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Beware Weight Loss Drugs, Say Canadian Experts

ls, according to David Bailey, a clinical pharmacologist at the University of Western Ontario.

In the circumstances experts are calling for more stringent regulations to protect Canadians. They say the vast majority of weight-loss programs and products on the market are not effective, and warn that many are unsafe.

Right now, anybody can set up a weight-loss centre and sell almost anything they want, says Arya Sharma, a professor of medicine at McMaster University who holds a Canada Research Chair in cardiovascular obesity research and management.

"Treating the disease has to be up to (health) professionals, not up to people who could be selling a scam or selling products that are dubious in terms of safety," he said.

Many of the active ingredients in over-the-counter weight-loss supplements are derived from plants, minerals and other natural sources, and range from aloe to licorice, crustacean shells to the mineral chromium picolinate. Although many people assume natural means safe, the products can have drug-like properties and cause serious health problems. But unlike pharmaceuticals, natural weight-loss remedies don't have to go through rigorous clinical trials to prove they are safe and effective before hitting stores.

One of the most popular and dangerous weight-loss supplements in the early 2000s relied on chemicals in a shrub native to China and Mongolia. Ephedra sinica, or Ma huang in Chinese, contains ephedra alkaloids that, when combined with caffeine, caused weight loss.

Consumers clamoured for the heavily advertised supplement, but scientists only found out about its associated health problems after it was on the market. Ephedra has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack and stroke. In the U.S., in one two-year period, the Federal Drug Administration received 87 reports of ephedra causing adverse health events. Ten of those led t
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