Hopeful slimmers buy potentially dangerous drugs online

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One-third of people trying to lose weight have tried potentially dangerous slimming pills bought online, The Guardian reports a UK government survey has found. One in three participants had taken substances bought through websites, according to the poll of 1,805 people released by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Slimming World.

The UK government medicines regulator said many of the websites are unregulated and the diet pills are often fake and contain ingredients that have been banned because of their harmful side-effects. “Slimming tablets can seem like a quick-fix solution to weight problems, but some of them contain very dangerous ingredients,” said the senior MHRA policy manager Lynda Scammell. “It’s essential you know what you’re buying online and what the risks are. If you don’t, your weight could end up being the least of your worries.”

The report says the MHRA has seized nearly £4m of dubious weight-loss pills since April 2013. The majority of slimming products they seized contained the active ingredient Sibutramine, a medicine that was withdrawn across Europe and the US in 2010 due to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with its use. Other side-effects include headache, dry mouth, anorexia, constipation, insomnia, bloating and sinusitis, according to government research.

In the UK, only one anti-obesity drug is available on  National Health Serivce (NHS) prescription, Orlistat (Xenical). Orlistat (Alli) is also available over the counter in low doses.

The report says the MHRA survey found 63% of people who had taken slimming pills bought online experienced unpleasant side-effects such as diarrhoea, bleeding, blurred vision and heart problems. About 40% of respondents said they had used slimming pills knowing there were health risks, with 62% doing so because they were “desperate to lose weight”.

The MHRA recommends that those who want to buy medication online should check if the seller is registered. The government agency said fake dental equipment and STI and HIV test strips are among the other products they often come across.

Last month, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and three local authorities and Northumbria and Cumbria police forces, along with the MHRA, took part in a series of raids to uncover an operation suspected of selling diet pills that contain the deadly fat-burning chemical 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP).

DNP was first used in French munitions factories during the first world war to make explosives, the report says. Clinical trials showed it could result in the loss of up to 7kg (1.1st) in a week. The NHS Choices website explains the chemical does this by accelerating a person’s metabolism to a “dangerously fast level”. It has killed eight young people in Britain in the past two years.

Jenny Caven, Slimming World’s head of external affairs, said: “It’s easy to see how quick-fix promises made by the sellers of online slimming pills could seem tempting to people who are desperately struggling with their weight. Buying slimming pills online can be incredibly risky though.

“The sellers are often unregulated and taking the pills puts people at risk of dangerous side-effects. Learning to make changes to the way you shop, cook and eat, and getting support to develop new healthy habits really is the best way to lose weight.”

The Guardian report
MHRA report


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