If you think that weight-loss pills are evaluated for safety and efficacy like prescription medicines, think again.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the body that’s been charged with regulating complementary medicines. In Australia, all complementary and alternative medicines – such as weightloss pills – need to be entered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. On this register there are two types of products: “registered goods” and “listed goods” – and it’s important to know the difference. Registered goods are medicines that are considered high risk – such as prescription medicines. They are evaluated by the TGA for quality, safety and efficacy before being released onto the market. Listed medicines (identified by an AUST L number) are considered lower risk and must only contain ingredients that have their safety and quality approved for use in listed products, but are not evaluated for efficacy.
Manufacturers can apply for a listing by just filling in an online form and paying a fee. Around 20% of products are randomly audited to make sure they meet standards. Manufacturers also have to hold a file of evidence to prove that their products work. Based on the literature we looked at, we suspect their “proof” is pretty underwhelming.
In 2008, there were about 100 times more listed weight-loss products than registered products – now there are probably more.
So, if the products aren’t evaluated for efficacy, how do you know whether they are worth the money? The short answer is you don’t – unless you do some leg work. We did the hard yards and had a look at the literature around the most common “active” ingredients. Several systematic reviews have concluded that, at best, more research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.