New diet medications could be dangerous

Several new diet drugs and a new fat substitute called Olean are hitting the market, and women should be wary of them, according to an article in Mademoiselle. The April issue highlights some of the new drugs, their current status, their side effects, and what the experts have to say about them. All of the new drugs - some of them are variations on currently available drugs - must receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval before consumers can use them. The article says that even when the medications receive FDA approval, women should keep several things in mind when deciding whether to take them.

Doctors can use off-label prescribing and can use the drugs to treat any condition, even ones not included in the original studies. Drugs also can be prescribed for a longer time than the FDA has deemed safe. Most of the diet drugs were tested on obese subjects, those whose weight can cause health risks. This can pose problems because the diet drugs could be used to treat conditions and people they were never intended for.

The diet drugs featured in the story are: Meridia, Xenical, Ergoset, SR 58611, and Leptin. Meridia, manufactured by Knoll Pharmaceutical Co. in Mount Olive, NJ, stabilizes the appetite by preventing brain chemicals that carry hunger messages from working properly. It has been approved by the FDA and should be available by late spring.

One-third of fat won't enter blood

Xenical blocks the activity of lipase and prevents one-third of fat eaten from entering the bloodstream. Ergoset tries to rebalance the metabolism clock by regulating levels of brain chemicals such as dopamine and the hormone prolactin. Ergoset must be taken exactly at 8 a.m. for it to work properly because that's when abnormally high dopamine levels are present in obese people.

Xenical, which is manufactured by Roche Pharmaceuticals in Nutley, NJ, and Ergoset, manufactured by Novartis Pharmaceutical in Summit, NJ, are in the approval stages right now.

SR 58611, manufactured by Sanofi Winthrop Pharmaceuticals in New York City, is in the early stages of testing in France. It stimulates the body to break down and burn off brown adipose fat tissue. But there isn't much of the brown tissue in humans, and the tests have only been done on animals so far.

Finally, Leptin is produced by fat cells and tells the brain when you are full and the body when to burn more calories. Manufac tured by Roche Pharmaceuticals, the drug is in early-stage human trials for obesity and diabetes.

Other products that appeal to dieters are those made with the fat substitute olestra, with the trademark name Olean. Made from fatty acids and sugar, olestra has no calories or fat and can't be absorbed by the body. There are some gastrointestinal side effects from olestra, including abdominal cramps, gas, and diarrhea. WOW! chips, developed by Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, are made with Olean. Procter & Gamble says most consumers will not experience digestive problems after eating the products.