Discussions around diet pills always conjure up heated debates where people are almost evenly split into two groups; one that claims diet pills really do work and can be even good for you, and another that claims they are all hoaxes made by greedy corporations and seedy pseudo-scientists. Then there’s a few of us who can’t say with absolute certainty whether those diet pills are a godsend or a modern-day curse. Since I am no medical professional, and I know the limitations of my mind, I’ve resorted to my trusty Google search, television sets, pharmacists, and professional dietitians. The aim of my research was to bring forth a list of the most common types of diet pills and what professionals really think of them.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that diet pills can be divided into two groups: the ones that look trustworthy, and those you wouldn’t want to be in two miles’ radius of. The latter are those advertised quite horrendously on suspicious television stations. While both are equally popular, there’s a drastic difference in price range.

First, let’s discuss the cheap as-seen-on-TV diet pills. With a simple Google search, you’ll find that many of those pills are just too much trouble. For example, the Meizitang pill apparently has many doppelgangers out there. Many dodgy manufacturers make pills that look like the Meizitang pills, and there are so many of them that even I found difficulty trying to search for the original manufacturer. Every vendor claims to be selling the “real deal,” this in turn makes it difficult for the customer to know the exact components of the pill, since they don’t know if what they’re taking is the original pill in the first place.

Another example, and a much more shocking discovery, is that the Majestic Slimming Capsule poses a serious risk to the consumer’s health. This is not some random medical website’s claim; this is an article currently available on the Australian Government’s Department of Health’s website. While the advertisements, which you can find on YouTube, boast with the fact that these capsules are made in Australia, the first result you will find when you Google “Majestic Slimming Capsules” is this article, warning Australian citizens from using these capsules. The article was posted in 2012, and the most alarming part is that if you are trying to find these capsules, you’ll find many results of online stores claiming to have them.

These aren’t the only pills and remedies available online and on television, though. There’s the now infamous Aplexme diet pill, the ads for which went viral thanks to Ahmed Maher’s surprising appearance in them. When I looked up these pills, I found that there is only one website selling them and the components of the pills aren’t stated on the website.

There are many more other diet medications out there from Mora Ananas to Dr. Ming’s Tea. When I spoke to dietitians and pharmacists, they insisted that any medications with unknown sources and components will not be available at pharmacies. They are, however, quite easy to find. Naturally, they all said it’s dangerous to consume those pills especially when so little information is available about their true components.

Even though the three dietitians and one pharmacist I spoke to warned about these uncertified pills, they did say that they have given patients some other, certified, pills to help them lose weight.

This brings us to the second group of diet pills; the ones that at least seem safe. Each of the dietitians had their own strategy when it comes to prescribing medication. The first dietitian I spoke to, who no longer works in the field, told me that she used to only prescribe medication to patients whose severe obesity posed grave danger to their health. Otherwise, she would prefer to change the lifestyle of her patient and have them start a healthy diet and begin to exercise. While the second dietitian informed me that whether or not she gives diet pills to patients depends on the patient’s lifestyle; if they work out, she gives them fat burners, and if not then what they could use is Orlistat, a medication which prevents the digestive system from absorbing fats from new meals the patient eats. The third dietitian I spoke to told me that she only gives her patients diet pills if they have an issue that prevents their bodies from burning fat and have already tried many diets and they did not work. The pills she prescribes are Green Tea Pills, which are fat burners, and Orlistat only if her patient knows they are going to eat a big meal. She also said that an issue she faces is that many patients go in seeking an easy way out of being overweight and want to be given prescriptions for diet pills, even though what they really need is to be put on a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

All three dietitians have informed me of the most common diet pills; starting with Orlistat, which has a side effect of vitamin D deficiency, and Green Tea Pills. This vitamin D deficiency issue caused by Orlistat is combatted by dietitians by having the patient consume something with vitamin D in it. Other common medications are Chromax, Chitocal and Xenical. The pharmacist I spoke to, who specializes in supplying pharmacies with diet medications, has informed me that these three pills are “filling” medications, fiber tablets that give the patient a false sense of being “full”. Something the first dietitian I spoke to said she normally would like to avoid, because she doesn’t want the patient to rely on feeling full, but to fight their hunger until their stomach shrinks to its natural size, thus changing the patient’s lifestyle to a healthier one.

These pills mentioned above, while dietitians try not to use them, are still considered “safe”. This is because they do not tamper with the patient’s central nervous system. In the past, some appetite suppressants, which did exactly that, were available in pharmacies. When asked about appetite suppressants which target the nervous system, the pharmacist told us that these medications were banned and are no longer being sold in pharmacies. The dangers of these pills were made clear some years ago when it became known that some patients experience depression because of them.

While it is quite refreshing to know some pills were taken off the market when their dangers were made clear, there is still the issue of the as-seen-on-TV diet pills. Our Ministry of Health needs to do something about the fraudulent, dangerous pills being promoted out there in the open to an unaware, unsuspecting, desperate public. It’s depressing to know that we still need to remind people of what is ethical and what isn’t.

When you promote a product whose sources and components you don’t know to someone who desperately needs to improve their lifestyle, you are not only deluding them into believing there’s an easy way out of being overweight, you’re also putting their health at risk, only for you to make a profit. And when you, as a health system, let this happen, there has got to be something very wrong with your management.