One in three people looking to lose weight have taken slimming pills which were purchased online according to research.

A survey of 1,805 slimmers by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Slimming World found that people remain keen to buy potentially hazardous products online despite public campaigns by the regulator warning them of the dangers.

Three quarters of slimmers were persuaded to go online by promises of rapid weight loss, over half were attracted by the idea of ordering discreetly and more than four in 10 ordered online because they did not want to speak to a GP or pharmacist.

The survey also found that nearly two in three suffered unpleasant side-effects after taking slimming pills purchased online including diarrhoea, non-stop bleeding, blurred vision and heart problems. Four out of five did not report these side-effects to anyone.

Last year the MHRA seized more than 4.6 million fake medical products and closed more than 5,000 websites selling medicines illegally.

“Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death,” said Lynda Scammell, the MHRA’s senior policy manager.

“It’s essential you know what you’re buying online and what the risks are. If you don’t, your weight could end up being the least of your worries.

“If you’re looking to buy medicines online, check if the seller is registered by using our easy online checking system, or check if they display the distance-selling logo.”