3 Weight Loss Scams To Avoid

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Drugs and Health, Lose Weight, Weight Loss

Weight Loss, Wealth Loss, Or Health Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

weight loss scamsP.T. Barnum once said “There’s a sucker born every minute”.  Those words were never truer than in the weight loss industry and weight loss scams.

You’ve seen the ads: “Lose 4 pounds/week of belly fat”; “Lose 40 pounds in two weeks”; “burns off fat effortlessly”; “The pounds just melt away”. It’s hard to believe that people actually fall for those ads. Yet they do.

The problem is that weight loss is hard. You have to change your lifestyle – eat healthier, exercise more, give up some of your favorite foods. Even worse you can’t just make those changes for a few weeks or a few months. Those lifestyle changes need to be permanent if you wish to achieve lasting weight loss.

That just doesn’t fit with the American psyche. After all, our doctors and the TV ads promise us a “pill for every ill”. If you think that way, it is only logical that there should be a pill for weight loss.

 

Unfortunately, the unscrupulous supplement manufacturers are only too happy to fill that expectation. They don’t care whether their products actually work or whether they may actually kill you. They just want to make a quick buck.

 

Here are the 3 weight loss scams making headlines today.

3 Weight Loss Scams to Avoid

 

Fake Weight Loss Marketing Schemes

weight loss scams to avoidThe first 2 weight loss scams fall into the category of ones that lighten your wallet. In a recent press release the FTC recently charged two Florida-based supplement manufacturers of concocting elaborate, but completely fraudulent, marketing schemes to sell their weight loss products– one containing forskolin and another containing white kidney bean extract.

The schemes started with the marketers hacking people’s email accounts and sending messages touting the fake products to all of their contacts. The messages were worded in such a way that the email appeared to be a recommendation of the product coming from a trusted friend or family member.

The emails were linked to fake “news websites” that were designed to look like they were put up by an independent consumer reporter who had reviewed and endorsed the product rather than by the product manufacturers. These web sites featured glowing testimonials from consumers who had supposedly lost significant weight using those products. Of course, the fake “news websites” contained links that took consumers to websites where they could purchase the products.

In the complaint they filed in court, the FTC said “these weight loss claims are false and lack scientific support”.  In plain English, the FTC was saying that the testimonials were made up and there was no scientific evidence that the products actually worked.  The fake “news websites” also said that the products were endorsed by Oprah and a television show called “The Doctors.”   The FTC said that both of those claims were also false.

And, if all of this weren’t enough, the defendants in these two cases then approached people who had legitimate health and weight loss blogs with large followings and offered them affiliate status if they would feature links to the fake “news websites” the defendants had constructed. In plain English, affiliate status means that the owners of the blogs receive a commission whenever someone started from their blog and clicked all the way through to one of the defendant’s sites and bought a product*.

The FTC is seeking an immediate injunction that would shut down these fraudulent marketing schemes and prevent the companies from selling fake products that don’t work.  I hope the FTC is successful at obtaining the injunction against both companies, and I hope it happens quickly. Unscrupulous manufacturers like this need to be put out of business.  Please, be careful to avoid these kind of weight loss scams.

*Just so you know, I have also been approached by companies offering “Health Tips From the Professor” affiliate status for marketing their products.  I have chosen not to do that.  I don’t want to become like so many other popular health blogs that seem to be more about marketing than about health.  I will not feature any product I don’t believe in on my site.  Integrity is more important than money.

 

Weight Loss Products That Might Actually Kill You

weight loss drugThe third of the weight loss scams is of the more dangerous kind – one that might even kill you.

The FDA recently sent a warning letter to a marketing company called The Ultimate Weight Loss Company claiming that 3 of their weight loss products that were labeled as containing bee pollen actually contained two undeclared drugs that the FDA has banned for consumer use.

The first undeclared drug in their products is a compound called phenolphthalein, which was widely used in laxative drugs. It was also widely used in weight loss products because its laxative effect also causes water loss from the body – giving the appearance of rapid weight loss. However, research in the 90s suggested that it also increased the risk of several cancers.  Laxative and weight loss drugs containing phenolphthalein were subsequently withdrawn from the market and the FDA currently classifies phenolphthalein as an unapproved drug.

The second undeclared drug in their products is a compound called sibutramine. Sibutramine suppresses appetite and increases metabolic rate. It was the active ingredient in a weight loss drug called Meridia, which was initially approved by the FDA in 1997.

The problem is that, like many drugs that increase metabolic rate, sibutramine also increases heart rate. While that is relatively benign for some people, it can cause arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke in anyone with a weakened cardiovascular system.

A large clinical study published in 2010 (James et al, New England Journal of Medicine, 363: 905-917, 2010) showed that Meridia significantly increased the risk of heart attack and stroke in subjects with preexisting heart disease. Shortly after that the FDA declared that it caused an unacceptably high risk of heart attack and stroke, and it was withdrawn from the market. The FDA currently classifies subutramine as an unapproved drug as well.

Of course, some of you are probably saying to yourself: “My heart is fine. If this drug suppresses my appetite and revs up my metabolism, where can I get it?”  My response is: “Not so fast. Here are a few statistics you should know”:

  • 47% of Americans are at risk for heart disease, and many don’t know that they have a problem until they drop dead from their first heart weight loss drugs killattack.

Unfortunately, the combination of phenophthalein and sibutramine are still used in fraudulent weight loss products because they work. These two drugs together might actually give you 10 pounds or more of weight loss in the first couple of weeks. They might also kill you.  They are certainly weight loss scams to avoid.

In their warning letter to The Ultimate Weight Loss Company the FDA said that their products pose “a threat to consumers because sibutramine is known to substantially increase blood pressure and/or pulse rate in some patients and may present a significant risk for patients with coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke. This product may also interact, in life-threatening ways, with other medications a consumer may be taking”

The problem is not just that the weight loss products manufactured by this company contained unapproved drugs that are dangerous. The problem is that those compounds weren’t on the label.  The label claimed the products contained bee pollen.  The consumer had no way of knowing that the products might be dangerous.

Even worse, as soon as the FDA shuts down this company, another one will pop up somewhere else. The combination of phenolphthalein and sibutramine is one of the  weight loss scams that turn up time after time.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Weight Loss Scams?

It is definitely “buyer beware” in the weight loss industry. Unscrupulous manufacturers and weight loss scams abound. You have learned from this article that:

  • You can’t trust testimonials. They are often fabricated.
  • You can’t trust before and after pictures. They can be photoshopped and purchased over the internet.
  • You can’t trust endorsements by celebrities or doctors. Endorsements can be bought and sold, and sometimes they are just fabricated.
  • You can’t trust claims about “proven results.” They often aren’t backed by real science.
  • You can’t even trust product labels. Some products contain dangerous ingredients that aren’t even on the label.
  • You can’t even trust the FDA and FTC to protect you. They are doing their best, but two new scams pop up for every one they shut down.

So what can you do to keep from being ripped off or endangering your health?  Here are my top 4 recommendations for avoiding weight loss scams.

  • Don’t be taken in by claims of rapid weight loss, effortless weight loss, or “magic” ingredients. The experts tell us weight loss should not exceed one or two pounds per week and should include lifelong lifestyle change. If the ads claim anything else, run in the other direction.
  • There are no “magic” foods or “magic” combinations of protein, fat and carbohydrate.  It also doesn’t matter whether the diet is Paleolithic age or space age. Weight loss simply requires calories in to be less than calories out.
  • Look for clinical studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals showing that the weight loss program actually works.
  • Choose companies that have established a reputation for quality and integrity over a period of decades, not just a few months or a year or two. Weight loss scams come and go. Good reputations take a long time to develop.

 

 

The Bottom Line

Weight loss scams have been in the headlines recently.

  • The FTC recently announced legal action two companies selling weight loss products containing forskolin or white kidney bean extract. According to the FTC the companies were using a “fraudulent marketing scheme” and the weight loss claims for their products were “false and lacked scientific support”.
  • The FDA recently announced legal action against a company selling three weight loss products which they claimed contained bee pollen, but which actually contained two unapproved and dangerous drugs that can cause heart attack and stroke in susceptible people.

In both cases the products seemed legitimate. They seemed safe. When you read the details of the FTC and FDA cases it becomes apparent that:

  • You can’t trust testimonials. They are often fabricated.
  • You can’t trust before and after pictures. They can be photoshopped and purchased over the internet.
  • You can’t trust endorsements by celebrities or doctors. Endorsements can be bought and sold, and sometimes they are just fabricated.
  • You can’t trust claims about “proven results”. They often aren’t backed by real science.
  • You can’t even trust product labels. Some products contain dangerous ingredients that aren’t even on the label.
  • You can’t even trust the FDA and FTC to protect you. They are doing their best, but two new scams pop up for every one they shut down.

In the article above you will find my top 4 recommendations for avoiding weight loss scams.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

Posted July 10, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are You Just Wasting Your Money On Supplements?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

supplements for cardiovascular health wast moneyYou’ve seen the headlines. “Recent Study Finds Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.”  You are being told that supplements are of no benefit to you. They are a waste of money. You should follow a healthy diet instead. Is all of this true?

If I were like most bloggers, I would give you a simple yes or no answer that would be only partially correct. Instead, I am going to put the study behind these headlines into perspective. I am going to give you a deeper understanding of supplementation, so you can make better choices for your health.

 Should we use supplements for cardiovascular health?

In today’s article I will give you a brief overview of the subject. Here are the topics I will cover today:

  • Is this fake news?
  • Did the study ask the right questions?
  • Is this a question of “Garbage In – Garbage Out?
  • Reducing Heart Disease Risk. What you need to know.

All these topics are covered in much more detail (with references) in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths”, which will be published this fall.

 

How Was This Study Done?

supplements for cardiovascular healthThis study (D.J.A. Jenkins et al, Journal of the American College Of Cardiology, 71: 2540-2584, 2018 ) was a meta-analysis. Simply put, that means the authors combined the results of many previous studies into a single database to increase the statistical power of their conclusions. This study included 127 randomized control trials published between 2012 and December 2017. These were all studies that included supplementation and looked at cardiovascular end points, cancer end points or overall mortality.

Before looking at the results, it is instructive to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the study. Rather than giving you my interpretation, let me summarize what the authors said about strengths and weaknesses of their own study.

The strengths are obvious. Randomized control trials are considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, but they have their weaknesses. Here is what the authors said about the limitations of their study:

  • “Randomized control trials are of shorter duration, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.”
  • “Dose-response data were not usually available [from the randomized control studies included in their analysis]. However, larger studies would allow the effect of dose to be assessed.”

There are some other limitations of this study, which I will point out below.

Is This Fake News?

supplements for cardiovascular health fake newsWhen I talk about “fake news” I am referring to the headlines, not to the study behind the headlines. The headlines were definitive: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” However, when you read the study the reality is quite different:

  • In contrast to the negative headlines, the study reported:
    • Folic acid supplementation decreased stroke risk by 20% and overall heart disease risk by 17%.
    • B complex supplements containing folic acid, B6, and B12 decreased stroke risk by 10%.
    • That’s a big deal, but somehow the headlines forgot to mention it.
  • The supplements that had no significant effect on heart disease risk (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C) were ones that would not be expected to lower heart disease risk. There was little evidence from previous studies of decreased risk. Furthermore, there is no plausible mechanism for supposing they might decrease heart disease risk.
  • The study did not include vitamin E or omega-3 supplements, which are the ones most likely to prove effective in decreasing heart disease risk when the studies are done properly (see below).

Did The Study Ask The Right Question?

Most of the studies included in this meta-analysis were asking whether a supplement decreased heart disease risk or mortality for everyone. Simply put, the studies started with a group of generally healthy Americans and asked whether supplementation had a significant effect on disease risk for everyone in that population.

That is the wrong question. We should not expect supplementation to benefit everyone equally. Instead, we should be asking who is most likely to benefit from supplementation and design our clinical studies to test whether those people benefit from supplementation.

supplements for cardiovascular health diagramI have created the graphic on the right as a guide to help answer the question of “Who is most likely to benefit from supplementation?”. Let me summarize each of the points using folic acid as the example.

 

Poor Diet: It only makes sense that those people who are deficient in folate from foods are the most likely to benefit from folic acid supplementation. Think about it for a minute. Would you really expect people who are already getting plenty of folate from their diet to obtain additional benefits from folic acid supplementation?

The NIH estimates that around 20% of US women of childbearing age are deficient in folic acid. For other segments of our population, dietary folate insufficiency ranges from 5-10%. Yet, most studies of folic acid supplementation lump everyone together – even though 80-95% of the US population is already getting enough folate through foods, food fortification, and supplementation. It is no wonder most studies fail to find a beneficial effect of folic acid supplementation.

The authors of the meta-analysis I discussed above said that the beneficial effects of folic acid they saw might have been influenced by a very large Chinese study, because a much higher percentage of Chinese are deficient in folic acid. They went on to say that the Chinese study needed to be repeated in this country.

In fact, the US study has already been done. A large study called “The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE)” study reported that folic acid supplementation did not reduce heart disease risk in the whole population. However, when the study focused on the subgroup of subjects who were folate-deficient at the beginning of the study, folic acid supplementation significantly decreased their risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death.  This would seem to suggest using supplements for cardiovascular health is a good idea.

Increased Need: There are many factors that increase the need for certain nutrients. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s only focus on medications. Medications that interfere with folic acid metabolism include anticonvulsants, metformin (used to treat diabetes), methotrexate and sulfasalazine (used to treat severe inflammation), birth control pills, and some diuretics. Use of these medications is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine medication use with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial.

Genetic Predisposition: The best known genetic defect affecting folic acid metabolism is MTHFR. MTHFR deficiency does not mean you have a specific need for methylfolate. However, it does increase your need for folic acid. Again, this is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine MTHFR deficiency with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial. I cover this topic in great detail in my upcoming book, “Slaying The Supplement Myths”. In the meantime, you might wish to view my video, “The Truth About Methyl Folate.”

Diseases: An underlying disease or predisposition to disease often increases the need for one or more nutrients that help reduce disease risk. The best examples of this are two major studies on the effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in women. Both studies found no effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in the whole population. However, one study reported that vitamin E reduced heart disease risk in the subgroup of women who were post-menopausal (when the risk of heart disease skyrockets). The other study found that vitamin E reduced heart attack risk in the subgroup of women who had pre-existing heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Finally, if you look at the diagram closely, you will notice a red circle in the middle. When two or three of these factors overlap, that is the “sweet spot” where supplementation is almost certain to make a difference and it may be a good idea to use supplements for cardiovascular health.

Is This A Question Of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”?

supplements for cardiovascular health garbage in outUnfortunately, most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” rather than the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question.

In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.

Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.

 

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

 

If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this meta-analysis is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but the analysis did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s.

However, if you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to point out that we know healthy diets can decrease heart disease risk. In the words of the authors: “The recent science-based report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, also concerned with [heart disease] risk reduction, recommended 3 dietary patterns: 1) a healthy American diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and meat, but high in fruits and vegetables; 2) a Mediterranean diet; and 3) a vegetarian diet. These diets, with their accompanying recommendations, continue the move towards more plant-based diets…” I cover the effect of diet on heart disease risk in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

 

The Bottom Line

 

You have probably seen the recent headlines proclaiming: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” The study behind the headlines was a meta-analysis of 127 randomized control trials looking at the effect of supplementation on heart disease risk and mortality.

  • The headlines qualify as “fake news” because:
    • The study found that folic acid decreased stroke and heart disease risk, and B vitamins decreased stroke risk. Somehow the headlines forgot to mention that.
    • The study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C had no effect on heart disease risk. These are nutrients that were unlikely to decrease heart disease risk to begin with.
    • The study did not include vitamin E and omega-3s. These are nutrients that are likely to decrease heart disease risk when the studies are done properly.
  • The authors of the study stated that a major weakness of their study was that that randomized control studies included in their analysis were short term, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.
  • The study behind the headlines is of little use for you as an individual because it asked the wrong question.
  • Most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” That is the wrong question. Instead we need more clinical studies focused on the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question. I discuss that question in more detail in the article above.
  • In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.
  • Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this study is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B-complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but they did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s in their analysis.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.
  • However, we do know that healthy, plant-based diets can decrease heart disease risk. I cover heart healthy diets in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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