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Expert Q&A

Is bitter orange extract asafer diet pill alternative?

Asked by Lasha, Selma, Alabama

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I have been hearing a lot about the bitter orange extract (citrus aurantium), which is supposedly used as an appetite suppressant. Would this be a safer alternative to taking regular diet pills?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Lasha,

I'm glad you asked this question, as supplement companies do an excellent job of getting the word out about different ingredients, but they don't usually give you the full story. Citrus aurantium has seen a surge in use in weight-loss products since the banning of ephedra by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It is often marketed as a safe alternative to ephedra, and many people assume that because it is a dietary supplement and not a drug, it must be safer. But this is not necessarily the case.

Citrus aurantium is similar in structure and function to ephedra. Studies are mixed as to its effect in weight loss, but it is important to understand that although it is not a drug, it still has side effects and should be taken with caution.

Similar to ephedra, it may increase blood pressure and may also have significant drug interactions. You should be especially careful about taking it as a weight-loss supplement if you are taking prescription medications. In addition, because it is not considered a drug, the companies that manufacture and market products containing citrus aurantium are not held to the same standards as pharmaceutical companies. Because of this, you may not be getting an appropriate dose of the active compound or worse, the supplement you are taking could contain unhealthy additives.

While citrus aurantium may have fewer side effects and be easier to obtain than prescription diet pills, I think the risk, cost and lack of clear benefit of supplements containing this compound do not make it a better alternative to diet pills.

With that being said, I don't use prescription diet pills or appetite suppressants in my practice either, as I view them as a quick fix; using them, patients don't learn how to eat to control hunger. As soon as they stop taking the pills, their appetite returns, and they regain weight. I prefer to attempt to control hunger by eating smaller, protein-and fiber-based meals on a regular basis throughout the day. And the best way to increase fat burning, as many of these weight-loss supplements claim to do, is to move more and increase your muscle mass. I know it's not that exciting and it does require a little bit of effort, but in the long term, it is the only thing that works.

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