Overweight people are falling prey to online sellers of potentially dangerous slimming pills which contain withdrawn pharmaceutical ingredients, new research reveals.
The UK’s medicines watchdog said lives are being put at risk and warned dieters not to be seduced by the promise of quick-fix weight loss and discreet deliveries that bypass discussions with their GP and pharmacist.
One in three people have tried slimming pills purchased online, according to the joint #FakeMeds survey of 1,805 slimmers by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Slimming World. Since April 2013, the MHRA has seized nearly £4 million worth of dodgy weight loss pills.
“Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death.”
Lynda Scammell, Senior Policy Manager, MHRA
More than three quarters (77 per cent) were enticed by promises of rapid weight loss, more than half (57 per cent) were attracted to being able to order discreetly and 44 per cent ordered online because they did not want to speak to a GP or pharmacist, the survey revealed.
However, almost two-in-three (63 per cent) suffered unpleasant side effects as a result. These side effects included diarrhoea, bleeding that would not stop, blurred vision and heart problems. Four out of five (81 per cent) did not report these side effects to anyone.
The potentially dangerous products seized by the MHRA are not tested for safety and have been found stored in dirty, rat-infested warehouses and garden sheds. Last year, the agency seized more than 4.6 million fake medical products and closed more than 5,000 websites selling medicines illegally.
Four out of 10 respondents said they had used the slimming pills knowing there were health risks, with more than six out of ten (62 per cent) doing so because they were “desperate to lose weight”.
Sarah-Jayne Walker became obsessed with slimming pills bought online until she quit and joined Slimming World.
“I used to spend hours searching the web for what I thought were the right diet pills, ones that said they would work straight away and that had the best reviews. My mind became consumed with those pills,” she said. “However, after suffering heart palpitations, sickness, light headedness and even fainting, I knew I had to get a grip and sort my mind out.”
The majority of diet products are regulated as foods, however the MHRA regularly seizes products that contain withdrawn pharmaceutical ingredients due to risks of heart attacks and strokes.
MHRA senior policy manager, Lynda Scammell, said: “Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death. It’s essential you know what you’re buying online and what the risks are. If you don’t, your weight could end up being the least of your worries.”
The MHRA has a website where people can check if any online distributor is registered to sell slimming products and report any potential fraudulent behaviour.
Jenny Caven, Slimming World’s head of external affairs, said: “Buying slimming pills online can be incredibly risky. The sellers are often unregulated and taking the pills puts people at risk of dangerous side effects.”