Are Weight Gain Pills Safe to Use?

Supplements that Can Help You Gain Weight

Man wearing sweatband looking at reflection in gym mirror, flexing arm
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Living in a society so fixated on being skinny, it’s hard to imagine that some people want to gain weight. Taking pills to pack on a few pounds is gaining in popularity, similar to taking supplements claiming to reduce fat overnight. Whether a skinny guy frustrated with an ectomorph body type, or a woman desiring more curves, you may have considered using weight gain pills.

What may be holding you back from using weight gain pills are all the unknowns and possible safety issues with this type of supplement. Your hesitancy is good, because understanding the ingredients of any over the counter or prescribed drug is important. At the end of the day, maintaining a healthy diet and discussing nutritional options with your doctor or dietitian are safer options.

What Are Weight Gain Pills?

Weight gain pills are supplements or drugs that are supposed to help you put on weight. They can be purchased over the counter (OTC), or in some cases are prescribed by your physician. Those purchased OTC will be unregulated products, making claims really not backed by scientific evidence. Most OTC supplements guarantee that you can gain weight naturally and safely.

Prescription weight gain pills can include anabolic steroids. Doctors may prescribe this type of medication to help patients with significant weight loss from certain illnesses like cancer.

Some athletes and bodybuilders are obtaining and using the prescribed drugs illegally to build muscle and enhance athletic performance. Using anabolic steroids is shown to have potential health risks and advised to be under the care of your physician during treatment.

OTC Weight Gain Pills

There are several over the counter (OTC) weight gain pills available.

These products, like the majority of supplements, are packaged pretty but marketed with outlandish guarantees. Most weight gain pills claim to increase appetite, slow metabolism, and place added pounds where they’re needed.

Just as there is no such thing as spot reduction for weight loss, taking a pill will not allow you to spot place the weight you gain. Also, considering metabolism is shown to help regulate hunger cues, when that process is slowed, it would not increase your appetite. Weight gain pills or other supplements making guarantees that sound unbelievable should send a red flag saying "buyer beware".

Supplements, including weight gain pills, are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Lack of regulation means that supplement producers can get away with marketing false claims to sell their products. Many of these products are also not supported by clinical research.

According to Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, many supplements are not tested in the way drugs would be tested (not as rigorously) so there are many safety issues. There are also issues of possible contamination with all supplements.

The bottom line is there is no guarantee of safety, effectiveness, potency, or purity of most OTC supplements.

CB-1 Weight Gain Pill Ingredients

A popular weight-gain supplement is CB-1, according to Davis. CB-1 weight gain pills are a trademark brand making lots of claims from having clinically tested ingredients to gaining quality weight that you maintain.

The main ingredients in CB-1 are vitamin D3 and a weight gain blend that includes Echinacea. Numerous studies indicate low levels of vitamin D are associated with obesity and increased levels shown to help with weight loss. Why would the makers of CB-1 claim an ingredient that helps with weight loss enable a person to gain weight?

Echinacea is another ingredient included in CB-1 for weight gain. Echinacea is an herb shown to improve your immune system to better fight off colds and infections. Research shows a possible anti-inflammatory benefit but no evidence linking this herb to weight gain. Other studies indicate Echinacea not recommended for people suffering from cardiovascular diseases. It appears Echinacea has the potential to increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in people suffering from heart problems.

Many OTC weight gain pills like CB-1 appear to be nothing but glorified, expensive multi-vitamins. Most of these products contain blends, a sneaky way supplement producers can list ingredients without dose amounts. Another problem is the potential for adverse health risks from taking a blended ingredient supplement.

Potential adverse effects of weight gain pills like CB-1 may include nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. There is also the possibility of allergic reaction (asthma, skin rash, or anaphylaxis) for those individuals sensitive to certain herbs and grasses. People with heart conditions may be at risk for an irregular heartbeat.

Prescription Weight Gain Pills

Sometimes, prescription weight gain pills are preferred to those available over the counter. Taking prescribed drugs to gain weight requires a doctor’s evaluation and approval of this type of treatment plan for you. There are instances, especially with some athletes and bodybuilders, where prescription weight gain drugs are obtained illegally and used without any guidance from a physician.

The following are common weight gain pills that may be prescribed by a doctor:

  • Methyltestosterone – an anabolic steroid primarily used to boost testosterone levels in men who have androgen deficiency (low levels of male sex hormones). Some athletes use this drug and other anabolic steroids to put on weight, increase muscle mass, and strength. Anabolic steroids are illegal for the enhancement of athletic performance.
  • Oxandrolone – an anabolic steroid also known as Anavar. It’s primarily used to promote weight gain in patients after weight loss following extensive surgery, chronic infections, or severe trauma. It may also be used as hormone replacement therapy for men with low testosterone levels.
  • Oxymetholone – a synthetic hormone and considered an anabolic steroid. It is primarily used to promote weight gain in patients after weight loss resulting from debilitating diseases. Patients may also be prescribed this drug to gain weight following extensive surgery, chronic infections, or severe trauma.

Most prescription weight gain drugs contain anabolic steroids with potential for adverse health risks. They are usually prescribed to treat various medical conditions. Some athletes and bodybuilders abuse these drugs to enhance their appearance and athletic performance. The following side effects may occur using this type of medication:

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

 
Do Weight Gain Pills Really Work?

According to Davis, the evidence for the effectiveness of weight gain pills is limited. A healthy diet is recommended and is much safer.

Davis recommends that weight gain can be achieved by just adding more calorie-dense foods to your diet. Everyone is different, so in order to get personalized recommendations for what will work well with your body, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian.

Why Someone Would Use Weight Gain Pills

There are a few reasons weight gain pills are considered. The most common being an ectomorph or skinny body type where gaining weight has been a struggle. Lean bodybuilders often consider taking this type of supplement hoping to increase muscle mass and overall size. Prescription weight gain drugs may be used for patients with severe weight loss resulting from serious illness, surgical procedures, or infection.

Different Weight Gain Options

Have you considered another weight gain option than taking pills? Instead of looking for a quick fix to put on a few pounds, all that may be required is looking at your current nutrition. In fact, this is most often the case. Many people are not eating enough nutritious high-calorie foods to support weight gain. 

The following reasons may be playing a primary role in your ability to gain quality weight, not just fat:

  • Poor eating habits – Your current diet may not contain quality healthy foods including lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. If you want to increase weight and lean muscle, eating foods to properly fuel your body and nutrient-dense is essential.
  • Not eating enough – You may not be eating enough calories to promote weight gain. In fact, you may be eating for weight loss, often the case with restrictive and fad diets. In order to gain weight, your caloric intake must be greater than your energy output. This means active individuals will require even more calories to not place their body in a deficit. Adding lean proteins and healthy fats like avocado are a great way to get more nutrient-dense calories for quality weight gain.
  • Not drinking enough waterStaying hydrated is an important part of maintaining a healthy body. Water keeps the cells in your muscle tissue hydrated and promotes muscle growth. Without adequate hydration, your body is unable to function or grow at optimal levels.

A Word From Verywell

People come in all shapes and sizes, and our genetic makeup plays a big role in our weight, according to nutrition expert Mascha Davis. While lifting weights and eating a high-calorie diet can fuel your body and increase your muscle mass, it might just be that some people are naturally destined to be slim.

On the other hand, some severe medical conditions can lead to an inability to gain weight. An example of this would be hyperthyroidism, which requires a doctor’s intervention.

Because of this, Davis recommends that a patient speaks with their physician and dietitian about their difficulty gaining weight. The healthcare provider can then recommend a plan of action based on your specific diagnosis. Davis also suggests considering nutrigenomic testing which looks at DNA and nutrition as well as the best types of foods for a person’s DNA makeup.

Sources:
Bachus T, R.D.N et al. Diet Tips for Gaining Weight. Nutrition, American Council on Exercise. 2016

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database. Oxandrolone. (accessed Mar 2018)

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database. Oxymetholone. (accessed Mar 2018)

U.S. Library of Medicine. HSDB: 17- Methyltestosterone. Toxicology Data Network. (accessed Mar 2018)

Wolfram T, MS, RDN, LDN. Healthy Weight Gain. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017