DIET PILLS: INVESTIGATED

We bought five different ‘slimming’ pills by mail order to find out what weird and wonderful ingredients claim to be weight-loss miracle workers. Then, we asked the experts whether or not they work.

Chinese red tea Where we found it:

Pu-Erh Te, £44.95 for two months and ten days’ supply (240 tablets).

The ad promises: The fantastic new fat burner from China. Fat disappears continuously. You lose weight first where it is hardest to lose.

What the expert says: “It’s difficult to know what’s in this, as the ingredients are only listed in Danish, which is quite worrying,” says Fiona Ford, a state registered dietician and spokeswoman for women’s health charity, Wellbeing. “But the advert says that Pu-Erh Te is a Chinese red tea that eats fat – that’s wrong. Tea is good for you, as it has antioxidant properties, but there’s no indication how much is in these tablets – it could be as little as a pinch,

I can’t see any justification for the claims this product is making.”

What the company says: A spokesman for SwissTrade Mail Ltd, in Jersey, told us, “We don’t know what’s in the products, so we can’t comment. We simply distribute them for another company, whose head office is in Germany. If you want to get in touch with them, write to us and we’ll pass your letter on.” They were unable to give us a phone number, email address or direct postal address for the German company.

Chromium picolinate Where we found it:

Trim Easy, £16.99 for one month’s supply (60 capsules)

The ad promises:

The latest advance in thermogenic body transformation. Lose weight, burn fat, boost energy.

indirWhat the expert says: “I’m really concerned about this,” says Fiona. “Chromium picolinate is a popular ingredient often used in body building supplements, as it reduces fat and builds muscle. However, there has been recent research claiming it can damage your DNA, and, as damage to DNA can potentially lead to cancer, this wouldn’t be good for longterm use.” The Food Standards Agency have now proposed that chromium picolinate be banned in food supplements after discovering a possible link between it and cancer.

What the company says: Nigel Davidson from Premiere Health & Beauty, in Northern Ireland, told us, “You’re right to query this, but The Council for Responsible Nutrition, one of the dietary supplement industry’s leading trade associations, has issued a statement in response to the research you mention, saying chromium has no observed adverse affects in people taking up to 1,000mcg a day. As our product contains a maximum of 10Omcg a day, it shouldn’t be a problem. If anyone has any queries, they’re welcome to ring up and ask to speak to our pharmacist.”

The magic ingredient

Where we found it:

Bonsai, £42.98 for one month’s supply (120 capsules) and also Body Trimmers (see overleaf).

The ad promises: Everyone knows sea animals never get fat. That’s because their bodies contain Bonsai. It makes sure the fat from your last meal leaves your body before being digested. What the expert says: “Chitosan is a fibre made up from the shells of crab shrimp and lobsters, which claims to bind fat in your gut and stop you absorbing it,” says Fiona.

Hannah Davies, a marketing manager, from West Yorkshire, tried herbal slimming pills in January 2003, with terrifying results “There has been research showing it doesn’t have any effect on weight loss, but it’s still popular, even though it can give you bad diarrhoea, and may interfere with the essential vitamins A, D, E and K in your body, which you need for things like healthy eyesight, heart and skin. The Bonsai tablets basically just consist of shellfish and gum, so are nothing more than a very expensive laxative. I wouldn’t recommend them for weight loss. The Body Trimmers capsules (below) do contain added vitamin E, which is good, but you could still end up deficient in the other vitamins.”

What the company says: A spokesman for Stormgrand Enterprises Ltd, in Middlesex, who sell Bonsai, told us, “We are a fulfilment house for the main manufacturers, who are based in Germany. We simply handle sales for them on a commission basis. We have no comment to make at present.” Nicky Laycock from Body Health Products Ltd, in Chesterfield, manufacturers of Body Trimmers, told us, “We’re always looking to improve our products, so we’ll look into this research and, if necessary, take chitosan out, or add extra vitamins A, D and K,”

The magic ingredients

Bitter orange, damiana, sarsaparilla root and nettle leaf Where we found them:

Body Trimmers, £39.99 for one month’s supply (150 capsules).

The ad promises: Rapid weight loss. Now you can eat as normal and lose weight.

What the expert says: “Bitter orange works as a laxative, while damiana is both laxative and diuretic; and sarsaparilla root and nettle leaf also have diuretic properties,” says Fiona. “So, while these ingredients could possibly work in the shortterm and you might see some weight loss, it’s likely to be mainly liquid. As soon as you stopped taking the pills, the weight would go straight back on.”

What the company says: Nicky Laycock told us, “Some of these ingredients are diuretics, but we suggest customers drink more fluids with this product, in order to lose weight. Bitter orange, or citrus aurantium as “I’ve always struggled with my weight – I’m size 14, 11 st 2lbs, and I’d like to be a stone lighter. In January this year, I spotted a newspaper advert for some slimming tablets which said they were the ‘No.1 selling supplement in America’. The ad claimed I wouldn’t have to change my diet or exercise to lose a stone in six weeks. I’m getting married next year, so I decided to give it a go. I sent off for three months’ supply, which cost £79.99.1 reckoned it was a small price to pay to be slim.

But, within 24 hours of taking my first pill, I began to feel jumpy, irritable and over-alert, as if I was high on drugs. I also found it hard sleeping at night. But the packet said the pills speed up your metabolism, so you burn calories quicker, and I just assumed the fluttery feelings meant the pills were working – even though I wasn’t actually losing any weight.

Then, after taking the pills for six weeks, I was waiting for a train on my way to work, when I started getting palpitations. Suddenly, my hands went clammy, there was a rushing sound in my ears and I got tunnel vision. I collapsed on the platform. Luckily, three policewomen who happened to be nearby looked after me until I came to, and called an ambulance.

When the paramedics arrived, they discovered that I had an irregular heartbeat and rushed me to hospital, where I ended up on a heart monitor.

It was incredibly frightening.

it’s also known, is a well-known fat burner, and we rarely get calls from customers complaining about diarrhoea.”

The magic ingredients

L-Carnitine and fructooligosaccharide Where we found them:

Redu-Quick, a meal replacement drink which costs £21.49 for 500g (seven days’ supply). The ad promises:

The new fat killer! Your dream figure in one week! Get rid of that extra fat on thighs, hips and tummy!

What the expert says: “The label claims ‘L-Carnitine and fructooligosaccharide may promote a better fat metabolism and Later that day, a cardiologist told me I had an underlying heart condition, which had previously gone undetected. He asked me whether I took drugs or if I was an alcoholic, and I said no. Then, he asked if I took herbal medicines or slimming pills. When I said yes, he raised his eyes to heaven.

Apparently, anything that raises your metabolism – such as caffeine and a substance called ephedrine, which was in my slimming pills – also makes your heart beat faster. Maybe if I hadn’t taken the pills, my heart condition would never have become an issue, but the doctors certainly think they were a contributing factor in putting me in hospital.

I’m still in shock from discovering I have a heart condition at the age of 27.1 now see a cardiologist regularly and I’ve given up caffeine, alcohol and smoking. I also take beta-blockers to keep my heart rhythm low and steady, because if it speeds up again, there’s a risk I could have a stroke or cardiac arrest, and die.

I’ll never take slimming pills again. If I had the money, I’d pursue a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the pills I took, as I think they’re unbelievably dangerous. The problem is, herbal pills can be incredibly powerful, but they aren’t regulated – many don’t even list the ingredients or have warnings on the bottle. You simply don’t know what you’re putting in your body.”

digestion’,” says Fiona. “But I know of no evidence to support this claim. L-Carnitine is an amino acid, and fructooligosaccharide is a type of carbohydrate – so they should be present in a normal diet anyway. Also, while the list of other ingredients is very thorough, when you look closely, there seems to be 34g of sugar in each serving, which is no good for regulating your appetite. That much would send your blood sugar level soaring; your body would then attempt to bring it down by producing insulin; and your blood sugar would drop quickly again, so you’d feel hungry.”

Illustration: Tony Campbell

What the company says: Redu-Quick is sold by Stormgrand Enterprises Ltd, who handle sales for Bonsai (see above). We were unable to get a response from Stormgrand to our findings about Redu-Quick, as well. H Fancy doing something different this weekend? We’ve teamed up with SEAT to offer you ten energetic ways to spend your weekend. It’s what you’d call outward bound with a difference

ENERGY RUSH

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Mountain biking Go on, admit it – the last time you rode a bike, you had a pink Barbie tricycle with stabilisers. But, there’s nothing to stop you getting back on now, is there? Nothing’s more fun than donning your safety helmet and hitting the open road. And, if you struggle getting up a hill, just think of the elation you’ll get when you freewheel all the way down. Mountain bike hire costs from around £12 per day. Contact your local tourist office for more information on local bike hire. Bungee jumping Jumping out of a crane suspended 100 foot over a river might sound like madness, but that feeling of elation you’ll get when you finally jump will be worth the nerves beforehand! Bungee jumps cost approximately £70.

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Tandem diving If you’ve always fancied the idea of flying like a bird, tandem diving could be perfect for you. You’ll get all the buzz of parachuting, but, because you’re safely strapped to an instructor at all times, you can sit back and let him do all the work while you enjoy the view. Costs approximately £240 at venues nationwide.

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