Apr 08 2009

Chinese Slimming Capsules

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A German pharmacologist, in a newly published case series, discusses the risks of taking a popular Chinese “herbal” slimming capsule. The report highlights some of the common themes I have discussed often on this blog.

The capsules are marketed as “dietary supplements”, and the public is meant to be reassured by the fact that the “supplements” are herbal. However, this is just a marketing fiction. Herbs are drugs, and herbs sold as supplements are not supplements, but poorly regulated drugs.

The slimming capsules in question contained the drug sibutramine – which is a stimulant like amphetamine. In fact they contained twice the recommended daily maximum of this drug for prescription use.

Dr. Deiter Muller and co-authors present a case series of patients who presented with sibutramine toxicity from taking these “supplements.”

Another point is that using stimulants is a common tactic for weight loss supplements. They essentially are an essentially random collection of herbs or vitamins, that do not have any genuine weight-loss effect, combined with a stimulant – which is the real ingredient. Stimulants, of course, give people more energy, increase their metabolism, and may help them temporarily lose weight. But these effects are short term and not healthy.

Basically, it’s a bait and switch – market the fashionable herbal supplement with the latest slogans, but slip in a good old-fashioned stimulant. Read the labels at the supermarket – you will find caffeine or some derivative of caffeine in most weight loss products. Ephedra used to be common, until it was banned by the FDA after people started dropping dead of heart attacks.

This one episode just highlight the risks of the fiction of marketing drugs as if they were food.

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