The most commonly advertised weight-loss supplements are unfortunately the ones that are to be avoided. They are not supported by scientific evidence, and in some cases they can be dangerous. They are not diet solutions — they are No-lutions and should not be a part of your diet. By Dr. James Beckerman, author of The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight-Loss Plan.
When ephedra was banned because of increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, some supplement manufacturers turned to other stimulants with similar profiles as “natural” supplement alternatives. Bitter orange is one of those stimulants. Derived from the fruit of the tree Citrus aurantium, bitter orange has gained popularity because of its similarities to ephredra without the legal entanglements. Unfortunately, its similarities likely extend into its risk profile. Bitter orange contains synephrine, a compound very similar to ephedrine that constricts blood vessels and consequently increases heart rate and blood pressure. It is suspected to be as dangerous as ephedra, and case reports have linked it to strokes and angina. And if that doesn’t convince you not to use it, you should note that there is not any evidence to suggest that it is an effective weight-loss supplement. Bitter indeed.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a next-generation weight-loss supplement that is natural and safe. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support its use. While you would like to think that fifty years of users could not be wrong, data have not shown that apple cider vinegar will help you lose weight. Much of the excitement around it is based upon a single study of twelve individuals who felt more full after eating small amounts of vinegar on bread. Delicious. But one study of twelve people who felt full does not substantiate claims about significant weight loss.
There are other potential benefits, however, that should not be ignored. Some small, preliminary studies have suggested that apple cider vinegar may play a role in lowering blood sugar in diabetics, lowering cholesterol, and potentially lowering blood pressure. These studies have involved rats or just a handful of people and thus are far from conclusive.
Before you start dousing yourself in the stuff, please keep in mind that vinegar is very acidic and can wreak havoc on your digestive system and bones if not taken under proper medical supervision. It can also interact with medication that you might be taking for high blood pressure or diabetes. And if you take it in its supplement form, you don’t really know what you are getting. One chemical analysis of apple cider vinegar supplements even raised the question of whether the supplements contained any vinegar at all. Eat it on a salad if you enjoy it, but avoid it as a supplement until more research is available.
The last time a small piece of fruit got so many people in trouble, palm fronds were in style and snake oil salesmen were actually serpents. Times have changed, but unsubstantiated claims and false advertising have not. Enter the acai berry, diet fruit to the stars and ubiquitous Internet popup ad. It is hard to get anything done online these days without coming upon a testimonial about how pills, smoothies, and juices derived from this innocuous little berry have changed someone’s life for the better. And it can be yours for just one low price. . . .
The acai berry is a grape-sized dark-colored fruit eaten commonly in Brazil as well as other countries in the Amazon region. While research would support claims that it has antioxidant properties, it is not as potent as grapes, strawberries, or even red wine. Most important, no published study has ever demonstrated that it has any significant effect on weight loss, let alone health benefits of any kind that would not be expected from eating other fruits. Although it is touted as a “superfood,” its supporters are hard pressed to provide convincing scientific data that there is anything super about it. Sorry to disappoint.
Whereas dietary fiber has been demonstrated to contribute to healthy weight loss as well as protect against heart disease and some cancers, fiber in pill or powder form tends to be less effective. Guar gum is derived from the Indian cluster bean. Like beans, guar gum does absorb water, and this can result in a feeling of fullness. And also like beans, guar gum can lead to abdominal distress. Perhaps this is because it can absorb enough water to grow in size by ten or twenty times, leading to obstruction of the esophagus as well as the intestines. An extensive review of guar gum found no significant impact on weight loss as compared to placebo. It seems as though the only weight you could lose is what you lose while you are recovering from surgery after having a watermelon-sized ball of guar gum removed from your colon. Enjoy!
Well known to readers of magazine advertisements, hoodia is a weightloss supplement with an interesting history. Hoodia is derived from a plant traditionally consumed by African Bushmen to ward off hunger, but it has gained celebrity because of celebrities throughout the rest of the world. Very small nonrandomized studies have suggested that it may live up to some of its claims as an appetite suppressant, but thorough research has not been performed to date. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer purchased the rights to study hoodia’s active ingredient, but returned those rights to a smaller laboratory a few years later. Not a good sign. In addition to concerns that hoodia supplements often do not actually contain hoodia (you can never know because the substance is not regulated), some studies suggest that hoodia can cause adverse effects on the liver and make life difficult for diabetics, pregnant women, the elderly, and children.
Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. Not my idea of a good starting point for a diet, but hCG injections are recommended in some diet programs. hCG stimulates ovulation and testosterone production. Its use is not scientifically supported for weight loss, and side effects include but are not limited to breast enlargement in men, fatigue, mood changes, swelling, and hair loss, not to mention the risks related to self-injection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Beckerman, M.D., is a practicing cardiologist at the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Oregon, who provides advice and information online as the WebMD.com Heart Expert and the MedHelp.org Weight Loss/Healthy Living Expert. Dr. Beckerman graduated from Harvard University and earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. His book, The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight Loss Plan (Copyright © 2011 by Dr. James Beckerman), shows you how to lose a single pound…in 200 different ways. It shows you how to you to create your own customized weight-loss plan — one that fits your lifestyle, is full or tasty and nutritious meals, boosts energy levels, an keeps the weight off for good.
- Learn more about The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight Loss Plan and browse inside the book
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