In 2004, seven weight loss supplement products were launched onto the US market, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD). But so far this year only one, Sicap's Pepperslim herbal infusion supplement, has entered the marketplace.
The higher rate of launches in 2004 could be a symptom of the FDA's final judgement banning products containing the stimulant ephedra, which came into effect in April 2004.
Until then, ephedra was a mainstay of the weight loss market and the active ingredients in now-bankrupt Metabolife's flagship product, Metabolife 265.
But scientific evidence and serious adverse events reports have linked ephedra to raised blood pressure and circulatory system stress, which could lead to heart disease and stroke.
By the end of 2003, Metabolife had turned over its portfolio to non-ephedra products, its core brands being Metabolife Ultra, Metabolife Complete, Metabolife Ultra Caffeine Free and Metabolife Green Tea Formula.
It seems that the rest of the industry moved in quickly in a bid to fill the gap left by ephedra, but that the rash of product launches was short lived.
Interestingly, two of the products launched last year contain citrus aurantium, or Seville orange, of which the main active ingredient is synephrine, a semi-selective sympathomimetic that is chemically similar to ephedrine. It is claimed to increase the metabolic rate, increase calorific expenditure and burn fat.
A review article published in the September 2004 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine claims there is no scientific evidence to support the use of this herb for losing weight and that it may even be dangerous for the consumer's health.
"Although no adverse events have been associated with ingestion of [citrus aurantium and symephrine]", wrote researchers from Georgetown University, "synephrine increases blood pressure in humans and other species, and has the potential to increase cardiovascular events."
But voices from the industry rose to the defense: "There is no legitimate basis for the negative coverage that Citrus aurantium is receiving," Michael McGuffin, president of the AHPA told NutraIngredients-USA.com at the time.
None of the products specifically draw attention to their caffeine content, although two contain guarana - a South American plant containing caffeine - or extract thereof.
One product, made by NutraLab, is marketed as containing hoodia gordonii, the appetite suppressant from South Africa that has generated a huge amount of interest thanks to reports that the cactus-like plant, eaten by the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert for around 100,000 years, can reduce hunger and increase energy. But authenticated supply of hoodia gordonii, the only species thought to have the appetite suppressing qualities, is short.
Data source: Mintel's Global New Products Database