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The skinny on turning to supplements for weight control

Note: An earlier version of this article was published in the May edition of the Boise Urban Magazine app.

Author: Leslie Boston-Hyde

Turning to supplements to lose a few pounds? You may want to look elsewhere.

Consumers who want to lose weight will reach for supplements and pills with hopes that it will be the cure.

“They go into supplement stores and the supplement store employees don’t know (supplements), and they send them away with something that has a bunch of caffeine or other stimulants in it,” said Tim Jolicoeur, owner of Nutrishop in Boise. “It’s not the cure.”

As more studies surface, many are realizing that it takes more than a magic pill to maintain good health.

Other concerns include the use of ingredients not listed on labels or ingredients that are being used that are not on the label.

The Supplement Industry


Over the years, Jolicoeur saw a lot of companies make miracle pill type claims.

“There is nothing to date that is a miracle pill,” Jolicoeur said.

IMG_4421Some endorsers of these supplements, such as Dr. Oz, host of the health show The Dr. Oz Show, have been criticized for promoting certain weight loss products. One of the main products that Oz advertised on his show was green coffee beans. In a 2013 study conducted by the American Chemical Society examining the effects of the main ingredient in green coffee beans on mice, it was found that the mice did not lose weight but caused fatty deposits in the liver.

According to an article by the Harvard Medical School, many of the supplement studies that have encouraging results have been observational with no placebo or a controlled setting.

“Often the enthusiasm for these vitamins and supplements outpaces the evidence. And when the rigorous evidence is available from randomized controlled trials, often the results are at odds with the findings of the observational studies,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
In Feb. 2015, the New York State attorney general’s office called upon four major retailers – Walmart, GNC, Target and Walgreens – to stop selling store-branded supplements. This was because the products did not have the ingredients that were listed, but instead had fillers and possible allergens.

“Right now in the supplement industry, there’s a lot of bad companies out there,” Jolicoeur said. “There’s also a lot of good companies in the supplement industry as well. They’re kind of coming together to try and push out some of these bad companies.”


FDA regulations:

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration minimally regulates herbal supplements. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, supplements with ingredients sold in the U.S. prior to 1994 can be marketed, whether they were proven safe or not.This left the supplement industry to rely mainly on self-regulation.

According to Jolicoeur, this freedom has led to some of the bold claims by weight loss companies or the use of dangerous substances in products.

“If they’re still eating burgers, if they’re still drinking Starbucks, I can’t help somebody,” Jolicoeur said. “It’s like a car. You’re changing the oil on it but it has no gas in it. It’s not going to run properly.”

In 2013, the FDA banned the use of 1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA. DMAA was marketed as a substance that would burn fat and build muscle. It tightens blood vessels and can lead to multiple cardiovascular problems, including elevated blood pressure, arrhythmias, tightening of the chest and possibly heart attacks. The FDA had received 86 cases with patients having adverse effects due to products containing DMAA.

Many have called for stronger regulations by the FDA, including Patrick J. Skerrett, executive editor of Harvard Health.

He believes the regulations set by DSHEA aren’t strict enough to regulate supplement ingredients.

“Compare this hands-off approach with the strict rules and regulations for drugs. No drug can be sold until the FDA has proof, clear proof that it is safe and effective. And every FDA-approved drug must be made to strict specifications,” Skerrett wrote in an opinion article.

Jolicoeur does not believe that stronger regulation from the FDA would be the solution, however. He believes that stricter responsibility with self-regulation would be better.

“It’s ultimately up to the shop owners, the companies and the supplement manufacturers to make sure that there’s responsibility, and it’s getting there,” Jolicoeur said.

While weight loss in a bottle doesn’t exist, Jolicoeur has seen many of his customers lose weight and lead healthier lives. For him, good nutrition must be the priority, followed by good effort.

“If they’re still eating burgers, if they’re still drinking Starbucks, I can’t help somebody,” Jolicoeur said. “It’s like a car. You’re changing the oil on it but it has no gas in it. It’s not going to run properly.”

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