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By Todd Reitzel

Todd ReitzelWith the new year, many of us have resolutions to improve our health, and one common resolution is to lose weight. As the days grow longer again, we begin thinking of shedding those holiday pounds and looking forward to being ready for warm weather activities. So what’s the first step?

A seemingly easy solution is to choose a weight-loss dietary supplement. A wide variety of dietary supplements are now marketed to have proven results. But the research behind the effectiveness of dietary supplements is scant and inconclusive. And while FDA exercises some regulation over dietary supplements, it does not approve them like it does prescription drugs: FDA only gets involved after a supplement has been sold and either its ingredients are found to have adverse effects or the supplement is found to have hidden ingredients. For example, in 2009 FDA warned consumers to stop using Hydroxycut products because of reports of liver damage, including one death due to liver failure. Hydroxycut was recalled, reformulated, and reintroduced in 2010.

So if you do purchase a weight-loss supplement, remember that the effectiveness of its ingredients has not been tested beforehand by a regulatory agency.

FDA has determined, moreover, that many supplements contain untested active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). FDA maintains a web portal with information about tainted weight-loss products. Some APIs recently discovered in weight-loss supplements include DMAA, sibutramine, and fluoxetine, which are all regulated substances. But remember, because FDA doesn’t approve the sale of weight-loss supplements beforehand, it cannot regulate what hasn’t yet come to light.

If you want to lose weight, then first get some professional advice. Both the National Institutes of Health and FDA recommend starting a weight loss program by talking with a healthcare professional such as your doctor. You wouldn’t administer an antibiotic without the involvement of a healthcare professional. Why pop a pill for weight loss without professional advice?

And remember that healthcare never boils down solely to taking a pill. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, he or she probably also wants you to modify your behavior, too, such as getting rest and drinking more liquids to help you recover from your infection. Similarly, when you talk about weight loss with a professional, be ready to make the behavioral changes (diet and exercise) that you need to achieve a healthier weight.

Todd joined AAPS in 2012 with 20 years of experience in scholarly and scientific publishing and a keen interest in Web publishing and electronic learning. He holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and history and, in his spare time, enjoys basketball, gardening, and cooking.