Students disregard the dangers of illegal weight-loss pills. This piece also ran in the Spring 2009 issue.
By Alison Leung
Many people, women especially, go to extraordinary lengths to be thin and what is perceived to be “beautiful.” As a junior economics major, Jane Chan* has many of the same concerns as the typical college student: classes, worries about pending exams and juggling work with her social life. Outwardly, Chan tries to lead a normal life, but she admits to having had a weight complex throughout her entire teenage years. Even today, she says that she obsessively attends the gym every day of the week, sometimes even twice a day. Chan, supported by a diet that includes mostly fruits and vegetables, currently weights 108 pounds.
“I really don’t care about dying or other health consequences right now,” she says. “I just care about losing weight.”
According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, almost 25 percent of girls turn to pills when they’re trying to lose weight.
“I was taking the Bangkok Pill for a couple of months and I could tell that my weight definitely dropped,” Chan says. “It was apparent and a lot of other people were noticing too. I loved it.”
The Bangkok Pill is a combination drug used for weight reduction. It was banned in the United States and Thailand, where it was originally manufactured, for its high dosage of Fenfluramine, a drug known to cause heart problems and liver failure. This particular pill proved to be effective in weight loss, but in the long run, there are risky side effects. In 2002, Japan’s Ministry of Health reported at least four deaths and 160 cases of illness due to similar imported slimming pills.
“At around the same time of my weight loss, my heart beats really fast, even if I wasn’t doing any strenuous activities, and I also had a hard time sleeping,” Chan says. She refused to disclose her means of obtaining the illegal pill.
Looking in from an outsider’s perspective, senior economics major Jack Smith* was living with his sister during the summer when he noticed her daily regimen of taking a Taiwanese weight-loss pill called Viagra. “My sister buys Viagra from her friend. It’s not the same Viagra we know about here…for guys. The Taiwanese just used the popularity of its name for this weight-loss pill. It’s also known as the ‘Blue Pill’ and she’s addicted to them,” Smith says.
There were several discussions with his sister that stuck out in his mind. “She says that when she goes to the bathroom, she can see an oily and fatty residue on her stool, which apparently means that the pills work,” Smith says.
However, Smith was unconvinced and tried to warn his sister about the pills. “Luckily, she has not had any fatal side effects, but I know she will. I can already tell that she had gotten a lot weaker by the end of my stay.”
Diet pills, such as Imelda Perfect Slim, Lida DaiDaihua, Meili, Maiozi Slim Capsules and Zhen de Shou, have been and are still widespread in Asian countries. They are making their way over here to the United States, being advertised as “ancient remedies,” which adds mystique and intrigue to the average, American consumer. Many of these products do not state or indicate anywhere their origins on the package, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has traced China to be the major manufacturer of these products.
With the FDA not too far behind the chase to find the main culprits of transporting these drugs into the U.S., they still have not caught up. Not to mention, many American residents are having relatives from Asia transport the pills when they come to visit or directly ship them in a package. To say the least, the government can issue major criminal action against the carrier and recipient of the pills. The FDA is also currently working hard to shut down hundreds of Web sites that sold dangerous weight-loss pills on the Internet.
For the past year, the U.S. FDA frantically combed through more than 30 pills from Asia that contain undeclared drugs, of which include Sibutramine, Rimonabant, Phenytoin, Phenolphthalein and Bumatenide. After thorough research and testing, the FDA released a nationwide warning on Dec. 22, 2008. The news release is supposed to protect consumers from Asian weight-loss pills that could put them at risk for serious health consequences. Nonetheless, consumers are still exposed to media outlets that continue to sell these hazardous, yet enticing supplements. From magazine ads to late night infomercials, the FDA still has trouble stopping these undeclared drugs from infiltrating the American market.
As of now, Alli is the only FDA-approved, over-the-counter weight-loss product/program found in vitamin stores like GNC. Not to say that no diet pills are considered “safe,” but the studies testing its safety are never 100 percent accurate. In the meantime, it is hard to test for effects say 20 years from now.
*Editor’s Note: Students’ names have been withheld to ensure anonymity. These students’ names are fictitious.
The FDA warns that even for approved weight-loss pills, like Alli, there could be glitches and kinks that have not been worked out yet. If you are thinking about taking diet pills, the FDA recommends that you consult your physician before embarking on any new weight-loss plan.