1995 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. This year's awards spotlight a dismal quartet of thin chance miracles from a large array of products that may be the worst in the history of this award. Two of the selections are linked to recent deaths and numerous ill effects. Because of the severity of the reactions to ephedrine-containing products, we have selected the entire category this year as Worst Product, instead of limiting it to a single brand name.

Worst Product: Ephedrine-laced diet pills

Ephedrine is sold legally as a nasal decongestant, even when "asthma" pills are suggestively named Mini Thin. It avoids drug regulation entirely in the form of the Chinese herb ma huang.

Two suspected deaths and 37 hospitalizations in Texas resulted in a tem-porary state ban on the popular ephed-rine-containing diet pill Formula One. Herbalife's big weight loss seller Thermojetics, boasting the popular ingredient "Chinese Ma Huang," report-edly brings in 40 percent of the company's U.S. sales, about $70 million.

Side effects of the drug are heart damage, stroke, increased blood pres-sure and seizures, especially when abused—and it's clear that diet pills often are abused.

In the past two years, FDA reports some 330 adverse reactions to ephed-rine-containing products, primarily ma huang, including about a dozen deaths.

Most Outrageous: Mushroom tea

Variously called Mushroom tea, Kombucha, Fungus, Kargasok, Manchu-rian, or Kvass tea, this outrageous brew is made by adding tea, water and sugar to a fermented starter batter of yeast and bacteria.

Burning body fat and causing weight loss are only two of some 50 benefits claimed for the tea. Others are curing AIDS and cancer, and detoxifying the body. Many claims relate to looking and feeling younger. "Drink black tea in the morning for energy, green tea in the evening to improve the immune system," advise promoters.

W'hen an Iowa woman died and another became ill after drinking the tea, the Iowa health department issued a warning. The FDA also warns the mushroom tea may be harmful. AIDS patients, many of whom are drinking the popular tea to bolster their immune systems, may risk most harm, said the National Council Against Health Fraud.

Worst Claim: Gorayeb Hypnosis seminars

The worst claim of the year promises large, rapid weight loss upon at-tending a single two-hour Gorayeb hypnosis seminar. "You can expect results ranging from 30-60 Ibs. in 3 months to 120 Ibs. in one year." There's more, of course, "No willpower, no hunger, no dieting, just success. Using the power of hypnosis, you will lose unwanted cravings, eliminate the addiction to sweets and break the compulsive eating habit—once and for all. Stop having weight as an issue in your life."

In related smoking-cessesation hypnosis seminars, Ronald Gorayeb claims participants will stop smoking without gaining any weight.

The Federal Trade Commission called the Gorayeb claims false, misleading and in violation of the FTC Act.

Worst Gadget: Ninzu ear clips

A device that fits on the ear and is claimed to suppress appetite through acupressure, Ninzu is one of three such gadgets in three questionable companies run by a Baltimore man.

Other ear clips promoted by Michael Metzger with similar claims are Auricle Clip and B- Trim. "The proven principles of acupuncture without needles. In just seconds your hunger pains disappear. You eat less, you lose weight quickly. . . It's safe and it works. We guarantee it. Wearing Ninzo for less than 3 hours a day will produce dramatic results."

The FTC has charged that claims for the three ear clips are false and misleading.

This article was posted on December 22, 2008.

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