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I used to be an overweight child. In fact, I spent most of my school life being overweight. Thankfully, I’m no longer overweight (a little underweight, actually). However, back when I was in school, I honestly thought that if I took weight loss supplements, I could get rid of the excess weight quickly. After doing my research recently, however, I am profoundly thankful not to have done anything like that.In 2013, the Times of India published an article about an Indian student in the UK, who died after reportedly abusing weight loss pills. The report stated that the supplement in question contained 2,4-dinitrophenol, which is a banned substance. Even the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) published an article cautioning people against taking weight loss supplements without medical approval and supervision. The article noted that the FDA has found hundreds of products that are marketed as dietary supplements but actually contain hidden active ingredients (components that make a medicine effective against a specific illness) that could be prescription drugs, unsafe or banned ingredients, or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans. The article also pointed out that dietary supplements don’t need FDA approval, and that just because a product is available doesn’t mean that it is safe.

An article, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cautioned that manufacturers of weight loss supplements rarely carry out studies to test whether their products are even effective. Even if they do conduct studies, the sample sizes are small and the subjects take the supplements only for a few weeks or months.

The problems associated with weight loss supplements in India are naturally similar to the problems faced in the US. On 15th November 2017, the Times of India published another article on weight loss supplements, focusing on Garcinia Cambogia Extracts (GCE). Garcinia Cambogia is a plant grown in Indonesia and Karnataka. Extracts from the fruit are popularly used in weight loss supplements. The TOI article quoted Dr. Raman Goel, a senior bariatric surgeon, who said that supplements containing GCE have been found to have little or no weight loss benefits. He added that these products aren’t even approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

There is, however, some law in place to regulate the ingredients that manufacturers can use in supplements. The Food Safety & Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2016, provides a list of approved ingredients for nutraceuticals, the types of food categories in which they can be used, and their permissible limits. The FSSAI is also working on new standards for product approval.

Until there are mandatory comprehensive testing and approval processes and systems, taking any sort of weight loss supplement is a risk, and should be avoided as far as possible. However, if you feel that you really need to take something, then it should be done only after taking medical advice, and under medical supervision. Honestly, I think that the best way to lose weight and get fit is through a proper diet and exercise regimen. It may take time, but it is safer and far more sustainable!

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