Our Experts, Your Health

The magic pill myth

I think it’s fantastic when something inspires people to be healthier.   I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys that energized feeling when something we read or hear or see gives us a surge of energy or encourages us to think anything is possible. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when that inspiration comes with a literal price tag – when we’re told that we need to buy something to join in the hope – well, that’s advertising, and all advertising should be approached with caution. There have been dozens of miracle claims throughout the years – Lord Byron was a fan of vinegar, rumor has it a well-known opera diva used a live tapeworm… even cigarette companies used weight loss as an advertising strategy.

Case in point, there are an awful lot of health products, especially weight loss products, being promoted by TV personalities these days (Dr. Oz is the most frequently mentioned, but he’s not the only one). The problem with a lot of these claims is that they’re simply too good to be true. Anything that is promoted as making you lose weight without also getting some activity and eating a healthy diet is… well… to be blunt, a scam. There is NO treatment for obesity that works without a healthy lifestyle. None. Not even surgery. Not long term.

Let me say that again. No treatment for weight – not surgery, not prescriptions, not supplements – helps without a healthy lifestyle that includes activity and good healthy food.

Just as important is the fact that there just isn’t much science backing these claims. Most supplements haven’t been very well studied, which means we have very little to go on in terms of safety, drug interactions or effectiveness; so we just don’t know who should be taking them. And any time anyone says “everyone” should try a medication, you should be very cautious about that advice. Even my herbal tea has a warning label about people who should avoid it.

Bottom line, there may one day be a place for some of these products in the arsenal against weight, but they are not miracle cures. And if you’re thinking about adding one of these to your own routine, do your homework. Chat with your doctor before starting any new supplements or diet.

Daen Scott, APRN, FNP

As part of the Billings Clinic Metabolism Center’s multidisciplinary care team, I provide individualized care for weight loss and better health. I received my nurse practitioner degree from Montana State University and joined Billings Clinic in 2013. I enjoy spending time with friends and family, running, snowboarding, and knitting. I love being a part of the Montana community and helping to make that community healthier. My favorite part of my job is helping people find the tools to improve their health and their energy to enjoy life.

3 comments on “The magic pill myth

    1. Nancy – Thanks for a great question. One of the best things you can do is work with a registered dietician to help refine your eating habits – they can help you problem solve and determine a sustainable eating pattern that works for your taste, budget, and nutritional needs. As far as a diet goes, there are a lot of reasonable options out there, the main thing is 1. avoid anything that seems extreme and 2. track your own response. Starting a food journal can be a great tool to help you determine what works best for you. This is a very individual journey so the key to success is finding out what your body responds best to. Best of luck!

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