2010 Slim Chance Awards

Each year, Frances M. Berg, M.S., who operates the Healthy Weight Network presents "Slim Chance Awards" to promoters of weight-loss schemes. Here are the awards for 2010.

Worst Claim: Ultimate Cleanse

Ultimate Cleanse cashes in on a popular quack theme: the body must be detoxified regularly to get rid of wastes and toxins. An ideal scam, this notion sets up a problem that doesn't exist and puts forth a solution to snare the gullible. If it were true, people would not survive, as one FDA agent pointed out: the body is naturally self-cleaning. Aside from their basic silliness, cleansing programs are often high-risk, containing potent laxatives. Ultimate Cleanse combines cascara sagrada, a harsh laxative that in 2002 was banned as an ingredient in over-the-counter drugs, in a mix of herbs and fibers said to produce "2-3 bowel movements per day, while sweeping, toning, and cleansing the digestive and eliminative system." Supposedly it cleanses in five areas (bowel, liver, kidneys, lungs and skin) as well as bloodstream, cells and body tissues. An Arizona man who used Ultimate Cleanse is suing the maker and seller charging that it caused perforation of his colon requiring two operations; his surgeon believes the perforation was caused by cascara segrada. There is no proven safe or effective dose for cascara, derived from the bark of a buckthorn plant. Long-term use may lead to potassium depletion, blood in the urine, disturbed heart function, muscle weakness, finger clubbing and cachexia (extreme weight loss). Regular use is linked to increased risk of hepatitis and colorectal cancer. Though banned as a drug, cascara sells in dietary supplements through a legal loophole.

Worst Product: HCG Supplements

In a resurge in popularity of HCG injections among some practitioners and spas, this 1950s weight loss method has spawned excitement in the supplement field, as well. HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone produced during pregnancy, is claimed to reset the hypothalamus, improve metabolism and mobilize fat stores. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting HCG treatment as a weight or fat loss strategy. In its herbal versions, HCG drops are placed under the tong≠ue (5 drops times 6 times a day or 10 drops, 3 times). Advertisers claim, "You easily can lose 1-2 pounds per day safely! Shed Excess Fat . . . HCG resets your hypothalamus so that your weight loss is permanent!" "HCG will melt fat permanently while maintaining muscle tone." HCG does all this, it is claimed, without exercise. The caveat: the program requires a semi-starvation diet of 500 calories a day, with attendant severe risks to long-term health and almost guaranteed weight rebound. Further, the HCG program often begins with a liquid fast detox period. Common short-term effects include fatigue, headache, mood swings, depression, confusion, dizziness and stomach pain.

Most Outrageous: Basic Research LLC

Basic Research, marketer of bogus products, carries an extensive history of FTC warnings, charges, fines and on-going lawsuits against multiple products. Basic Research, also doing business as Carter-Reed Company, has been a plaintiff or defendant in more than 40 suits filed in federal court in the past five years. In 2006, the FTC ordered the company to pay $3 million on behalf of six companies and three principals. Together with one of these, Akävar, Basic Research faces a class-action suit based on new charges for violating that order. Most recently Basic Research is being sued for false advertising in marketing "Jillian Michaels Maximum Strength Calorie Control" (Take Two Capsules Before Main Meals And You Lose Weight). Michaels, star and coach on the reality show, the Biggest Loser, gained a reputation as a credible fitness instructor before stumbling into the supplement quagmire, from which she now promotes her own Calorie Control, Fat Burner, Body Detox and Cleanse, and QuickStart Rapid Weight Loss System, marketing with Basic Research. Founded in 1992, based in Salt Lake City, Basic Research is listed as an international importer and wholesaler specializing in supplements, with an estimated annual income of $10.5 million.

Worst Gimmick: Lapex BCS Lipo Laser

With full page advertisements in daily newspapers, LipoLaser promoters promise: ""Lose 31/2 -7 inches of fat in 3 weeks. . . . proven inches lost, without diet or exercise . . . the LipoLaser is the only non-diet, non-invasive, pain-free way to lose inches of fat . . . all effortlessly and easily." Credible studies are missing to show this works. Supposedly, shining the lighted device on a pocket of fat gives results "almost exactly the same as exercise" only instead of "hormones opening the fat cells with exercise, the Laser light opens the fat cells—right through your skin. The same stuff comes out of the fat cells." So excess fat is released and the fat cells shrink, or so it is claimed. The FDA classifies the device as an infrared lamp rather than a laser, so likely it is harmless. Yet the price is hefty: $1497 (on special 50% reduction) up to $5000 for the typical program of nine one-hour sessions. An online diet review site rates the LipoLaser treatment negatively, along with a user's report, "Young girls administer the treatment and do not give you any eye protection even though they have warnings on the walls that laser is in process. I have had no good results for my $4000 and I want my money back. This is one of the biggest scams out there." A self-identified professional confessed that about 80% of the "guests" who completed their series were dissatisfied with results.

This article was posted on December 29, 2010.

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