Every month in the UK, an average of 25,600 searches are made for weight loss pills online. Phrases such as ‘lose weight fast’ and ‘quickest way to lose weight’ are also searched for hundreds of thousands of times every single month. There’s clearly a high demand for quick weight loss solutions here in the UK, but do weight loss pills actually work? Are they safe? And which ones are the most effective?
To find out, we’ve asked for expert opinions from PT and qualified physiotherapist Stuart Cosgrove and Formulate Health founder Mina Khan who have decades of experience between them in the fields of health, fitness and nutrition.
There are three main types of weight loss medications that work in different ways. These are appetite suppressants, fat inhibitors and metabolism boosters. In this section we explain how each of these types of weight loss pills work in the body to help you lose weight.
As their name suggests, appetite suppressants work by reducing hunger levels in the body and mimicking feelings of fullness and satisfaction, which in turn leads to reduced calorie intake and therefore weight loss. Appetite suppressants work in a number of different ways.
Some work by stimulating the central nervous system, causing a rise in blood pressure and heart rate which in turn decreases your appetite, whilst others increase the neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which stops the hunger signals in their tracks. Other types of appetite suppressants, such as Liraglutide (found in Saxenda - aka ‘The Skinny Jab) works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone in the brain which tells the brain when the body is full.
Fat Inhibitors are another popular type of weight loss drug. They work by reducing the amount of fat your body can absorb, binding the fat with dietary fibre in the food you eat. The binded fat-fibre mass then cannot be absorbed by the small intestine so the body disposes of this as waste and absorption of energy (calories) is reduced, thereby promoting weight loss.
Carb inhibitors, also known as carb blockers, reduce the function of the alpha-amylase digestive enzyme in the body. This results in part of the carbohydrates consumed in food passing through the body without being digested or absorbed. Again, this results in weight loss as it reduces the amount of calories being absorbed.
Metabolism boosters are another type of weight loss pill that claim to work by - you guessed it - increasing, or ‘speeding up’ your metabolism. There’s a lot of dispute surrounding the efficacy of this type of weight loss pill, however many brands do offer products that say they’ll help to boost your metabolism and in term help to reduce your weight and/or body fat.
Metabolism boosters work by creating a process called thermogenesis which refers to heat generation in the body. In raising your body temperature, these weight loss drugs stimulate energy use which can help contribute to calorie burn, thereby in theory reducing body weight.
Opinions are definitely divided when it comes to the effectiveness of weight loss pills. Some healthcare professionals recommend certain types of weight loss drugs only to individuals who are significantly overweight and have a condition such as heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol. One example of this is the fat inhibitor Orlistat which was prescribed by the NHS in England over 290,000 times last year (2020).
To find out which weight loss pills are best, we spoke with Formulate Health founder Mina Khan who worked as a pharmacist for over 25 years:
“If you’ve tried traditional weight loss methods (i.e consistent healthy eating and exercise) and not achieved the results you were hoping for, you may decide you want to try a weight loss drug instead. Before making this decision it’s important that you first identify the reason why you’re not losing the weight. Once this has been established and you’re certain you want to go down the weight loss pill route, it’s important to understand that weight loss medication is designed to be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise, and is not a substitution for this.
“Once you’re ready and you’re certain that weight loss pills are the best option for you, I would definitely recommend opting for a natural option. A lot of popular weight loss pills on the market unfortunately have a whole host of rather undesirable side effects. Stomach pain, bloating, nausea, dizziness and bowel problems are all very common side effects of many of these drugs, and some of these side effects can end up causing a lot more problems than the drug itself claims to fix.
“That’s why I’d always recommend clinically backed, 100% natural weight loss supplements or even health supplements that have other benefits but can also be extremely beneficial when it comes to aiding weight loss. In recent years, ingredients such as Amla have been found to help to significantly reduce body weight in obese individuals. Supplements containing Amla such as Formulate Health’s Amlow supplement therefore may be a much better alternative to a weight loss pill.”
Amlow, Formulate Health. RRP: £22.99
“This depends on a wide range of factors such as your starting point, current calorie deficit and more. Fat burners can help you lose some fat if you already eat a good diet and just need a little more help to lose a few extra pounds. However they won’t help you if you regularly eat unhealthy high fat food and are thinking of relying solely on supplements for fat loss” says Mina.
We also spoke with personal trainer and physiotherapist Stuart Cosgrove to find out what he thinks about the effectiveness of common weight loss pills and whether or not natural supplements are a good option.
“One popular natural weight loss drug is Garcinia which is definitely not worth it”, says Stuart. “The lipolysis process (fat being broken down) in studies on rats is not replicated in humans the same way rendering it much less effective. Forskolin is much better as it ramps up cAMP levels to burn more fatty acids, but the most powerful combination of natural ingredients for fat burning is: white willow bark, guarana and ephedra. Although not everyone tolerates this powerful combination well!”
“All in all, a safe, natural and effective weight loss supplement is likely to be your best bet when it comes to choosing a weight loss pill” Mina adds. “Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any new medication, even if it is natural”.
We hope this expert discussion has been useful in providing you with an answer to the commonly asked question ‘Do weight loss pills work?’ and we wish you the very best of luck with your weight loss endeavors, whatever method you chose.