Study: Diet pills yet another way to yo-yo
November 26, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Since she started taking the popular diet drugs called phen-fen three months ago, Angela Collier has lost 35 pounds. She's so pleased with the results that she's decided to stop taking the drugs next week.
"I am ecstatic. I can actually shop for clothes. I'm just enjoying my skinny self," Collier said.
But Collier may not be skinny for long. If she's like most people, she'll put the weight right back on as soon as she stops taking phen-fen. A new report by a National Institutes of Health task force found that virtually 100 percent of the people who took the combination of the drugs phentermine and fenfluramine, commonly abbreviated to phen-fen, put back all the weight they lost when they stopped.
In fact, "they may gain more weight than they had to start with," said Dr. George Blackburn of the Harvard Medical School.
Phen-fen has become a diet craze in the past few years. Many people, like Collier and her boss, also on phen-fen, say they are using the drug as a temporary crutch to help them lose weight. But according to the NIH report, treating obesity with drugs for just a few months doesn't work.
To successfully treat obesity with medications, the study says, patients would need to take them for years, and possibly even for an entire lifetime. Blackburn says that's because the drugs don't teach people how to eat better; they simply change the brain's chemistry so people think they're not hungry.
Fine, you might be wondering. Why not just take phen-fen for life? Because the longer you take phen-fen, the more likely you are to develop serious side effects, like primary pulmonary hypertension, a lung disease that kills nearly half of its victims within four years.
Plus, neurologists worry that phen-fen, if taken for too long, may damage brain cells.
Nevertheless, phen-fen has its advocates. Gary Vogel directs the Doctors Diet Clinic, where Collier and her boss were prescribed phen-fen. He said he has seen patients lose weight and keep it off, even after they stopped taking the drugs.
"They start to see, 'I didn't need to eat that much food. I didn't need to be a glutton,'" Vogel said.
But many weight loss experts say the diet drugs don't teach you to eat properly. As always, the only way to permanently lose weight is to change your eating and exercise habits forever.
Related sites: Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.