Safety and Effectiveness of Pills for Weight Gain

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While many people are working to lose weight, others struggle to gain weight. If you'd like to increase your strength, build a more muscular physique, or return to a healthy weight after losing too much, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about it. Weight gain pills and supplements may be effective in some cases, but are not risk-free. Focus on whole foods and proper training to support your goals.

Before you take any supplement—even one you can get over-the-counter (OTC)—you need to know what's in it, how it is intended to be used, and the risks associated with it.

What Are Weight Gain Pills?

Weight gain pills include over-the-counter supplements and medications prescribed by a physician. Although supplements claim to support safe and natural weight gain, over-the-counter products are unregulated and not necessarily backed by scientific evidence.

If you're curious about weight gain pills, talk to your healthcare provider about the products you are considering. Here is what you need to know about weight gain supplements and why it's helpful to involve your provider in the decision-making process.

Prescription Medication for Weight Gain

Prescription weight gain pills include anabolic steroids. Your provider might consider steroid medication if you have experienced significant weight loss and are underweight as the result of an illness, such as cancer or muscular dystrophy.

Athletes and bodybuilders may use prescribed drugs illegally to build muscle and enhance athletic performance. Inappropriate use of anabolic steroids comes with health risks—some of which are serious. It's vital that you only take these drugs under the care of a physician.

Potential Side Effects

Anabolic steroids have many possible side effects. Some of the most common side effects reported include:

  • Breast development (in males)
  • Delusions
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Enlarged heart
  • Extreme irritability
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased facial hair
  • Kidney problems or failure
  • Liver damage
  • Mood disorders
  • Mood swings
  • Prostate cancer
  • Shrinking testicles
  • Stopped menstrual cycle
  • Stunted growth (in children and teens)

Legal Use

In some cases, the benefits of prescription weight gain pills outweigh the risks. Your doctor can determine whether or not you should be taking them. Here are three common weight gain pills that a healthcare provider might prescribe:

  • Methyltestosterone: This is an anabolic steroid that is primarily used to boost testosterone levels in males who have androgen deficiency (low levels of male sex hormones). Athletes might use this drug and other anabolic steroids to put on weight, increase muscle mass, and strength. However, this use is illegal.
  • Oxandrolone: This is an anabolic steroid that is also is known as Anavar. It’s primarily used to promote weight gain in patients who have experienced weight loss after extensive surgery, chronic infection, or severe trauma. It can also be used as hormone replacement therapy for low testosterone levels.
  • Oxymetholone: This synthetic hormone is considered an anabolic steroid. It is primarily used to promote weight gain in patients who have lost weight during the course of having a debilitating disease. Patients might also be prescribed this drug to gain weight after having extensive surgery, chronic infection, or severe trauma.

Over-The-Counter Weight Gainers

Several weight gain pills and powders are available over-the-counter at supermarkets, big box stores, and pharmacies. Like many other supplements, these products are typically packaged and marketed with overstated promises and guarantees.

Weight gainer products may claim to produce a stronger appetite, reduce metabolism, and cause weight gain in specific areas of the body. Just as there is no such thing as spot reduction for weight loss, there is no way to direct weight gain to a certain area of the body through supplements alone.

If a weight gain pill or supplement makes claims that seem too good to be true, they probably are.

A lack of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) means that supplement producers can essentially say whatever they want to sell their products.

Additives and Side Effects

Many OTC weight gain pills appear to be nothing but glorified, expensive, multi-vitamins. It's important to watch out for blended products that contain potentially-harmful ingredients.

Caffeine and guarana may be added to supplements as a way to give workouts a boost. While these additives are generally safe in moderate amounts, there is no way to know how much you're getting in an unregulated OTC product. It's possible to become dependent on stimulants with regular use and feel fatigued without them. If you have an underlying heart condition, or difficulty sleeping, stimulants can be dangerous to your health.

Echinacea is also included in some weight gain products. Although research is not definitive, echinacea is thought to have antiinflammatory effects that may be beneficial for the immune system. There are no reported benefits of echinacea for weight gain.

Another common weight gain supplement is creatine. Creatine causes muscles to hold extra water. Anyone with Parkinson's disease, bipolar disorder, or kidney disease, should not take creatine.

Adverse Effects and Risks

  • Adverse effects of weight gain pills can include nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea.
  • Individuals who are sensitive to herbs and grasses might have an allergic reaction to additives in weight gain pills (including asthma symptoms, skin rashes, or anaphylaxis).
  • People with heart conditions might be at an increased risk for an irregular heartbeat.

Natural Ways to Gain Weight

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the evidence for the effectiveness of weight gain pills is limited. If you need to gain weight, there are healthier, safer, evidence-backed ways to do so, such as adding more calorie-dense foods to your diet.

Everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for someone else. Working with a registered dietitian can give you personalized recommendations for what your body needs to gain weight in a healthy, safe, way.

Healthy weight gain takes time. Instead of looking for a quick fix, try taking a closer look at what you are eating and the type of exercise you engage in. You might not be getting enough calories or protein in your diet to support weight gain

A Word From Verywell

While the claims and promises of over-the-counter weight gain pills might look promising, do not take these supplements without talking to your healthcare provider. They can have serious side effects and risks, and there are other options for gaining weight safely.

Speak with your healthcare provider and a registered dietitian if you are having a hard time gaining weight. Depending on your individual circumstances, specific recommendations will be made for you. If your provider thinks a medication or supplement could be helpful, they can work with you on finding the right fit.

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Article Sources
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