Weight Loss the Natural

Many over-the-counter treatments are herbal supplements popularized by the recent trend toward all things "natural." In a grocery or department store, a shopper can buy a vast array of different herbal supplements, all reported to have some healing property or nutritional value. Ginseng, echinacea, ginger root, flaxseed oil, lavender oil, and shark cartilage are all examples of the things one can find, each with a different function that supposedly makes life better.

Herbal remedies are not necessarily bad. Research indicates that many are effective health aids. The problem with over-the-counter remedies, however, is that they are not thoroughly tested. The manufacturers rely on word-of-mouth—and infomercials on television—to sell their products, and they don't wish to pay the large amounts of money to conduct the research and testing required to pass the rigorous FDA-testing procedures. Although this keeps prices down for consumers, it also allows manufactures to get rich quick, without complying with FDA regulations. Lacking FDA approval allows the manufacturers to market their products as nondrugs, which largely frees them of the burden of having to provide information to the public about the real effectiveness—or dangers—of the product.

Ordinary dandelion—the weed that grows so abundantly on many lawns—is also used as a natural weight-loss supplement. Unfortunately, it can cause dehydration and possibly even cancer.


Perhaps one of the most surprising weight-loss supplements recently produced is aloe. Long used to treat burns and wounds, it was discovered that ingesting aloe causes a strong and urgent need to defecate. Because of that effect, aloe is often marketed as an internal cleanser. Supplements that cause reactions like this are not likely to be safe to take internally, as diarrhea is a warning sign of some potentially dangerous conditions. No proof has been offered that aloe is useful in losing and keeping off weight.


Dandelion—yes, those fuzzy yellow flowers that dot the lawn—has also recently entered the market as a weight-loss supplement. A natural diuretic, dandelion causes frequent urination and can reduce the water weight a person carries. Many people are allergic to this supplement, and it can cause severe dehydration in long-term users. Some research has shown that dandelion may be carcinogenic, causing cancers in laboratory rats.


In Brazil, native people have long known that the seeds of a certain plant have a stimulating effect when eaten or ground up and mixed with water or tea. Today, guarana is common in herbal remedy sections, as it speeds up metabolism and promotes frequent urination. One of the components of guarana extract is caffeine, which is known to cause high blood pressure. Guarana often interacts with medicines and can cause deadly complications in certain cases. The extract has some relatively powerful anti-clotting properties and can cause unstoppable bleeding in long-term users.

Although aloe is known to promote skin healing, it is probably not safe to take it internally to promote weight loss.

Guar Gum

The Indian cluster bean is the source of yet another powerful herbal extract. Guar gum is a type of dietary fiber, often used as a thickening substance in cooking or in medications. The action of guar gum is like a sponge; it absorbs water rapidly and swells up to twenty times its original size in the process. Some people who have used this substance to curb their appetites have had very dangerous intestinal blockages, requiring surgery to remove. Guar gum also causes rapid blood sugar changes, so diabetics must take extreme care in taking it.

If so many OTC drugs have the potential to be dangerous, why are they still so easy to purchase? The answer to that lies in the history of drug development in North America.

The History of Over-the-Counter Drugs

When did you last reach into your family's medicine cabinet? Did you have a headache and need some aspirin? Or did sneezing and sniffling send you in search of an anti-histamine? Whatever your reason for taking medication, you probably felt confident that what you were about to take was safe, that it was, indeed, what the package said it was, and that it would do what the manufacturer said it would do.

But how would you feel if you took an aspirin, only to discover that it wasn't aspirin at all but compacted chalk dust? What if you swallowed an allergy pill—and learned that it not only didn't help but also made your allergies worse? Imagine what it would be like to take a liquid antibiotic only to discover that it was antifreeze for your car. These scenarios seem impossible today—but less than a hundred years ago, they were all too possible.

vegetable: rort

vegetable: rort

Despite its innocent and wholesome image, alcohol was a key ingredient in Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound.

Continue reading here: Nineteenth Century Medicines

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