, the weight is lost proportionally from wherever it happens to be stored on your body. If you carry much of your extra weight in your belly, then as you lose weight, you will lose more proportionally from your belly.
If you have a lot of visceral belly fat, this fat may shrink a little faster than the subcutaneous fat there due to its metabolically-active nature. But no pill is going to magically make this fat shrink.
Many over-the-counter pills and supplements claim they help you lose weight, burn fat or shrink your belly. Manufacturers and vendors claim that these pills assist with weight loss by blocking or reducing the absorption of fat, decreasing appetite, building muscles, increasing calories burned or some combination of these mechanisms.
Prescription medications are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and claims about their effects must be substantiated by third-party research. Further, side effects of prescription medications must be carefully studied and documented. Prescription weight-loss pills usually tamp down your appetite so you eat fewer calories, leading to weight loss.
Dietary supplements, however, are not regulated by the FDA, so their primary effects and side effects are usually not as well substantiated. Weight- and fat-loss pills are not required to go through a rigorous evaluation process before they are put on the market.
As a result, there is inadequate reliable evidence to document the effectiveness of most of the diet and fat-burning pills on the market. Pills that make great fat-loss promises but need more research include green tea extract, hoodia, bitter orange, chromium, chitosan and country mallow.
Three pills have been documented by third-party research to be possibly effective in helping you lose weight: Alli, conjugated lineoleic acid, or CLA, and ephedra. Although ephedra is possibly effective, it's been taken off the market by the FDA due to safety issues, including documented cases of it causing stroke, arrhythmia and death.
Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2015 indicates that CLA can reduce abdominal fat, and CLA but studies show mixed results on its true effectiveness.
A third pill, Alli, may be the best choice. Alli is a reduced-strength, over-the-counter version of a prescription drug, orlistat, that has gone through the extensive testing and evaluation process required by the FDA. The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, reportedly chose the name "alli" because the drug should be allied with a weight-loss program that includes healthy eating and exercise.
For every five pounds lost through exercise and diet, orlistat adds an average of a pound to two, according to CBS News. Alli is safe for most people, but some questions have been raised linking it to liver issues in some people.
Speak with your doctor before you begin taking any diet pill. The long term effect and safety of Alli and other diet pills has not yet been established. Diet pills do not replace exercise and healthy diet as the most effective way to lose belly fat, and they will not compensate for a calorie-rich, sedentary lifestyle.