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Weight Loss & Diet Plans

The Skinny on Diet Scams

Experts weigh in on the top 5 diet scams and how to avoid them.
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Top Diet Scams continued...

"Now, more and more people seem to feel that there is some magic compound or practice, and there really isn't," Zanecosky tells WebMD. "Nobody gets the whistle blown on them unless someone dies or has something really awful happen to them."

Even when diet scams don't prove dangerous, experts say relying on pills, patches, creams, and other gadgets to lose weight keeps millions of people from seeking weight loss programs that could really help them lose weight and reduce their risk of disease.

"Most people need something more than a pill or diet aid to get them past the behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. These products lead people to believe that there is a product that can fix the problem, and 100% of the time there isn't a product that can fix the problem," says Zanecosky.

1. Metabolism-boosting/calorie-burning pills

At the top of the list of diet scams are pills based on herbal ingredients that promise to boost your metabolism and help you burn calories or fat faster.

"New herbs always seem to percolate to the top as potential diet aids, as one leaves another shows up because the FDA doesn't monitor herbs," says Zanecosky. "Most of time they are just ineffective; once in a while they are dangerous."

Two recent examples of herbal diet pills that caught the attention of the FDA as dangerous are ephedra and kava (Piper methysticum, also known as kava kava).

Until recently, ephedra was found in many herbal dietary supplements for weight loss, but in February 2004, the FDA banned the sale of ephedra in any dietary supplement in the U.S. due to the risk of illness or injury. The herb is a close chemical cousin of methamphetamine or speed and can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, nervousness, tremors, seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and even death.

Kava is a plant found in the islands of the South Pacific. Supplements containing the herbal ingredient are often promoted for relaxation as well as weight loss. But the FDA issued a warning in 2002 that use of supplements containing kava has been linked to severe liver injury.

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