Safe Diet Pill Question

Our pharmacist answers the latest question regarding safe diet pills.


Is there any safe diet pill on the market?

Asked by On Sep 25, 2017

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Sep 25, 2017

Diet pills and supplements are always somewhat difficult to recommend because many of the ingredients are herbal products and aren't well studied in terms of effectiveness and safety. For example, we had a question recently regarding Hydroxycut that was similar to yours:


"We can certainly give you some information to help you make a decision. We always like to preface our information on diet pills etc. with the necessity of good diet and exercise when trying to lose weight. Just taking a diet pill will not yield the results you want. Working out (be it walking, running, lifting light weights) and eating right are essential and will help you reach your weight loss goals.


Regarding Hydroxycut, the new product out on the shelves now is a reformulated version from the original. The original contained an ingredient known as Ephedra, as did many other weight loss products. While very effective for weight loss, it  was linked to heart problems and seizures in the people taking it. It is a strong stimulant and is now actually banned in over the counter products in the USA. Some of the bad side effects you are reading about could be regarding the old product. Just something to be aware of!


In terms of the current Hydroxycut product, it probably is the most common over the counter weight loss supplement. In terms of the side effects you are reading about, weight loss products in general usually share the same possible side effects due to their similarities to each other. The main ingredient is almost all of them is caffeine, which as your probably know is a stimulant found in coffee, sodas, energy drinks etc.. If you have sensitivity to caffeine, stimulants, or are sensitive to medication in general, you might want to look at other options for weight loss. 


The other ingredients in weight loss products are a combination of herbal ingredients. While they may or may not be effective, the problem is they are not very well studied for their effects and side effects. Most of the side effects people get on weight loss supplements are either a result of the excess caffeine or a result of the herbal ingredients. You probably will read in reviews some people getting rashs or other allergic reactions. Most people are fine taking products like Hydroxycut, but they just contain so many ingredients that aren't well known, so it is difficult to know if you will have a problem with any of them.


Having said all that, I thought I would break down the ingredients in Hydroxycut and let you know if they have any evidence for effectiveness. There are a lot of different Hydroxycut products out there so I'll be using the Hydroxycut Max for Women as a reference:


Each serving of the product contains what the manufacturer calls "Hydroxycut Max Blend 456mg":


Caffeine Anhydrous: Caffeine as stated above, is a stimulant that is contained in coffee, soda etc... It is usually safe in appropriate doses but could cause issues with anxiety, nervousness. Too much caffeine can cause a raise in blood pressure and certain heart problems. It certainly is not recommended to anyone with a heart condition.


Alchemila Vulgaris (Lady's Mantle) - There isn't many studies regarding this product. It has been used historically for many centuries in Europe for certain blood disorders. As far as I can tell, there doesn't appear to be many side effects that have been reported with it's use.


Olea Europara (Wild Olive) - I couldn't find any scientific information regarding this used by itself for weight loss. It historically has been used as an antibiotic and antiviral supplement. It doesn't appear to have any drug interactions


Cuminum Cyminum (Komijn) - This herbal product has been used for centuries for many different indications including it's ability to induce diuresis (loss of water through urination). This might be why it is included in the product as diuretics can a loss of excess water weight and can reduce bloating as well. It also may have slight stimulant effects and also effects on lowering your blood sugar. Cuminum is a popular food spice that you would be able to find in many homes and supermarkets. Since cuminum is a spice, it may cause some slight nausea or stomach pain if you are sensitive to certain spices or have had a problem with ulcers in the past.


Mentha Longifolia (Wild Mint) - This product is in the mint family and is usually referred to as peppermint.  Peppermint has a long history of use as a supplement for multiple different indications. Most commonly it is used for stomach disturbances such as nausea and indigestion. It has also been used for treating headaches. There have been studies showing that peppermint can cause weight loss. It appears to be very well tolerated.


All of the other ingredients are various types of amino acids and vitamins that most people shouldn't have a problem with."



Back to your question now.

The common factor you'll see in nearly all supplements is the addition of caffeine or caffeine containing ingredients. Caffeine anhydrous, guarana, green tea extract etc. are all used in diet products because of their stimulant effects and their mild diuretic (fluid loss) effect. Certainly if you have sensitivity to caffeine or if you have any type of heart condition it would be recommended not to take one of these products. Aside from the caffeine contents, , there are numerous herbal ingredients and you just don't really know how well you will tolerate them. In the vast majority of people there is no problem but some do show sensitivities. The only real contraindication to taking them is if you have a known sensitivity to the ingredients, have heart conditions or if you are pregnancy/breastfeeding.

One more note on Hydroxycut and other older diet products. In the past, many diet products contained ephedra and were linked with all sorts of problems including heart attacks and liver issues. Ephedra is now banned and is no longer in diet products. Many products market themselves as "reformulated" due to the ban.

While we are talking about diet pills, I do want to briefly mention two herbal products that have been in the news a lot lately, including the Dr. Oz show. You may have heard of them as they currently the hot products on the market. They are Hoodia and Garcia Cambodia. Again, these are herbal products and aren't as extensively studied as prescription drugs are, but we do have some information on them I can share.

- Garcinia Cambogia: This is actually a fruit that is native in India and Southeast Asia. It has a high concentration of a substance known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA). The makers of diet products containing this ingredient state that it can reduce appetite, inhibit the production of fat in the body as well as decreasing body weight. It is not considered a stimulant. These claims have not been proven as there is conflicting evidence in studies. Some studies show a positive benefit in weight loss while others have shown no difference in weight loss vs. placebo. The good news is that multiple studies regarding HCA have found that it has been very well tolerated. It appears to be pretty safe for consumption so it may be worth a shot to try.

- Hoodia: Hoodia is an interesting plant. It is indigenous in certain parts of Africa and has in the past 10 years become a hot diet product in the United States. In fact, over the past 10-15 years, multiple drug companies had begun the process of patented drug development for it. Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, was one of those companies. Pfizer did eventually drop development of Hoodia as a prescription drug. There are numerous reasons why a company would stop pursuing a potential lucrative drug aside from safety and effectiveness issues including difficulty making or synthesizing the drug or difficulty in making it available as a oral (by mouth). Hoodia is thought to work by its appetite suppressant properties.

Like Garcinia, there is insufficient evidence to say whether or not the product is effective. In fact, after looking around for awhile I could not find one study conducted in humans that has been published in a medical journal. There was one or two that were conducted in animals and another I found that studied less than 10 patients and was never published. This lack of information makes it hard to recommend because both the effectiveness and safety are somewhat a mystery.

So in conclusion, it really depends on the person for diet pills. Most are well tolerated in people, it just is the stimulant properties you may have to be wary of. Other than that, it's tough to tell how people will respond to different herbal preparations.

If you have any questions regarding specific weight loss products, we would be happy to look into them for you! 

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy-related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any inquiries or want to connect! He's answered thousands of medication and pharmacy-related questions and he's ready to answer yours! Office: 716-389-3076

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