Do pills and potions fulfill their promises?

Nutrition team

Is your email inbox will be crammed full with advertisements for the latest miracle drugs, claiming to help you lose weight in the blink of an eye? Pouring a potion or popping a pill while you eat all you can might sound much more appealing than the alternative – eating healthily and taking regular exercise. But do these products live up to their promises?

Each week we receive dozens of email offers to buy apple cider vinegar or blue green algae. While the thought of effortless weight loss is all very appealing, we thought we’d take a closer look at the product behind the promises.

Apple cider vinegar is coming back onto the market with a bang. In email messages this week, we’ve been promised that, if we take apple cider vinegar three times daily, we can lose 10lbs in only a week, even while eating 4000 calories a day.

While this product has been around dieting circles for years, its history can be traced back a lot further.

Ancient Egyptians are known to have used vinegar to assist weight loss, Hippocrates was said to recommend it to his ill patients, Julius Caesar treated his wounded soldiers with it, and vinegar was even mentioned in the bible for its medicinal properties. It is claimed to be anti-fungal and antibacterial, giving the immune system a good boost. It is also said to normalise the bloods alkaline/acid levels or pH balance.

The other many claims include its use in relieving headaches, nausea, sore throats, acne and other skin problems. A mixture of apple cider vinegar mixed with honey and water is said to be beneficial in reducing joint pain. Today’s major health claim is in aiding weight loss and burning fat.

Apple cider vinegar is made of apples fermented in water with a small quantity of calcium and magnesium. Apples themselves contain pectin that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. But this may be the only weight reducing effect that apple cider vinegar has.

During the 1970’s when the markets began flooding with all kinds of weight loss products and promises, it was thought that a combination of apple cider vinegar, kelp, vitamin B-6 and lecithin would somehow alter your metabolism to speed up fat burning.

However, there is no scientific proof that it can help you lose weight. The claims are made by companies trying to sell you their products, promising a reduction in hunger and food cravings. It’s basically a marketing stunt to make them rich at your expense.

The package will tell you to take one to three teaspoons before meals. Think about how you would feel after taking 3 teaspoons of vinegar before you eat your meal – it would taste pretty bad, if you ask me, and I certainly wouldn’t have much of an appetite after that. In anybody’s book, this does not constitute healthy eating or a healthy weight reduction strategy.

Another product making the headlines is blue green algae. This grows naturally in ponds and lakes and the most common form used as a nutritional supplement is spirulina. The makers claim algae has multi-ailment treating properties too, including improving weight status, treating diabetes, skin disorders, asthma and even wrinkles. This product is very expensive and apparently tastes terrible.

So what are the benefits of taking algae supplements? Well, it contains a rich source of protein, including 8 essential amino acids in a highly bio-available form. But since algae is taken in small amounts, the quantity of protein supplied would be insignificant to the average person. In the Western world today, people already consume too much protein so taking a supplement to increase protein levels is not a healthy decision.

It also contains many nutrients including B vitamins, beta-carotene, gamma linolenic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc and bioflavonoids. It contains a source of vitamin B-12 which manufacturers can use to target vegetarians and vegans, but the form of vitamin B-12 is not an easily absorbed form of the vitamin, rendering it largely unusable.

The role of algae in weight loss also leaves a lot to be desired. There is no evidence that it is a successful weight loss aid. It is also worth noting that is contains a source of phenylalanine, sometimes marketed as an appetite suppressant.

As it grows in water there is also the possibility that it may be contaminated from pollutants, contain infectious organisms and toxins such as mercury.

At the end of the day, losing weight comes down calories in versus calories out. There are no magic solutions or short cuts, so don’t be fooled into thinking pills and potions will give the results they promise. Make the commitment to a healthier lifestyle to lose weight and feel great.

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