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From Fat Burner Pills to Injectables: Are Alt Remedies for Weight Loss Worth It?

Alternative remedies for weight loss often come with their own set of side effects and risks.

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Fit
5 min read
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In January 2023, a 21-year-old college graduate in Chennai allegedly passed away after taking ‘weight reduction’ pills. 

In 2020, actor Mishti Mukherjee from Kolkata succumbed to kidney failure after allegedly being on an extreme diet for weight loss.

Obesity is a (not so) hidden public health crisis the world over. According to the World Health Organization, one in eight people, globally, in 2022 were living with obesity.

Closer home, the picture is no better. According to a recent study done by The Lancet, 44 million women and 26 million men in India, aged above 20, are clinically obese.

Over the years, more and more people have been moving towards alternative remedies and medicine to curb weight gain – to prevent physical health problems, to avoid being shamed for their weight, or to generally lead a healthier life.

"However, alternative remedies often come with their own set of side effects and risks."

FIT reached out to obesity experts – Dr Vivek Bindal, Director & Head, Minimal Access, Bariatric & Robotic Surgery, Max Hospital, Vaishali, and Dr Rakesh Durkhure, Director & Senior Consultant, Laparoscopic, Bariatric, & GI Surgeon, Marengo Asia Hospital, Gurugram – to understand how alternative remedies for weight loss can impact one’s health.

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‘Tea Extracts, Appetite Suppressants’: Alt Remedies That People Opt For

In 2024, there are an uncountable number of alt remedies available for weight loss. 

On one hand, you have celebrities swearing by gummy bears and the ‘Atkins diet’ (cue the Kardashians) that helped them lose weight.

On the other hand is Tesla CEO Elon Musk saying that ‘Ozempic/Wegovy’ is behind him losing ‘30 lbs’.  

Alternative remedies for weight loss often come with their own set of side effects and risks.

In 2022, Elon Musk said that he fasted and relied on ozempic/wegovy for weight loss.

(Photo: Screenshot from X/formerly Twitter)

Dr Vivek Bindal tells FIT that, in India, the alt remedies that people usually rely on are:

  • Appetite suppressants

  • Steroids

  • Pills

  • Injectables

  • ‘Natural’ and herbal tonics

Other popular non-prescription supplements include:
  • Protein powders

  • Tea extracts/caffeine

  • Soluble fibre supplements

  • Conjugated linoleic acid supplements

  • Fat burner pills

In fact, despite lacking scientific evidence that any of these alt remedies work, a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association had suggested that 15.2 percent adults trying to lose weight relied on “nonprescription dietary supplements.”

But These Might Not Always Work in Your Favour…

However, Dr Bindal shares a word of caution. Not every weight loss supplement or alt remedy will help you. Some can even have side effects or risks associated with them. The most common are issues in the liver, kidney, and intestines.

Dr Rakesh Durkhure, explains to FIT, “Usually when people opt for alt remedies without supervision, or on advice from quacks, they don’t know how much dosage or which medication they should be taking.”

Dr Durkhure goes on to add,

“Many alt remedies for weight loss can cause loose motions. The patient might end up losing good nutrients and micronutrients. Along with malnutrition, they’ll be at the risk of struggling with protein loss, muscle loss, electrolyte imbalance, destroying the inner lining of their stomach and intestine, and in many cases, psychological trauma.”

However, both the experts that FIT spoke to also maintained that genuine and authentic medicines can also end up harming people trying to lose weight, if not taken under proper supervision.

Dr Durkhure shares two examples from what he has observed among his patients. 

  • Orlistat is an actual medicine that is used to treat obesity. The ideal dose is two tablets a day for 2-3 months, but doctors prescribe it depending on the person’s medical history. Dr Durkhure has dealt with patients who took the medicine without proper dosage instructions. “This can lead to unhealthy weight loss, and cause problems to the liver, kidney, intestine," he tells FIT.

  • Mefa termin is a drug that helps increase heart rate and blood pressure. It’s usually prescribed to people with low blood pressure. However, in his practice, Dr Durkhure has seen gym-goers take this to lose weight. He tells FIT, “These patients end up with a compromised immunity.”

What about natural supplements? They don’t work for everyone too, says Dr Bindal. 

Citing the examples of swarna (gold) bhasma and chandi (silver) bhasma, which are popular weight loss antioxidants, Dr Bindal explains, “These are heavy metal supplements which can be difficult for the body to metabolise, and indirectly can cause harm to your liver.”

What’s also noteworthy is that while the popular weight loss injectables Ozempic and Wegovy, that have been hailed by celebrities in the West, are not permitted for use in India, they are available on some online markets in tablet-forms.

But, once again, Dr Bindal extends a warning. “Even if it’s accessible and you get it on the grey market, how will you check if it's original and not duplicate? How will you check its efficacy? Can someone ensure that it won’t be harmful to your body?”

“There are a lot of companies that promote their products with misleading claims, making people believe that they have no harmful side effects or risks associated with them. These are tall claims which are not supported by scientific evidence. People should be wary of them.”
Dr Vivek Bindal
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So What Do Doctors Suggest You Do?

For anyone trying to lose weight in a healthy manner, Dr Bindal suggests that you consult a medical practitioner (doctor, dietitian, nutritionist, etc) and ask them about the possible side effects or impacts of certain foods that you wish to take.

He adds, “Check the efficacy and scientific veracity of the weight loss method you’re relying on.”

Dr Durkhure agrees. His go-to suggestion for his patients is the ‘5-5-5’ funda.

  • Do not eat anything which contains salt or sugar after 5 pm.

  • Walk 5 kms everyday.

  • Drink 5 litres of water everyday.

Other than this, both the experts maintain that anyone trying to lose weight should avoid fad diets and processed foods. Rely on balanced meals and opt for exercises that are appropriate for you.

“As a bariatric surgeon, I help people with excess weight through surgery if their weight is causing problems to their heart, other organs, or posing the risk of comorbidities. For everyone else, I suggest having an appropriate amount of carbohydrates, proteins, nutrients, and eating fresh fruit and salad everyday.”
Dr Rakesh Durkhure

On a concluding note, there are two other things that these experts want you to remember:

  • Natural supplements are also chemical-based, which might interact with different bodies in different ways.

  • People who have compromised immunity, thyroid issues, diabetes, or any other comorbidities can have elevated side effects, so they should consult a doctor before taking any remedies – alt or otherwise.

(All of April, Quint FIT is decoding the alarming rise in obesity in India and the various health risks associated with it. Follow our full coverage here.)

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