MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

slimming aids

This is a blog about alternative medicine! A blog that promised to cover all major forms of alternative medicine. So, how could I have so far ignored the incredible health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)? Realising that this omission is quite frankly scandalous, I now quickly try to make amends by dedicating this entire post to ACV and its fantastic properties.

There is no shortage of information on the subject (almost 1.5 million websites!!!); this article entitled “13 Reasons Apple Cider Vinegar Is the Magic Potion You Need in Your Life”, for instance, tells us about the ’13 Real Benefits of vinegar’. As it was published in the top science journal ‘COSMOPOLITAN’, it must be reliable. The article makes the wonders of ACV very clear:

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1. It reduces bloating. Vinegar increases the acidity in the stomach, which allows it to digest the food you’ve eaten and helps propel it into the small intestine, according to Raphael Kellman, MD, founder of the Kellman Center for Integrative and Functional Medicine in New York City. Because slow digestion can cause acid reflux, a burning sensation that occurs when food in your stomach backs up all the way into your esophagus and triggers feelings of fullness, consuming vinegar to move things along can stop you from feeling like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

2. It increases the benefits of the vitamins and minerals in your food. “When your stomach isn’t producing enough acid, this impairs the absorption of nutrients as well as B6, folate, calcium, and iron,” Dr. Kellman explains. Help your body by ingesting a bit more acid in the form of vinegar, and you’ll actually be able to use all the good stuff you consumed by ordering the side salad instead of fries.

3. It cancels out some of the carbs you eat. The acetic acid found in vinegar interferes with the enzymes in your stomach responsible for digesting starch so you can’t absorb the calories from carbs you’ve eaten.

4. It softens your energy crash after eating lots of sugar or carbs. Consuming vinegar before a meal can help by slowing the rush of sugar to your blood stream, so your blood sugar spike resembles a hill instead of a mountain and you don’t crash quite as hard.

5. It keeps you full longer. In a small but thorough study, researchers found that people who consumed vinegar before eating a breakfast of white bread felt more satisfied 90 minutes after eating compared to people who only ate the bread. (Worth noting: Two hours after eating, both groups were equally hungry. It just goes to show why white bread doesn’t make a stellar breakfast food — with or without vinegar.)

6. It can help your muscles produce energy more efficiently before a major push. Endurance athletes sometimes drink diluted vinegar before they carb-load the night before competing because acetic acid can helps the muscles turn carbs into energy to fuel intense exercise, according to well-regarded research conducted on animals.

7. It could lower your blood pressure. Animal studies suggest that drinking vinegar can lower your blood pressure by a few points. Researchers don’t understand exactly how this works or whether it is equally effective among humans, but Johnston is pretty confident it can make at least a modest difference.

8. It cleans fruits and veggies. The best way to clean produce, according to Johnston, is with diluted vinegar: Research suggests its antibacterial properties can significantly reduce pathogens such as Salmonella. Just fill an empty spray bottle with diluted vinegar and spritz your produce (salad stuff, fruits, etc.) then rinse in regular water before serving.

9. It kills bad breath. You might have heard that the antibacterial properties of vinegar can kill microorganisms responsible for bad breath — and in theory, this is true. However, Johnston warns, “it’s no more effective than any other antibacterial agents, and there are better products designed for this purpose.”

10. It deodorizes smelly feet. Just wipe down your clompers with a paper towel dipped in diluted vinegar. The antibacterial properties of vinegar will kill the smelly stuff.

11. It relieves jellyfish stings. In case you’re ever stung by a jellyfish and just so happen to have diluted vinegar on hand, you’ll be awfully lucky: Vinegar deactivates the jellyfish’s sting better than many other remedies — even though hot water still works best, according to a study that compared both techniques.

12. It balances your body’s pH levels, which could mean better bone health. Although vinegar is obviously acidic, it actually has a neutralizing effect once it’s inside of you. Meaning: It makes your body’s pH more basic (i.e., alkaline).

13. It alleviates heartburn — sometimes, according to Johnston, who just wrapped up a study on using vinegar to treat this condition. Vinegar’s effectiveness depends on the source of your heartburn: If you have erosive heartburn caused by lesions in your esophagus or stomach ulcers, a dose of vinegar will only aggravate the problem. But if your heartburn stems from something you ate, adding acetic acid to your stomach can help neutralize the acid in there and help fix the problem, providing you with at least a little bit of comfort.

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What, you are not impressed by these claims nor the references? I found another website that offers plenty more science:

  1. Katie J. Astell, Michael L. Mathai, Andrew J. McAinch, Christos G. Stathis, Xiao Q. Su. A pilot study investigating the effect of Caralluma fimbriata extract on the risk factors of metabolic syndrome in overweight and obese subjects: a randomised controlled clinical trial. Biomedical and Lifestyle Diseases (BioLED) Unit, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria 3021, Australia.
  2. Niedzielin, K., Kordecki, H.,
    http://journals.lww.com/eurojgh/Abstract/2001/10000/A_controlled,_double_blind,_randomized_study_on.4.aspx
  3. M. Million, et al. Obesity-associated gut microbiota is enriched in Lactobacillus reuteri and depleted in Bifidobacterium animalis and Methanobrevibacter smithii. International Journal of Obesity (2012) 36, 817–825; doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.153; published online 9 August 2011
  4. Rastmanesh R., et al. High polyphenol, low probiotic diet for weight loss because of intestinal microbiota interaction. Chemico-Biological InteractionsPublished 15 October 2010.
  5. Thielecke F, et al. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate and postprandial fat oxidation in overweight/obese male volunteers: a pilot study Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jul;64(7):704-13. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.47.
  6. Wang H., Effects of catechin enriched green tea on body composition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Apr;18(4):773-9. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.256.
  7. Bitange Nipa Tochi, Zhang Wang, Shi – Ying Xu and Wenbin Zhang, 2008. Therapeutic Application of Pineapple Protease (Bromelain): A Review. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 7: 513-520.
  8. Date K, Satoh A, Iida K, Ogawa H. Pancreatic α-Amylase Controls Glucose Assimilation by Duodenal Retrieval through N-Glycan-specific Binding, Endocytosis, and Degradation. J Biol Chem. 2015 May 28. pii: jbc.M114.594937.
  9. Perano SJ,Couper JJ,Horowitz M, Martin AJ, Kritas S, Sullivan T, Rayner CK. Pancreatic enzyme supplementation improves the incretin hormone response and attenuates postprandial glycemia in adolescents with cystic fibrosis: a randomized crossover trial.J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jul;99(7):2486-93. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-4417. Epub 2014 Mar 26.

Ok, not plenty; and not very sound or relevant either.

So, let’s do a Medline search! This is sure to produce convincing clinical trials on human patients that back up all of the above claims.

Yes! Medline does indeed generate 58 hits for ACV (just to give you a comparison, searching for ‘atenolol’, a fairly ancient beta-blocker, for instance, generates 7877 hits and searching for ‘acupuncture’ provides more that 27 000 hits):

The first human study of ACV listed on Medline is from one of my favourite journals, the . It is not a clinical trial, but a case report:

A 32-y-old married woman was admitted with intense vaginal discharge with foul odor, itching, groin pain, and infertility for the past 5 y. Candida albicans was isolated from the culture of vaginal swab. The patient was diagnosed with chronic vaginal candida infection. She failed to respond to integrative medicine methods prescribed. Recovery was achieved with the application of apple cider vinegar. Alternative treatment methods can be employed in patients unresponsive to medical therapies. As being one of these methods, application of apple cider vinegar can cure vaginal candida infection.

But surely that cannot be all!

No, no, no! There is more; a pilot study has also been published. It included all of 10 patients and concluded that vinegar affects insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients with diabetic gastroparesis by reducing the gastric emptying rate even further, and this might be a disadvantage regarding to their glycaemic control.

That’s what I like! A bold statement, even though we are dealing with a tiny pilot. He who dares wins!

Anything else?

Afraid not! The rest of the 58 references are either animal studies, in vitro experiments or papers that were entirely irrelevant for the clinical effects of ACV.

But how can this be?

Does this mean that all the claims made by ‘COSMOPOLITAN’ and thousands of other publications are bogus?

I cannot imagine – no, it must mean that, yet again, science has simply not kept up with the incredible pace of alternative medicine.

 

Prince Charles’ views on health have repeatedly taken centre stage on this blog. And rightly so; they are often weird and wonderful. In 2013, for instance, I quoted them extensively:

Charles stands for…”the kind of care that integrates the best of new technology and current knowledge with ancient wisdom. More specifically, perhaps, it is an approach to care of the patient which includes mind, body and spirit and which maximizes the potential of conventional, lifestyle and complementary approaches in the process of healing”. Charles believes that conventional medicine aims “to treat the symptoms of disease” his vision of a post-modern medicine therefore is “actively to create health and to put the patient at the heart of this process by incorporating those core human elements of mind, body and spirit…This whole area of work – what I can only describe as an ‘integrated approach’ in the UK, or ‘integrative’ in the USA – takes what we know about appropriate conventional, lifestyle and complementary approaches and applies them to patients. I cannot help feeling that we need to be prepared to offer the patient the ‘best of all worlds’ according to a patient’s wishes, beliefs and needs“. Charles also points out that “health inequalities have lowered life-expectancy” in parts of the UK and suggests, if we “tackle some of these admittedly deep-seated problems, not only do you begin to witness improvements in health and other inequalities, but this can lead to improvements in the overall cost-efficiency and effectiveness of local services.

Sounds alright? Well – at least it is touching to see how he is concerned about inequalities in the UK!

But the royal and no doubt well-intended views need to be followed by royal actions. If not, such words might degenerate into royal BS. If Charles is so keen on giving us all THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, he should stop promoting outright quackery such as homeopathic remedies. They contain nothing but sugar! But that is one substance Charles seems to be rather fond of, regardless of the harm it can do in high doses to public health.

Recently, Prince Charles has been criticised by health campaigners for the high sugar content of his Duchy Organic ice cream. The Duchy Organic vanilla ice cream contains 14.5g of sugar per 100g, almost double the amount of Asda’s ‘smart price’ vanilla ice cream which has 7.9g sugar per 100g.  If that wasn’t enough of a blow to the Prince’s brand, the Asda ice cream is also much more affordable at 85p for two litres – compared with £3.49 for every 750ml tub of the Duchy Organic product. Charles’ Dutchy Originals products are sold by Waitrose, and a spokesman of the retailer said: “Waitrose Duchy Organic vanilla ice cream is an indulgent product which is not aimed at children.”

Indulgent like in ‘expensive’? So much for inequalities, Charles.

But let’s not go there; let’s be constructive; after all, the man is full of good will, isn’t he?

I recommend the R&D department of Dutchy Originals put their profits and Charles convictions to good use. Specifically, I suggest they start a research programme on the homeopathic cure for sugar-induced obesity. If Charles is correct, and LIKE CURES LIKE, the obesity epidemic in the UK should be treatable with the very cause of excess body weight. It follows that potentised sugar ought to be a cure for obesity.

I can see it now: DUTCHY ORIGINALS – ‘SUGAR C30’, £15.99 per 10g.

Times are hard, also in the strange world of chiropractic, I guess. What is therefore more understandable than the attempt of chiropractors to earn a bit of money from people who want to lose weight? If just some of the millions of obese individuals could be fooled into believing that chiropractic is the solution for their problem, chiropractors across the world could be laughing all the way to the bank.

But how does one get to this point? Easy: one only needs to produce some evidence suggesting that chiropractic care is effective in reducing body weight. An extreme option is the advice by one chiropractor to take 10 drops of a homeopathic human chorionic gonadotropin product under the tongue 5 times daily. But, for many chiropractors, this might be one step too far. It would be preferable to show that their hallmark therapy, spinal adjustment, leads to weight loss.

With this in mind, a team of chiropractors performed a retrospective file analysis of patient files attending their 13-week weight loss program. The program consisted of “chiropractic adjustments/spinal manipulative therapy augmented with diet/nutritional intervention, exercise and one-on-one counselling.”

Sixteen of 30 people enrolled completed the program. At its conclusion, statistically and clinically significant changes were noted in weight and BMI measures based on pre-treatment (average weight = 190.46 lbs. and BMI = 30.94 kg/m(2)) and comparative measurements (average weight = 174.94 lbs. and BMI = 28.50 kg/m(2)).

According to the authors of this paper, “this provides supporting evidence on the effectiveness of a multi-modal approach to weight loss implemented in a chiropractic clinic.”

They do not say so, but we all know it, of course: one could just as well combine knitting or crossword puzzles with diet/nutritional intervention, exercise and one-on-one counselling to create a multi-modal program for weight loss showing that knitting or crossword puzzles are effective.

With this paper, chiropractors are not far from their aim of being able to mislead the public by claiming that CHIROPRACTIC CARE IS A NATURAL, SAFE, DRUG-FREE AND EFFECTIVE OPTION IN THE MANAGEMENT OF OBESITY.

Am I exaggerating? No, of course not. There must be thousands of chiropractors who have already jumped on the ‘weight loss band-waggon’. If you don’t believe me, go on the Internet and have a look for yourself. One of the worst sites I have seen might be ‘DOCTORS GOLDMINE’ (yes, most chiropractors call themselves ‘doctor these days!) where a chiropractor promises his colleagues up to $100 000 per month extra income, if they subscribe to his wonderful weight-loss scheme.

It would be nice to be able to believe those who insist that these money-grabbing chiropractors are but a few rotten apples in a vast basket of honest practitioners. But I have problems with this argument – there seem to be far too many rotten apples and virtually no activity or even ambition to get rid of them.

Dr. Oz, famous through his TV show promoting all types of quackery, recently testified before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on protecting consumers from false and deceptive advertising of weight loss products. This event turned out to be less than flattering for Dr Oz. One journalist commented that he “might as well be a cowardly lion — sent home with his tail between his legs after being accused at a congressional hearing of lying on his show about weight-loss claims.”

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, who led the commerce subcommittee hearing. “The scientific community is almost monolithically against you in terms of the efficacy of the products you called ‘miracles,’ ” the Democratic senator from Missouri told Oz. “It’s a major problem when people are spending more and more money and they’re gaining more and more weight,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar.“Either you don’t talk about these things at all, or you’re going to have to be more specific because right now . . . this is not working.”

A source close to Dr Oz said he was perplexed: “We were invited down to Washington to testify at a hearing about scams and instead it became all about how much we hate your show.” Oz himself testified that he “heard the message…I do personally believe in the items that I talk about.”

“I intensively study them. I have given my family these products. . . . If you can lose a pound a week more than you would have lost by using them, it jump-starts you and gets you going. I think it makes sense.” “I’m surprised you’re defending this,” McCaskill replied. “It’s something that gives people false hope. I don’t see why you need to go there.”

Another journalist commented that the Senators repeatedly placed him on the defense over his weight loss products: “I know you know how much power you have. I know you know that. You are very powerful and [with] power comes a great deal of responsibility,” Senator Claire McCaskill , who led the Senate’s consumer protection hearing titled “Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products…You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space…We didn’t call this hearing to beat up on you but we did call this hearing to talk about a real crisis in consumer protection. You can either be part of the police here or you can be part of the problem.”

Oz insisted he was no huckster but admitted the products promoted on his show don’t always have “the scientific muster” to present their benefits as “fact…I actually do personally believe in the items that I talk about in the show. I passionately studied them. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact but nevertheless I would give my audience the advice I give my family all the time. And I have given my family these products,” he said.

Dr Oz also said that some alternative treatments, such as prayer, cannot be tested scientifically. “I don’t think this ought to be a referendum on the use of alternative medical therapies. Because if that’s the case, listen, I’ve been criticized for having folks coming on my show talking about the power of prayer,” he said. “I can’t prove that prayer helps people survive an illness.”

No, Dr Oz! I know you are mistaken! I have done the research – both on alternative slimming aids and on spiritual healing. The results quite clearly show that these methods are not more effective than a placebo.

Pyruvate, a ketone and an alpha-keto acid, occurs naturally in the body when glucose is converted into energy. It is part of the Krebs cycle, the complex chain of reactions in which nutrients are metabolised to provide energy. High doses of pyruvate seem to stimulate the breakdown of fat in the body. It is therefore not surprising that pyruvate is used in all sorts of slimming aids; and if the advertising for ‘fat burners’ is to be believed, pyruvate is just the ticket for the desperate slimmer.

One such product advertisement, for instance, claims that sodium pyruvate and potassium pyruvate, which can act as a stimulant for the metabolism, adding to the thermogenesis process. Pyruvates have been found in studies to reduced the storage of fat in the body and convert the food source into calories which are then burned off in the production of heat. In one study, rats were injected with three fat burners, including pyruvates, and the rats given the pyruvates burned the greatest amount of fat by increasing the rat’s resting metabolic rate. With the elevated resting metabolic rate, the body burned more fat in individuals, which makes pyruvate an excellent source for weight maintenance.

So, maybe pyruvate works for rats – but does it really help those of us who would like to lose a few kilos? Some studies seem to say so, but others don’t. What do we conclude? There can only be one solution: we need a systematic review of the totality of the available trial evidence – and you probably guessed it: we have just published such an article.

The objective of our systematic review was to examine the efficacy of pyruvate in reducing body weight. Extensive literature searches identifies 9 RCTs of which 6 were met our inclusion criteria. All had methodological weaknesses. The meta-analysis revealed a statistically significant difference of 0.72 kg in body weight with pyruvate compared to placebo. The magnitude of the effect is small, and its clinical relevance is therefore uncertain. Adverse events included gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and increase in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Our conclusion: The evidence from randomized clinical trials does not convincingly show that pyruvate is efficacious in reducing body weight. Limited evidence exists about the safety of pyruvate. Future trials involving the use of this supplement should be more rigorous and better reported.

Pyruvate supplements are popular; people who want to lose weight are misled into believing that they are effective. Bodybuilders as well as other athletes tend to take them because pyruvate is claimed to reduce body fat and enhance the ability to use energy more efficiently. None of these assumptions is based on sound evidence. Regardless of the evidence, a whole industry is exploiting the gullible and doing very well on it.

As these ‘fat burners’ are by no means cheap, I recommend a more efficient and more economical method for normalising body weight: eat a little less and move a bit more – I know it’s naff, but it works!

The developed world is in the middle of a major obesity epidemic. It is predicted to cause millions of premature deaths and billions of dollars, money that would be badly needed elsewhere. The well-known method of eating less and moving more is most efficacious but sadly not very effective, that is to say people do not easily adopt and adhere to it. This is why many experts are searching for a treatment that works and is acceptable to all or at least most patients.

Entrepreneurs of alternative medicine have long jumped on this band waggon. They have learnt that the regulations are lax or non-existent, that consumers are keen to believe anything they tell them and that the opportunities to make a fast buck are thus enormous. Today, they are offering an endless array of treatments which are cleverly marketed, for instance via the Internet.

Since many years, my research team are involved in a programme of assessing the alternative slimming aids mostly through systematic reviews and occasionally also through conducting our own clinical trials. Our published analyses include the following treatments:

Phaseolus vulgaris

Supplements containing conjugated linoleic acid

Green tea

Garcinia extracts

Calcium supplements

Chromium picolinate

Guar gum

Chitosan

Acupuncture

There are, of course, many more but, for most, no evidence exist at all. The treatments listed above have all been submitted to clinical trials. The results show invariably that the outcomes were not convincingly positive: either there were too few data, or there were too many flaws in the studies, or the weight reduction achieved was too small to be clinically relevant.

Our latest systematic review is a good example; its aim was to evaluate the evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving the use of the African Bush Mango, Irvingia gabonensis, for body weight reduction in obese and overweight individuals. Three RCTs were identified, and all had major methodological flaws. All RCTs reported statistically significant reductions in body weight and waist circumference favoring I. gabonensis over placebo. They also suggested positive effects of I. gabonensis on blood lipids. Adverse events included headache and insomnia. Despite these apparently positive findings, our conclusions had to be cautious: “Due to the paucity and poor reporting quality of the RCTs, the effect of I. gabonensis on body weight and related parameters are unproven. Therefore, I. gabonensis cannot be recommended as a weight loss aid. Future research in this area should be more rigorous and better reported.”

People who want to loose weight are often extremely desperate and ready to try anything. They are thus easy victims of the irresponsible promises that are being made on the Internet and elsewhere. Despite the overwhelmingly evidence to the contrary, consumers are led to believe that alternative slimming aids are effective. What is more, they are also misled to assume they are risks-free. This latter assumption is false too: apart from the harm done to the patient’s bank account, many alternative slimming aids are associated with side-effects which, in some cases, are  serious and can even include death.

The conclusion from all this is short and simple: alternative slimming aids are bogus.

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