Industry defends weight loss products against academic attack

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Weight loss Nutrition European food safety authority Cla

In response to a recent BMJ editorial claiming that only drugs are effective for weight loss, members of the global food and supplements industries have defended the efficacy of their products, calling the article the “latest misinformed campaign”.

Published last month in the reputable British Medical Journal​, the editorial by a professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow’s Faculty of Medicine stated that food and supplement products targeting weight loss are ineffective and misleading for consumers.

“Of hundreds of products on sale, only appropriately delivered diets and exercise, orlistat, sibutramine, and bariatric surgery are safe, efficacious, and cost effective. The remainder should not be marketed until we have evidence for their effectiveness and safety,”​ wrote the author, M E J Lean in an editorial entitled Trading regulations and health foods.

To access the article on the editorial, click here​.


Daniel Fabricant, PhD, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs at the US supplement trade group Natural Products Association (NPA) called the BMJ editorial a “misinformed campaign”,​ which “seems to be a consistent theme in the efforts to discredit the benefits of dietary supplements/dietary ingredients.”

In response to calls for comment from this publication, a number of food and supplement industry members said Professor Lean’s comments highlighted the damage being done to industry by irresponsibly marketed products.

But they said the editorial completely overlooked scientifically-substantiated ingredients.

Lipid Nutrition

“Weight management claims are legitimate and appropriate claims for products in the dietary supplement and food category, provided these products have substantiation to support the truthfulness of these claims,”​ said John Kurstjens, global group marketing manager at Lipid Nutrition.

The Netherlands-based firm markets Clarinol – a concentrated CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) ingredient for weight management – and PinnoThin – an appetite suppressant derived from pine nuts.

Kurstjens said the firm was confident its claims submission for CLA under Europe’s new health claims regulations would be approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“There is enormous substantiation for the claims, which shows a clear cause-effect relation,”​ he told One example he cited was a peer reviewed meta-analysis (Wigham et al., Am J Clin Nutri 2007;85; 1203-11).


Another nutritional ingredient manufacturer, Ireland-based Glanbia, also highlighted the strong scientific backing it has for its weight management ingredient Prolibra, a whey peptide.

The ingredient has undergone three independent human clinical trials, it said, including a trial published last year (Determination of Glycaemic Index Lowering Potential of Protein Powder, Glycaemic Index Laboratories, Canada, 30 November 2007).

Sorcha Tobin, the company’s international marketing manager also pointed to the European health claims regulations as a means to ensure responsible marketing.

“In the long term, the EFSA functional food claim analysis will enable manufacturers to promote their products within a more strictly regulated environment which will ultimately help to protect and inform the consumer.”


US-based ingredient firm Sabinsa said it is “inaccurate and misleading”​ to suggest any substance not regulated like a drug is unregulated.

“There are good studies on herbal products that contribute to weight control,”​ said marketing manager Shaheen Majeed. “For example, Sabinsa has more than a dozen studies that support the safety and efficacy of its product ForsLean, which is patented for promoting lean body mass. Our LeanGard formula with ForsLean, BioPerine and GarCitrin is another example of a well studied product in this category.”

Evidence in finished products

Professor Lean this morning told that one of his main concerns was the lack of trials conducted using finished products manufactured with these ingredients, which are often used in combination with other components.

“I’m very much for anything that has evidence,”​ he said. “I’ve painstakingly been looking through journals to try to find evidence, but it’s not been there.”

“The finished product needs to be tested, not just the ingredient. For example, CLA has some evidence that it may have an effect, but it’s quite shaky.”

He said he had not intended his article to appear absolute in a ‘pro-drug, anti-supplement’ vein, highlighting that much of what he had written had been edited out.

Nevertheless, he did say he agreed that weight loss claims should be considered disease claims, as requested by a recent petition filed with the US Food and Drug Administration by the drug firm GlaxoSmithKline.

He also agreed that the European health claims legislation will aid in cleaning up the way products can be marketed.

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