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Herbal diet pills: Fact or Fantasy?

Can slimming down really be as easy as popping a pill? Choice, Australia investigates the ingredients that are claimed to have fat-busting properties.

Presently, one in six women and one in five men in India is overweight. The weight-loss industry has become big business. Advertisements of weight-loss pills or diet pills can be pretty convincing, especially when supported by ‘scientific evidence’ and amazing ‘testimonials’, complete with before and after shots. But you will typically find that diet pills are designed to be used in conjunction with a calorie-controlled diet and exercise.

No proof of efficacy

There are many herbal weight-loss supplements available in the market which have either conflicting or insufficient evidence regarding their efficacy. They are generally known as 'fat burners' and work by boosting the body's metabolism. When doctors prescribe these supplements, they monitor the patient’s condition closely.

While diet pills may seem tempting in the battle of the bulge, they are no substitutes for a balanced diet and exercise. Opting for a diet pill could mean that the only thing getting lighter is your wallet. In most cases, doctors discourage their use. They opine that such pills, at the most, only reduce the appetite of the person. But once the person is off the pill, the earlier appetite returns, in some cases even increases.

In India, the department of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) regulates the commercial manufacturing of Ayurvedic medicines.

Serious side effects

Moreover, herbal diet pills can have severe side effects, if taken without consulting a doctor. Continued use of some pills increases the risks of psychiatric, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms.  It also gives rise to grave health problems such as hypertension, stroke, and in extreme cases, seizures. Experts say pills that contain heavy metals to reduce appetite can cause serious complications.

These products tend to be a mix of herbs, vitamins and, often, stimulants such as caffeine, which can result in high blood pressure and heart palpitations. Ingredients may react with one another or with other medications. For instance, if a pill contains both bitter orange and panax ginseng watch out. These two ingredients are not recommended to be taken together due to an increased risk of fatal heart arrhythmias.

Harmful ingredients

You should look at the product’s ingredient list and avoid those having bitter orange, chitosan or chromium picolinate. Some common ingredients and their side effects are given below:

Bitter orange: As per claims it is supposed to increases metabolism and fat burning while decreasing appetite. Side effects include fainting, heart attack and stroke. You should avoid bitter orange if you have a sensitive heart condition or are taking other medications.

Chitosan: It is supposed to bind to dietary fat to stop absorption. Side effects include malabsorption of nutrients and loose, oily stools.

Chromium picolinate: It is supposed to enhance insulin sensitivity and fat burning and increase lean body mass. It may cause DNA damage in high doses.

Green tea extract: Claims say it reduces fat synthesis and absorption and increases metabolism. Deemed safe but there is some concern that green tea extracts may cause liver toxicity, especially if taken on an empty stomach.

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA): Claims are that it modifies metabolism, reduces fat synthesis and decreases appetite. No side effects known.

Capsicum annum: Claimed to increase metabolic rate and reduce appetite. May result in short term burning pain.

Banned drug

In November 2010, The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) banned the widely used anti-obesity drugs containing sibutramine marketed in India under brand names such as Reductil, Meridia and Sibutrex. This ban came into force after studies indicated that sibutramine increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in patients who consume it to shed excess flab.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 April 2015 09:10 )

Fact sheet on Organic Turmeric Powder

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This Fact Sheet was prepared by CERC for a Green Action Fund project on Organic Foods.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 December 2014 11:24 )


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How healthy are malt-based beverages?


Touted as health or energy drinks for children, malt-based beverages are very popular today. But how valid are their health claims?

We picked nine popular health drinks aimed at children and tested each of them for their sugar content, to see just how much sugar goes into a serving. We then got 10 panellists to taste each of the nine brands. They listed their comments and rated each brand on seven criteria including aroma, taste and aftertaste. We wanted to see whether there was any correlation between a brand tasting good and the amount of sugar it contained.

On test were Amul Pro, Boost Choco Eclairs, Boost 3x Stamina, Bournvita, Bournvita 5-Star Magic, Complan Natural, Complan Chocolate, Horlicks Original and Horlicks Chocolate.

What we found

The brand Bournvita had the highest sugar content overall – the original Bournvita had 38.7g per 100g and Bournvita 5-Star Magic had 34.6g per 100g. Both of them scored pretty high on taste, with 75% (second highest) and 73% respectively. The panellists generally liked Bournvita’s appealing chocolate colour, smell and taste.

Horlicks Original had the lowest sugar, with 13.3g per 100g. However, it fared dismally in the taste test with a score of 42% - the second worst-tasting brand on the list. Panellists found it to be ‘too malty’ and ‘not sweet enough’.

Bournvita had 12.9g higher sugar per 100g than Complan Natural. Yet, because Complan’s recommended serving size was higher, if you followed the pack’s instructions, you would be drinking more sugar with Complan than with Bournvita.

Expert take

Nutritionist Niti Desai says: “Even if malt based health drinks have protein, vitamins and minerals as claimed, the content is very low and is hardly significant. These drinks basically just provide flavour and sugar. Many of them advertise that children who drink them will be the tallest or smartest in class. However, the amount of protein in these drinks is insufficient to boost growth significantly.”

Healthiest choice

Horlicks Original with lowest sugar content

Courtesy: Right Choice, February 2014 (

Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 October 2014 10:40 )


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CERS, Bharat Sevak Samaj set up City Centre

Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS), in collaboration with Bharat Sevak Samaj, has established a Consumer Protection Centre for residents of the old city area of Ahmedabad. The City Centre, launched on 12 August 2014, is located in Lal Darwaja area.  It will have a

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 September 2014 07:17 ) Read more...

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