ConsumerTalk with Wendy Knowler

Consumers beware of illegal, deadly weight-loss products

A potentially harmful weight-loss product being sold online and by distributors in South Africa is raising alarm bells in the medical community.

The product called, 'The Secret Fat Burner', has forced several consumers to seek medical attention for overactive thyroids.

Read: Eating disorders aren't about food (or weight), a therapist explains

Some local endocrinologists reported the product to the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (Semdsa).

Semdsa had 'The Secret Fat Burner' tested by an independent, accredited laboratory, which revealed illegal substances contained in the product.

The product contains of Hydrochlorothiazide, Sibutramine, Levo-thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3).

Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant which has been banned in South Africa, says consumer journalist Wendy Knowler.

The other substances are controlled ingredients that should only be sold with a doctor's prescription, she adds.

Knowler says some side-effects of using the product include:

  • heart palpitations
  • anxiety
  • heat intolerance
  • an aggravation of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • cardiac complications
  • cardiac failure

Durban resident Chantel Gaillard fell victim to the side-effects of the product after using it in July last year.

Also read: Want to get out of your gym contract? Here's why it will probably cost you

Medical testing expert Dr Harris Steinman says another lethal weight-loss product,called 'WonderNut', remains unregulated.

Dr Steinman argues that the Medicines Control Council (MCC) has failed to adequately police toxic substances sold to consumers.

The side-effects started two weeks after I started taking the pills. I had severe heart palpitations and a sense that something was not right in my body.

Chantel Gaillard, a Durban-based insurance broker consultant

My heart beat is still irregular and I have to take a beta blocker for the rest of my life.

Chantel Gaillard, a Durban-based insurance broker consultant

There's another product that's under our attention with major toxicity called WonderNut. There's also a risk of death.

Dr Harris Steinman, owner of FACTS (Food and Allergy and Consulting Services laboratory)

Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that has been found to increase the risk of irregular heart rhythms and stroke.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

The product should be registered as a medicine and it's not. So, it's been sold illegally in terms of the Health Professions Act.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

If you stop taking it, your thyroid function will return to normal within a few weeks. But those with cardiac complications may require specific therapy by a specialist.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Dr Steinman and Wendy Knowler discuss the dangers of pseudoscience, and a range of dodgy weight-loss products, including 'Herbex'.

Take a listen to the engaging discussion during the Consumer Talk feature:


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