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Diet Pills Provide Not-So Quick Fix, Experts Say

Apr 23, 2003 | The Daily Campus With the school year coming to a close, many students are dreaming of, or maybe more accurately, dreading a summer filled with sun and swimsuits. There will be no more hiding behind greek T-shirts and sweat suits.

The pressure to obtain a beach-worthy body has heightened. In their quest to get instant weight loss results, many students will opt for a "magic pill" without considering its possibly lethal side effects.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, 120 million Americans are overweight and 54 million are obese, meaning they are 30 or more pounds overweight. To lose the extra pounds, the FDA says that about 17 million people buy diet pills every year. The 1997 National College Health Risk Behavior survey found that one in every 20 college students had taken diet pills.

Diet pills have become a trend among college students in the last 10 years.

"My friends and I used to take Diet Fuel our freshman year," junior film major Sarah Jordan said. "We were afraid of gaining the infamous freshman 15. It helped us have energy to work out and suppressed our appetite for late night deliveries."

Diet pills come in many types, including fat-burners, laxatives and appetite suppressants, the last being the most popular. Metabolife, Xenadrine and HydroxyCut are just a few of many appetite suppressants available over the counter, all of which have recently removed the dangerous ingredient ephedrine.

Ephedrine, also known as ephedera or Ma Huang, is a stimulant derived from an Asiatic shrub. The FDA reported that ephedrine acts much like adrenaline because it dilates the bronchial muscles, raises blood pressure and stimulates irregular heartbeats. According to the FDA, when diet pills are taken together with caffeine, the ephedrine in them can over-stimulate the central nervous system, which may cause life-threatening results.

Celeste Weddle, a registered nurse, said that these "uppers" could cause extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, high blood pressure, chest pains and dehydration, which results in diarrhea. Weddle said that if taken in large doses, these pills can lead to heart palpitations, strokes and heart failure.

Senior CCPA major Josh Goldfarb said his use of diet pills to boost his energy eventually left him drained.

"Taking them daily is like a mental addiction," Goldfarb said, "I became anxious and sleepless. I would wake up in the morning tired and feel like I needed one to function."

Goldfarb put a stop to this vicious cycle and now relies on coffee and eight hours of sleep to get him through his day.

Flea Carr, a junior business major, said many girls in the greek system feel pressure to be thin. She believes a lot of diet pill popping occurs in many sororities.

"It is not a healthy solution," Carr said. "Most girls gain it back anyway."

Weddle agrees.

"After users stop taking ephedrine, they often gain back more weight than they lost and they have a higher fat index, because the body works harder to store fat and devotes less energy to muscle maintenance," Weddle said. "Withdrawal from ephedrine can include an increased appetite, because the body's natural hunger mechanisms have been readjusted."

Men and women are taking diet pills at an equal rate, but for different reasons. Men take them to bulk up, while women take them to slim down.

For students like Mark Swadener, a junior engineering major, supplements like Ripped Fuel increase his ability to lift weights longer and harder. Swadener juggles a rigorous school load and feels he maximizes his time at the gym with the help of these stimulants.

"Most of the guys that work out at the Cinco Center take Keratine or some other stimulant to bulk up," Swadener said. "It gives them that competitive edge that they can't get naturally."

Unfortunately, college is a world of beer and late-night pizza, and the diet industry is making billions selling what some medical experts believe are dangerous products with questionable benefits.

"Like most quick fixes, diet pills seem too good to be true," junior advertising major Missy Barth said.

Barth believes that weight management is found in a lifestyle, not a pill. She thinks diet pills will only leave users with more persistent weight problems in the future.

It may be cliché, but nothing beats good ol' healthy eating and exercise.

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