Here comes weight-loss pseudoscience appearing in spam, the Dr. Oz show, or random google search. Weight loss scams, especially those that easy, are an American obsession, since the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic. Americans are seeking easy, simple, and effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill, while maintaining a perfect Body Mass Index, and Americans will be a happy lot.
Two of the recent weight loss scams hitting the public consciousness these days are raspberry ketone and green coffee beans. Dr. Oz, who despite a solid education in science-based medicine has taken to promoting everything from homeopathy to Joe Mercola‘s various lunatic cures, has been pushing both of these weight loss non-working treatments lately.
Let’s start with the raspberry ketones. It is essentially a phenolic compound produced by the raspberry that gives the raspberry’s aroma that we recognize. However, because it is produced in such small amounts by the plant, the supplement industry must synthesized it chemically to manufacture it in sufficient quantities to be sold as a weight loss pill. So it isn’t a natural product by any means. The belief that these ketones would reduce weight was based on a single study in rats where 2% of the rat’s high fat diet was replaced with these ketones. That would be an impossibly large amount of the ketones in the diet. Other studies have shown no evidence of weight loss in rats even at levels that are equivalent to 200X the amount that a human would consume. And there is not one single clinical trial that has been published showing that raspberry ketones have any benefit in weight loss. Let’s be honest, despite Dr. Oz’s pseudoscientific push, it has no use.
Next up as a weight loss panacea are green coffee beans, which are unroasted coffee beans, that resulted from a study that touted the “efficacy of green coffee extract in weight loss.” This caused the next big thing in weight loss. However, as with most one-off studies, it’s very easy to criticize these things. Let’s turn to the good people at Science Based Medicine, who can spot a good medical scam with one eye and both hands tied behind their backs, who take apart the study:
- It only involves 16 patients. A good clinical trial requires numbers that are adequate to gain some level of statistical significance, and 16 isn’t going to cut it.
- “This study was never registered at clinicaltrials.gov. And there’s no evidence provided that a research ethics board ever reviewed the protocol. I find it hard to believe that any investigator would undertake a clinical trial of an unproven supplement without obtaining prior ethics approval – but that seems to be the case.”
- It is published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, which does not have an impact factor yet. Other journals by Dove Press, the publisher of the journal, have impact factors between 1-3, at the very low end of the scale. In addition, even though the journal claims to be peer-reviewed, the time period from submission to editorial decision was 12 days which means review was “cursory”.
- None of the authors were clinicians or experts in the field.
- The authors claimed that the study was double blinded, but because of the the way the study was constructed it was not blinded to either the patient or the clinician.
If you want more detail on the critique of the study, the Science Based Medicine article does it in detail. The most conclusive piece of evidence is that there is no confirming evidence yet published. There are no green coffee clinical trials listed in clinicaltrials.gov as of this date. There are no further animal or clinical trials listed anywhere.
Weight loss is rather simple. Calories burned has to exceed calories taken in. Eat less. Burn more. Your choice. If you’re looking for the miracle weight loss, other than the mythical placebo effect (you think it’s going to work so maybe you eat less or walk more, who knows), it’s not going to do anything for you. Walk a couple of miles. Quit eating those potato chips. That’s my expert recommendation!
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