Weighty issuesThe history of diet pills is also a history of side effects. It all began with thyroid hormone therapy that appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. Its use as a diet prescription was based on the observation that patients with hyperthyroidism lose weight. Although patients gain an appetite, their metabolism goes up and they lose weight. They can lose about three to four kilograms in a month or two, making it a perfect diet pill.
But people became really sick. Their nerves got weak, they were always tired and some developed osteoporosis. This diet treatment was eventually discarded.
In the mid 1990s, psychotropic drugs were popular as appetite suppressors. Overweight people wanting to lose weight went wild over Phentermine and Fenfluramine. But in 1997, a major U.S. hospital, the Mayo Clinic, reported that people on “Phen-Fen” prescriptions developed heart valve problems. This treatment also disappeared.
This is what happens when you use anti-depression pills for extravagant purposes.
However, the idea of losing weight by making the brain suppress hunger survived. In 1997, the German multinational corporation Knoll produced Reductil, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for sale. The company was initially researching depression treatment when a side effect of weight loss was confirmed and led to the development of a pill that suppressed appetite.
In 1999, the Swiss company Roche developed a similar pill, Xenical, also approved by the U.S. FDA. It is based on the principle of losing weight by suppressing the function of lipase, which breaks down body fat.
The disadvantages of approved diet pills are that they are expensive and their effects differ from patient to patient. The market is huge but solutions are lacking. Thus, cracks develop. What grabs our attention are pills that make one lose appetite and weight, but have no side effects. Pills for treating epilepsy are used to suppress appetite, cold medicine to decompose fat and pills for treating diabetes are used for losing weight.
The Korean Pharmaceutical Association indicted three big pharmaceutical companies for advertising and selling pills to doctors as such on Friday. At diet clinics, it is legal for doctors to prescribe them, but it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to advertise and sell pills for purposes beyond what they have been approved for.
It is not worth risking our lives on diet pills. Instead, we should eat less and exercise more. This is the only combination proven to work.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Cho Hyun-wook [firstname.lastname@example.org]