How Safe is Xenadrine

The real skinny on weight-loss supplements

By Martin Downs
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Claims about diet pills aren't always suspect. Some do help the body burn fat. But marketing tactics pill-makers use can be misleading, and experts insist that diet pills are rarely the best way to lose weight.

It's been said many times, many ways: Good eating habits and plenty of exercise are the best ways to get and stay slim. Nevertheless, the allure of taking pills and watching the fat melt away may be hard to resist, especially for people who are really struggling. "These type of products are just feeding into that desperation," says Sheah Rarback, dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Nothing is easy or effortless and guaranteed when it comes to our weight, unfortunately."

What's more, slimming down with pills may put some people in danger.

One of the most popular weight-loss supplements in the United States -- considered a "nutritional supplement" and not a drug by current FDA standards -- is Xenadrine, made by the New Jersey company Cytodyne Technologies.

The main ingredient in its original formula, Xenadrine RFA-1, is ephedrine, derived from the ephedra plant. Ephedrine increases metabolism, the process by which fat cells are broken down and converted to energy, and it suppresses appetite.

The effects of ephedrine are like those of amphetamines, also known as speed, and for some they can be deadly. Ephedrine can raise one's heart rate and blood pressure, so people with heart conditions and high blood pressure are warned against taking it. According to FDA records obtained by the watchdog group Public Citizen, ephedrine was linked to 32 heart attacks, 69 strokes, and altogether 81 deaths from 1993 to 2000. In June 2002, the group claimed that more than 100 ephedrine-related deaths had been reported to the FDA.