Consumers flock to alternative diet aids
November 3, 1997
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EST (2047 GMT)
From Correspondent Linda Ciampa
ATLANTA (CNN) -- With two of the nation's most popular diet
drugs, Redux and the combination drug Fen-Phen, off the
shelves, determined dieters are turning to over-the-counter
alternatives in droves.
Sales of one such dietary supplement, Phen-Cal, have soared.
Diane Gordon, a former Redux user, now takes Phen-Cal as a
weight loss aid. She lost weight on Redux, but she also
experienced side effects.
"My teen-agers -- one is 18, one is 15 -- they both were very
against me being on it. They said I couldn't remember when
to take them places," she said.
So, she stopped taking Redux last winter. Recently she began
using the non-prescription Phen-Cal, which she says has the
effect of taking away her appetite.
Phen-Cal is a combination of amino acids that its makers say
wards off cravings and the impulse to binge on carbohydrates.
Amino acids occur naturally in foods, especially those high
Kenneth Blum of the University of North Texas participated in
a study of the drug. "What we're saying here is you can lose
weight, and in the studies that we've performed, it was
equivalent to the Fen-Phen," he said. "Now, it may happen a
little slower, 'cause in a sense, we're not hammering the
head. We're doing it naturally."
Blum claims overweight people crave food for the same reason
an addict craves drugs -- because they have unbalanced levels
of dopamine, a chemical that sends the brain signals of
euphoria or satisfaction.
For dieters, the amino acids in Phen-Cal are supposed to work
like a dose of sugar without the calories.
"Sugar causes dopamine to be activated in the brain just like
alcohol, just like nicotine, just like marijuana, just like
gambling, all these things do it the same way," Blum said.
But most obesity experts don't believe addiction leads to
obesity. They say supplements of amino acids will do nothing
to speed up weight loss.
"It is not natural to take amino acids. We take food with
protein, which has amino acids in it, but there has never
been a time in the history of man that they've consumed amino
acids as a form of diet or health," said Dr. George Blackburn
of Harvard University.
The American Dietetic Association's Cathy Kapcia also
emphasizes the drug's unknown character. "While you do get
amino acids in food, you get a mixture of nutrients, and by
selectively using only one or two, we don't know what that
does," she said.
Still, Diane Gordon says she is not worried. In the three
weeks she's been on Phen-Cal, she says she has lost almost 10
pounds without any side effects -- so far.
Redux, known chemically as dexfenfluramine, and Pondimin,
also known as fenfluramine, were recalled in September after
being linked to serious heart damage.
Fenfluramine is half of the popular diet drug combination