# Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Safety Issues Regarding Weight Loss Supplements

The rate of obese or overweight Canadians has significantly increased in the past 25 years. While the reasons for this increase remain complex and varied, the fact remains that obesity is a serious health issue. Being significantly overweight greatly increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain types of cancer, as well as increased probability of suffering a stroke.

As the obesity rate increases, so has the market for weight loss products. While there are several prescription weight-loss medications available in Canada, these are intended only for people who are medically at risk due to obesity. These drugs should be used under the strict supervision of a physician, and to be used as part of a medically sound weight loss plan that also includes physical activity and a balanced diet. These drugs should never be taken without the approval of your doctor, as there can be side effects and/or health risks. You should only use these medications exactly as prescribed, and never share them. It is not advisable to order these drugs online, unless you have a prescription from your doctor.

There are also various natural health products that are readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets, health food stores and/or online. While some of these products are safe and/or effective, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a magic pill that will miraculously make you lose weight. Any weight loss supplement, whether prescription or over the counter, will only work if it is a part of a weight loss plan that includes diet and exercise.

It is a common mistake to assume that over the counter diet aids are safe and effective. In fact, they could potentially lead to serious health concerns. If you are planning to use health products in order to lose weight, do some research and be informed about the potential risks of the products available. It is important to be aware of the ingredients in the health product you intend on using, and whether these ingredients can have an adverse effect when used with other drugs or foods. As well, these products may not be safe is you have other health problems or are elderly.

While it is impossible to list all the risks that are associated with all of the available products, here are some basic guidelines to help you make a wise, informed choice:

• Never use prescription weight loss medication that has not been prescribed to you by your family health care provider.  There are internet websites that will allow you to purchase these drugs without a prescription from your family doctor. Instead, you "consult" online with one of their "professionals". However, this can be very dangerous, as only your physician is completely aware of your medical history and health status. You may inadvertently be prescribed a medication that is harmful to you.

• Taking several different weight loss products together at the same time. Certain weight loss products and natural health products contain different ingredients that when combined may be harmful to you. These ingredients may also negatively interact with other medication you may be taking. Even if the product you intend on using does not need a prescription, consult with your health care provider in order to ensure that you plan on taking is safe for you.

• Be aware of who you're buying your product(s) from.  If you purchase these products online, be aware that not all websites are legitimate. Anyone can put up a website and advertise health products. These products, including prescriptions, may not be approved for sale in Canada because they are deemed unsafe and/or ineffective. Research the company that you are considering purchasing your health products from, and make sure that they are legitimate.

• Never take products in a manner for which they are not intended. Products like ephedra or ephidrene are authorized in Canada as a decongestant. However, they have been commonly misused as a weight loss supplement. Laxatives are also commonly misused in this fashion as well. These products are not intended to be used as weight loss supplements, and can cause serious health problems if used in such a manner.

• Do not assume that products are safe because they are advertised as natural.  Active components from a food substance can be extracted, concentrated and manufactured or sold as a natural health product. While the original food may in itself be safe when consumed in moderation, the higher doses found in the extract may be potentially harmful. This is especially true in the case of green tea, which is very safe, but where the highly concentrated form has been linked to serious liver damage.

• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many advertisements make claims that are not supported by scientific fact. Many supplements claim to suppress appetite, increase metabolism and/or block the absorption of carbohydrates or fat. Products that are authorized for sale by Health Canada have been assessed and determined to be safe and effective for their authorized purpose. However, unauthorized products can be harmful, and/or ineffective.

It is important to consult with your physician or health care provider before embarking on any weight loss plan. While medications and/or supplements can help you lose weight, it is important to remember that there is no pill that will melt off the pounds. It is essential to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into your lifestyle in order to shed the unwanted pounds.

If you have been denied health insurance due to your weight issue, you may want to purchase Guaranteed Issue coverage. This policy does not require any medical information or ask questions regarding your health. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this coverage.

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