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Each January, Frances M. Berg, M.S., editor of Healthy Weight Journal, presents "Slim Chance Awards" to promoters of weight-loss schemes. Here are the awards for 2000.
Worst Product: Chitosan
Chitosan or chitin is being sold under time-tested names like "Fat Magnet," "Fat Blocker," "Fat Trapper" and "Fat Absorb." Promoters claim this indigestible fiber of crushed crab and lobster shells causes rapid weight loss by assist in weight loss [and to] binding fats in the stomach, preventing them from being digested, and that it lowers cholesterol. Two studies show no differences in weight or cholesterol reduction between chitosan and placebo groups, even in short-term effects. Safety claims may also be misleading ó side effects have not been studied for more than two weeks, according to one expert. Risks can include fat-soluble vitamin depletion and increased calcium excretion leading to loss of bone density.
Most Outrageous: Metabolife 356
It is outrageous that a hot new herbal weight loss product which can be dangerous, launched by a promoter with a 1990 conviction on methamphetamine lab charges, apparently came close to sales of $1 billion last year. Metabolife 356 combines caffeine and ephedra (ma huang), both heart and nervous system stimulants, and claims to increase metabolic rate while increasing your energy level. Business took off for Michael Ellis about five years ago when he set up a multilevel marketing program whereby customers can become independent dealers. The Food and Drug Administration has warned against consuming dietary supplements containing ephedra or ephedrine alkaloids, because of the many adverse reports it has received (over 800 between 1994 and 1997 including nine deaths ó most of healthy and relatively young adults). In 1997, FDA proposed to prohibit the marketing of dietary supplements containing 8 mg or more of ephedrine alkaloids per serving (Metabolife reportedly contains 12 mg), to require labeling that recommends an intake of less than 24 mg per day and not more than 7-day usage, and to prohibit the addition of other stimulants such as caffeine, because it increases the stimulant effects and chance of injury. It also proposed a label warning: "Taking more than the recommended serving may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure or death." Other FDA reports range from nervousness, headaches, tremors, and insomnia, to high blood pressure, heart rate irregularities, chest pain, stroke, psychosis, and death. The FDA proposal remains under review.
Worst Diet: Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution
A diet that just won't go away, though often disparaged by nutritionists, is Dr. Robert Atkins' low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet, first published in 1972, and recycled in recent years as "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution." Carbohydrates are Atkins' arch villian. The diet's popularity stems from the rapid weight loss that comes from water depletion of the cells and a breakdown of lean body mass. The body produces ketones from fat in an effort to fuel activity and slow the breakdown of lean tissue. Since Atkins' diet is deficient in many nutrients, he recommends an extensive list of vitamin and mineral supplements ó which he just happens to sell. He admits his dieters may experience constipation, fatigue, and insomnia. Other complications associated with low carb diets are ketosis, dehydration, electrolyte loss, calcium depletion, weakness, nausea, and possibly kidney problems. Fortunately, most people will not stick with this diet for long.
Worst Gadget: Cellulift
Resembling a toy highway packer set with rows of wheels, this electrically powered gadget supposedly "glides over skin, flattens the appearance of cellulite by means of heat and vacuum from front and rear rollers." Instructions are to apply a special massage gel twice a day to thighs and buttocks, leaving it on for 5 minutes, then starting up the toy packer/massager and tracking it back and forth over the area for 10 to 15 minutes. One is to believe that the motorized rollers squeeze and massage the skin layer, while heat penetrates deeply and suction provides the special lifting action called "cellumotion." The truth is that "cellulite" is a quack term for ordinary fat that on some women appears texturized, especially on the upper legs. It's an inherited condition that shows up more with age as skin becomes thinner and connective tissue less elastic. The Cellulift costs $99.95, as advertised in WorldTraveler magazine.
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