Pro Tip: Avoid Miracle Weight Loss Cures

By Jason Fung, MD

The Internet is full of promises of the latest and greatest miracle ‘drug’ or food that will miraculously melt away stubborn fat. Here’s the plain truth. The entire notion of a miracle weight loss drug is completely preposterous. We only believe it because we so desperately want to believe it. Deep in our hearts, we know it cannot possibly be true. Humans have been eating plants and herbs since, well, we became human. What are the chances that a completely natural and new substance is suddenly found in year 2017 that wondrously melts away fat? Pure science fiction. Mostly, these supplements rely on the well-known placebo effect for all their benefits.

Acai Berries

Similarly, the notion of the ‘super food’ is faintly ridiculous. These are no easy answers. We imagine there are foods that are so amazing that eating them automatically makes us ‘super’ healthy. We are hoodwinked into believing that some berry from the Amazon (acai) or a seed from Mexico (chia) or a seed from the Andean region of South America (quinoa) might be enough to turn the tides of obesity and diabetes. I am not saying that these are not healthy or delicious foods. I enjoy them myself. But eating them doesn’t make me all of a sudden healthy if I continue to eat sugar and junk food.

We only need to look to 1950s America for our answer. They were not eating chia seeds or quinoa or acai. They didn’t even much like whole wheat bread. It was considered gross (or at least I did, as a child of the 1970s). Whole-wheat pasta was entirely unknown. Yet obesity and diabetes were barely noticed as a health problem back then.

The super duper, mega healthy foods have been discovered long, long, long ago. These are the whole, unprocessed natural foods. Things like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish, and wild game. Anything else, we would have discovered centuries ago. Even things that taste rather bad, like bitter melon, have properties that make it a food that our paleolithic ancestors chose to eat. It tastes really bitter. But they kept eating it because it was edible and maybe had some health properties (according to Chinese medicine). The newly discovered super-food idea relies upon you believing that the 7 billion people of this world  in all 2017 years of anno domini (AD) and the thousands of years BC somehow missed that some ‘superfood X’ was really healthy for you. But, oh, hey, great news it was just discovered earlier this year and now available! KThanxBye.

With the rise of ‘Evidence Based Medicine’ there’s been a new scam — fake studies. Green coffee is one such example. In 2012 a published study touted its belly busting effects. The study was fishy, sure, but still, people wanted to believe. It was a media sensation. But the fact that it didn’t work couldn’t be hidden forever.

Green Coffee

By 2014, Applied Food Science (AFS), the company producing green coffee bean extract settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $3.5 million. Under intense scrutiny, the 2012 study was retracted because it was, well, bogus. The investigators had admitted to fudging the data. Others would call it a flat-out lie.

AFS had hired some Indian scientists to study the weight loss effects of the green coffee extract. But the results were not the ones AFS desired. So, researchers repeatedly changed the weights of the patients and trial groups. Torturing the data forced the eventual positive result. The trial was so horrifically bad that no journal would publish it. So, AFS decided to hire Drs. Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham from the University of Scranton to rewrite the paper and put their own names on it to give it a sheen of respectability. This sort of intellectual prostitution, unfortunately, is not that uncommon.

Without verifying any of the data, Dr. Vinson wrote the paper and proclaimed that subjects could lose 17.5 pounds in 22 weeks or 10.5% of body weight. This was all done without changing their diet, but only with the addition of some green coffee extract. Dr. Vinson, presenting at the 2012 American Chemical Society meeting, explained “Based on our results, taking multiple capsules of green coffee extract a day — while eating a low-fat, healthful diet and exercising regularly — appears to be a safe, effective, inexpensive way to lose weight”. In a press release, he even goes as far as to say that subject might have lost even more weight if they had not been on placebo for part of the study.

Once the bogus study was complete, a plausible reason needed to be found for this miraculous effect. So, it was decided that green coffee was high in chlorogenic acid. Presumably, this was the reason for its miraculous effect. Let’s forget the fact that chlorogenic acid is high in potatoes as well — a food not particularly well known for its slimming effects. Let’s also forget the fact that chlorogenic acid has never previously been hinted to have a weight loss effect. Green coffee has chlorogenic acid. Green coffee causes weight loss. Therefore, its due to the chlorogenic acid. In the bloody arena of American daytime television, a miracle weight loss cure meant viewers. So what if it didn’t really work?

Sensa was another food additive that claimed miraculous waist slimming properties in late night TV ads. It was created by Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist. Sensa was a crystal that you sprinkled onto food. Dr. Hirsch claimed that these crystals he created would make you full and therefore lose weight.

Sensa crystal

Sensa ran on late night TV ads for a long time. Infomercials claimed that studies had ‘proven’ its benefit. So what if the studies were entirely made up? Dr. Hirsch claimed that a study done by the Endocrine Society supported the 30 pound weight loss claim. The Endocrine Society, on the other hand, didn’t know what he was talking about.

Eventually, it became obvious that Sensa was just a giant scam. The makers settled with the FTC in January 2014 for $26.5 million. By October 2014, Sensa was bankrupt and out of business.

There was also the case of HCG Diet Direct, which settled for $7.3 million. It, too was just a gigantic scam. Kevin Trudeau, a promoter of a misleading book entitled “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ don’t want you to know about”, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

We laugh at ‘primitive’ people’s beliefs in voodoo and witchcraft. All the while, we drink our green coffee extract, take our Sensa crystals of power, and HCG. Pot, meet kettle. Avoid miracle cures. Weight loss begins with an understanding of what causes weight gain. No, I’m not talking about calories. I’m talking about hormonal mediators of obesity – predominantly insulin, although excess cortisol may play a role, too. Everybody wants the quick fix. But, in life, there rarely are quick cures. The most important part of learning how to lose weight is to understand what caused the weight gain in the first place. For years, people were told it was all about calories in, calories out. But when they tried to reduce calories, they still didn’t lose weight. So, understanding the root cause of obesity (the aetiology of obesity, in medical terms) is the single most important thing you need to do in order to lose weight. Where can you get good information on this? A new podcast  will be soon available discussing these exact issues. Stay tuned.

By The Fasting Method

For many health reasons, losing weight is important. It can improve your blood sugars, blood pressure and metabolic health, lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. But it’s not easy. That’s where we can help.

Jason Fung, MD

By Jason Fung, MD

Jason Fung, M.D., is a Toronto-based nephrologist (kidney specialist) and a world leading expert in intermittent fasting and low-carb diets.

Share this article with a friend

More articles you might enjoy…