The return of rainbow diet pills

Am J Public Health. 2012 Sep;102(9):1676-86. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300655. Epub 2012 Jul 19.


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently warned consumers about the risks of weight loss supplements adulterated with multiple pharmaceutical agents. Some of these supplements combine potent anorectics, such as amphetamines derivatives, with benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, and other medications to suppress the anorectics' adverse effects. These weight loss supplements represent the most recent generation of rainbow diet pills, named for their bright and varied colors, which date back more than 70 years. Beginning in the 1940s, several US pharmaceutical firms aggressively promoted rainbow pills to physicians and patients. By the 1960s the pills had caused dozens of deaths before the FDA began removing them from the US market. We used a variety of original resources to trace these deadly pills from their origins in the United States to their popularity in Spain and Brazil to their reintroduction to the United States as weight loss dietary supplements.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamines / adverse effects*
  • Amphetamines / chemistry
  • Amphetamines / history
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / history
  • Appetite Depressants / adverse effects*
  • Appetite Depressants / chemistry
  • Appetite Depressants / history
  • Brazil
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Supplements / history
  • Drug Contamination*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Spain
  • United States
  • Weight Loss*


  • Amphetamines
  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Appetite Depressants