From the editor's desk

Looking for the best the weight management category has to offer

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags Weight management botanicals Weight loss Dieting

The growing obesity epidemic has flummoxed public health officials. Unfortunately, the dietary supplement industry has a checkered history in helping to find solutions.

The scope of the problem is enormous, if you’ll pardon my pun (lest you think I’m fat shaming, my personal physical dimensions make it obvious I’m part of the problem, not the solution). In 1962, about 23% of US adults were classified as obese according to the Centers for Disease Control.  That figure rose to close to 40% in the 2015-2016 time frame, according to one CDC data set.

Scope of problem is obvious. Solutions are less clear

That data seems pretty clear. What’s less clear is why this is happening. In theory people have access to more, and more accurate, information about food than ever before. Yet they still seem to have difficulty determining what are the best things to eat, and how much of them to eat. You can see that easily enough by the size of typical restaurant portions in this country. If consumers had the most healthy attitude about this, those kinds of places could not thrive the way they do. They’d be viewed as unhealthy places to eat, just as they would if they had failed a health department inspection.

Then there are the contributing factors. A common theme here is too little exercise and too much food, compounded by too much screen time, etc. Modern life has so many conveniences that it’s theorized that we forego burning several hundred calories a day that our forebears did just because we’ve got it so cushy.

From a thermodynamic standpoint, there can be no argument with calories consumed/calories expended calculation. And it has been shown to work.  For example, recently the actor Christian Bale was asked how he shed 70 lbs in seven months for his recent role in the movie Ford vs. Ferrari​. His answer?  “I simply didn’t eat.”

But while this has been shown to work for some, it doesn’t for everyone. Intermittent fasting has become one of the trendy way to manage weight and boost overall health. And caloric restriction has been shown to have some longevity benefits. But sticking to an ultra low calorie diet is not something most people succeed at.

Retracted research

Enter the weight loss aids and glitzy weight loss researchers. Among these was Brian Wansink, PhD, who resigned in disgrace from Cornell University in 2018.  Wansink had done a number of studies on things like plate size and its relation to satiety, how the portion size and caloric content of standard recipes had increased over time, etc.  Many of these studies have since been retracted​, and Wansink stands accused of scientific malpractice.

Then there are the weight loss aids advertised on TV, that seem to attach almost miraculous properties to ingredients such as glucomannan. A common feature of these ads I’ve noticed is the cartoon like, almost childlike nature of their animations, which show the magically targeted belly fat melting blissfully way.  It hearkens back to a time when losing weight was just a matter of taking one little pill.

The lost goldmine

And it seemed to have been, at one time.  The natural products industry once had a superstar weight management product that by all accounts worked well, ephedra, which is an extract of the plant Ephedra sinica.  ​The active constituents, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, act as central nervous system stimulants and appetite suppressants.  Studies showed a statistically significant increase in short term weight loss with the ingredient over placebo.

Trouble was, the ingredient was linked with a number of deaths, and thus acquired a hefty amount of safety concerns. FDA banned it from the market in December of 2003, something which some members of the industry still regret. 

In the time since then unscrupulous formulators have filled the breach with a plethora of ‘herbal’ weight loss aids that in fact are adulterated with sibutramine, which was a drug that was marketed under the brand name Merida and was taken off the market by its manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, in 2010 because of safety concerns. So many of these adulterated products are now on the market that FDA has made the weight management category an area of special concern.

But even in the face the actions of adulterators and mountebanks, responsible innovators in the natural products field continue to research new ingredients in the weight loss category and to bolster the scientific data backing older ingredients. Companies like Indena and Pharmachem have developed ingredients from varieties of the bean species Phaseolus vulgaris​.  Sabinsa has had an appetite suppressant ingredient derived from the botanical Caralluma fimbriata​ on the market for years. And just today, a New Zealand company released data about a new hops extract that helps curb hunger during intermittent fasting​.

Weight Management Webinar

To highlight these and other up and coming weight loss ingredients, NutraIngredients-USA will host a Weight Management Webinar​ on Jan. 29. A panel that includes Guru Ramanathan, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer at GNC, attorney Justin Prochnow of the firm Greenberg Traurig and others will delve into the scientific, market and regulatory questions surrounding this category. 

Stay tuned to this space; sign up details will be available soon.

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