Falling (Again) for Fad Fat-Burners?

Oops! I did it again, I preyed on your hopes • Got lost in the fame, oh baby baby • Oops! You think I’m the cure ‘cause I’ve got the allure • I’m not that innocent –Weight Loss Supplement

Strike 1

“Simply sprinkle this powder on food (even desserts!), eat it, and lose weight—no need to diet or exercise!” Does this sound too good to be true? The “miracle cure” language is the first clue that it’s a scam. Even so, millions of people have been smitten by Sensa, a mixture of corn starch, tricalcium phosphate (bone ash), and natural and artificial flavors and colors. Advertisers claim that Sensa increases the body’s sense of fullness, thereby curbing appetite and consumption, leading to weight loss. Thankfully, someone came to their senses, investigated the shoddy product research, and sued the company for false advertising. Sensa Products, LLC and Intelligent Beauty, Inc. settled for $900,000.

Strike 2

How about popping a pill that Mehmet Oz, MD, claims to be the “No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat”? Again, it’s no miracle: It’s a supplement containing red raspberry ketone, the primary aroma compound of red raspberries. Dr. Oz says it will help burn fat by making the body think it’s already thin. The trouble is, only a small number of clinical studies have been conducted to test the product’s effectiveness—and none with human subjects. Plus, red raspberry ketone, as well as other additives in the supplement, may have stimulant-like properties not recommended for certain medical conditions.

Strike 3

Then there’s green coffee bean extract, a concentrate made from the green seeds found inside unroasted coffee beans. Some research shows that a substance in the green seeds called chlorogenic acid may block fat storage, boost weight loss and curb carbohydrate absorption; however, the evidence is slim and the studies have been criticized for being poorly designed. And there’s the chance that green coffee bean extract may be more harmful than helpful: It may interact with certain medications and cause side-effects such as insomnia, anxiety and irregular heartbeat.

The Take-Away

The celebrity status of weight loss supplements comes and goes. Eventually their ineffectiveness and/or potential for harm come to light. A recent review of research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition concluded, “There is no strong research evidence indicating that a specific supplement will produce significant weight loss, especially in the long term.”

Don’t be duped. Although a healthy lifestyle (a balanced eating plan, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, managing stress, etc.) isn’t as sexy as a weight loss supplement that promises a quick fix with no effort, it’s savvy: A healthy lifestyle is safe, effective and budget-friendly with benefits that will far outlast the memory of a Britney Spears song.

Ten Red Flags of Junk Science

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix
  • Claims that sound too good to be true
  • Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study or recommendations based on a single study
  • Recommendations based on studies published without peer review
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore individual group differences
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations
  • Recommendations made to help sell a product

Adapted from Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food & Nutrition Misinformation, 2006.


Karen Giles-Smith, MS, RD, is a freelance writer and health/wellness coach based in Mason, MI. Visit her at and


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