The Food and Drug Administration has been busy this week, and I think what it is saying warrants a wake-up call—especially for women. Yesterday, the agency said it issued a warning letter to Coca-Cola noting that its Diet Coke Plus soft drink had nutritional claims that shouldn't be placed on an utterly nonnutritious soft drink. Those added vitamins and minerals don't make the beverage any more healthful than, say, Diet Pepsi, the FDA says.
I'm guessing that the Diet Coke Plus marketing campaign was aimed at women because Coca-Cola has stated previously that men go for zero-calorie products like Coke Zero, whereas "diet" sodas appeal more to women. Of course, Coke Zero Plus would be a complete oxymoron.
Dangerous Diet Supplements
Women also need a reality check when it comes to purchasing oh-so-great-sounding weight-loss products with names like Fatloss Slimming and Extrim Plus. On Monday, the FDA announced that 28 diet products sold over the counter in drugstores and on the Internet had potent drugs in them that weren't listed on the label, as my colleague Bernadine Healy reported. Check out the complete list here.
Nearly all of the products—mostly from China and Japan—had sibutramine. This powerful appetite suppressant, found in the prescription drug Meridia, should be used only under a doctor's supervision since it can cause heart attacks, strokes, and heart palpitations, particularly in those with a history of high blood pressure or heart problems. "Some of the products had three to four times the FDA-approved maximum allowable dose of Meridia," says FDA spokesperson Rita Chappelle. (She declined to name which ones, since she didn't want consumers to go out and buy them.) While the agency hasn't received reports of Americans being harmed, Chappelle adds, the investigation was triggered by heart-related problems that struck users of these products in other countries.
Several of the products also contained phenolphthalein, a possible carcinogen that was used in over-the-counter laxatives before it was identified as toxic. One weight-loss product, called Phyto Shape, contained the appetite suppressant rimonabant, an active ingredient used in the experimental obesity drug Acomplia, which was taken out of consideration for FDA approval after it was linked to nervous system problems.
As of this morning, many of these products could still be purchased on amazon.com and on a variety of diet product websites, but Chappelle says the FDA would like to quickly get them completely off the U.S. market.
The truth is, these 28 products are only the tip of the iceberg. You'd be wise to stay away from any over-the-counter weight-loss product that doesn't have FDA approval, says nutritionist Madelyn Fernstrom, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh's Weight Management Center. (The only one out there that does is Alli, and that, too, has side effects.) You simply have no guarantee that what's on the label is actually in the product—or that other, unlisted chemicals aren't.
While products made in China may be particularly unreliable, even products made by seemingly reputable companies can make fraudulent claims. Last year the Federal Trade Commission took a multimillion-dollar settlement from Bayer for its One-A-Day WeightSmart, which had only a "sprinkling of green tea extract, the purported weight-control ingredient," FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras remarked at a meeting last year.
Fernstrom sums it up this way: "Any supplement claiming to have a weight-loss effect will, at the very least, be a waste of your money or, at the very worst, make you very sick."