Prescription and Over the Counter Diet Pills

Are you thinking about using an over-the-counter weight loss pill? Or perhaps you heard about an FDA-approved diet pill that requires a prescription. Trying to find a safe medication to help you lose weight can be challenging. Use this guide to sort through the facts to find the best product for you.

How to Buy Weight Loss PillS 

There are three different types of diet pills that you can buy. Prescription weight loss pills are medications that you get through your doctor. Over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills can be purchased without a prescription.

So can herbal supplements for weight loss, which you'll find in many vitamin shops and drugstores. These herbal supplements are not considered medications and therefore do not have to follow the strict guidelines for safety that govern medicines.

The best resource for information regarding the use of any supplement or weight loss pill is your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about current research regarding the products you're interested in. Your doctor will also be able to discuss how taking a diet pill might interact with your other medications, and will also be able to provide the best advice regarding the safety of new products.

FDA-Approved
  • Xenical and alli (orlistat)

  • Qsymia (phentermine and topiramate)

  • Saxenda (liraglutide [rDNA origin] injection) 

  • Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride)

  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)

  • Phentermine

Herbs and Supplements
  • Garcinia cambogia

  • Glucomannan

  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)

  • Raspberry ketones

  • Forskolin

  • Chromium

  • Green tea

  • Bee pollen

Prescription Diet Pills 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a range of medications designed to help with weight loss. These use different mechanisms and may only be appropriate for certain people.

Xenical

This prescription medication was approved by the FDA in 1999. Xenical (orlistat) is a lipase inhibitor, which means it works by decreasing the absorption of fat. People taking this medicine should follow a low-fat diet, or they will experience uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects from undigested fat in stools.

Qsymia

How the two drugs in Qsymia (phentermine and topiramate) work together to promote weight loss is not entirely known. Research suggests that the drugs suppress appetite and improve insulin sensitivity. 

Your physician may prescribe Qsymia if you have a body mass index (BMI) over 30 or a body mass index of 27 and higher along with a weight-related condition such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. The medication needs to be taken along with lifestyle modifications for sustained weight management.

Saxenda

Saxenda (liraglutide [rDNA origin] injection) is an injectable medication that helps users reduce their food intake so they lose weight. Saxenda can be used by patients who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or more) or by patients who have a BMI of 27 or more and a weight-related medical condition such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Contrave

Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride) affects the central nervous system to increase the number of calories you burn and reduce your appetite. The pill is prescribed along with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise program to help people lose weight.

Vyvanse

Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) is FDA-approved for the treatment of a binge-eating disorder, but it is not approved for weight loss.

Phentermine

Phentermine is marketed under a long list of names, including Suprenza, Adipex-P, and Lomaira. It is prescribed only for short periods and works by decreasing appetite. The drug can be habit-forming; side effects can include insomnia, constipation, and dry mouth.

Belviq

Belviq (lorcaserin) worked by activating serotonin receptors that regulate hunger. It was available with a prescription to patients with a BMI of 30 or a body mass index of 27 along with an obesity-related condition. In 2020, however, the FDA recalled Belviq from the market, citing cancer risks.

Meridia

Meridia (sibutramine), an appetite suppressant, was removed from the market in the United States in 2010. The FDA initially approved the product, but the manufacturer stopped producing it after clinical studies showed that users had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Over-the-Counter Diet Pills and Supplements

If you don't have a prescription for a diet medication, you might consider an over-the-counter weight loss pill or supplement. While OTC medications are FDA-approved for safety and effectiveness, weight loss supplements are not. It's the responsibility of the manufacturers and distributors of herbal supplements to ensure they are safe.

So when you buy a diet supplement or a popular herbal supplement for weight loss you need to be very careful about what you buy. The FDA also does not approve most of the claims that companies make about their products. In many cases, weight loss claims are carefully crafted to make the product sound more effective than it is.

alli

The only over-the-counter weight loss pill approved by the FDA is alli (orlistat). It contains a lower dose of the same medication that is in Xenical. People who take alli must limit fat intake and make lifestyle changes or they will experience uncomfortable side effects. The product was voluntarily removed from the market in 2014 after a tampering scare, but the company re-released it with a tamper-evident package in 2015.

Garcinia Cambogia

Garcinia cambogia is derived from a fruit that grows in warmer climates. It is widely available at health food stores and from online vendors, but many of the claims made by sellers have not been supported by scientific research. There is little evidence to support its effectiveness.

Glucomannan

The name of this diet supplement may not sound familiar, but you've probably seen products that contain the dietary fiber supplement. Lipozene for weight loss is one product that contains glucomannan. However, research has been inconclusive. In 2020, the authors of a review study reported that they were not able to confirm that the fiber substance can actually promote weight loss.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has been studied extensively, but weight loss results have been mixed. Check with your doctor before investing. One study published in 2016 found that some people who took this supplement experienced increased insulin resistance and lower levels of HDL cholesterol.

Raspberry Ketones

This weight loss supplement became popular after Dr. Oz mentioned it on his TV show. But there is just not enough evidence to support the claims that raspberry ketones can help humans lose weight.

Forskolin

Forskolin is an extract from the coleus forskohlii plant. It is advertised as a diet supplement, carb blocker, and fat burner. But there is very little evidence to support its use as a weight-loss supplement.

Chromium

Chromium: Sometimes referred to as chromium picolinate, products that contain this substance often claim to help improve calorie burn and decrease appetite. However, while some research has shown a small correlation between chromium and weight loss, there is not enough evidence to support a more substantial claim. While chromium is generally considered to be safe, it is unlikely to promote weight loss.

Green Tea

Green tea can be consumed as a beverage or in pill form. It is often used to aid in weight loss, for improving mental alertness, or to lower blood pressure. While green tea is safe when consumed in moderation, there is little evidence to support its use as a long-term weight loss supplement.

Hoodia

This herb is sold as an appetite suppressant. Hoodia is extracted from a flowering cactus plant (hoodia gordonii), and can be consumed in tablet, pill, or powder form. A 2019 review reports there is not enough scientific evidence to support the claims that hoodia is an effective form of long-term weight management. Moreover, its safety has not been adequately tested.

Bee Pollen

Though bee pollen has a number of health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, there is little evidence to support its use for weight loss. In 2014, the company Oasis Bee Pollen was flagged by the FDA for making false and misleading claims about its product's weight loss effects. The FDA also warned of hidden ingredients in the company's supplement, including sibutramine, which can increase blood pressure, and phenolphthalein, which can cause cancer.

Ephedra

After Ephedra was banned in 2004, a number of similar stimulants took its place. Most advertise that they are ephedra-free and safe. They often contain bitter orange (citrus aurantium), synephrine, or octopamine. Two of the most popular products, Xenadrine EFX and Advantra Z, were tested by researchers in 2005 and still found to have unsafe effects on heart rate and blood pressure.

If the over the counter diet pills or weight loss supplements you're interested in are not listed above, visit the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. The NIH provides a comprehensive list of diet supplements along with current information about the safety and effectiveness of each one. Always talk to your doctor about any diet pill or weight loss supplement that you are considering.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity. Updated July 2016.

  2. American Cancer Society. FDA regulation of drugs versus dietary supplements. Updated March 31, 2015.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Orlistat (marketed as Alli and Xenical) Information.

  4. Bersoux S, Byun TH, Chaliki SS, Poole KG. Pharmacotherapy for obesity: What you need to know. Cleve Clin J Med. 2017;84(12):951-958. doi:10.3949/ccjm.84a.16094

  5. Gazewood JD, Barry K. Phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia) for chronic weight management. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(8):576-578.

  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. SAXENDA (liraglutide [rDNA origin] injection), solution for subcutaneous use.

  7. Early J, Whitten JS. Naltrexone/bupropion (Contrave) for weight loss. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Apr 15;91(8):554-556.

  8. Amodeo G, Cuomo A, Bolognesi S, et al. Pharmacotherapeutic strategies for treating binge eating disorder. Evidence from clinical trials and implications for clinical practice. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2019;20(6):679-690. doi:10.1080/14656566.2019.1571041

  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Phentermine hydrochloride. Updated October 19, 2018.

  10. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA requests the withdrawal of the weight-loss drug Belviq, Belviq XR (lorcaserin) from the market. Updated February 13, 2020.

  11. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA Recommends Against the Continued Use of Meridia (sibutramine). Updated February 6, 2018.

  12. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. What you need to know about dietary supplements. Updated November 29, 2017.

  13. Federal Trade Commission Consumer Safety Information. Dietary supplements. Updated November 2011.

  14. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Medications target long-term weight control. Updated July 17, 2012.

  15. Márquez F, Babio N, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of hydroxycitric acid or Garcinia cambogia extracts in humans. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(7):585-94. doi:10.1080/10408398.2010.500551

  16. Wharton S, Bonder R, Jeffery A, Christensen RAG. The safety and effectiveness of commonly-marketed natural supplements for weight loss in populations with obesity: A critical review of the literature from 2006 to 2016. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(10):1614-1630. doi:10.1080/10408398.2019.1584873

  17. National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Chromium. Updated February 27, 2020.

  18. Jurgens  TM, Whelan  AM, Killian  L, Doucette  S, Kirk  S, Foy  E. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;12:CD008650. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008650.pub2

  19. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Hoodia. Updated September 2016.

  20. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Public Notification: Oasis Bee Pollen contains hidden drug ingredients. Updated February 12, 2018.

  21. National Institutes of Health. Ephedra.

  22. Haller CA, Benowitz NL, Jacob P. Hemodynamic effects of ephedra-free weight-loss supplements in humans. Am J Med. 2005;118(9):998-1003. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.02.034

Additional Reading