Junkfood Science: The Wild West of online drugs

July 08, 2007

The Wild West of online drugs

It is amazing what you can find on the internet, but some of the ploys are downright frightening.

The most disturbing and slickest sales ruses I’ve encountered came by way of a legitimate-looking press release. It claimed to be launching a new website forum for users of the weight loss drug, Acomplia, to share information and their experiences with this drug and lend support to fellow dieters....

Going to the website, one finds information about the actual prescription drug, Acomplia. But, of course, the FDA has not approved Acomplia for sale in the United States. To order Acomplia, visitors are given the bait and switch and taken to a page selling a “non-prescription” version that claims:

ACOMPLIEX™ – The Ultimate Appetite Suppressant!

Rimonabant, better known as Acomplia, is a promising new drug for weight control developed by the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis. Acomplia offers a novel approach to appetite and weight control by blocking the endocannabinoid system, but the drug has not been approved for use in the United States.

However, the Research & Development division of Lazarus Labs has developed a non-prescription version of Acomplia that works in an almost identical fashion as the prescription drug!

· Lose Weight Fast

· Feel Full Faster and Stay Full Longer

· Lose Weight with No Side Effects

· Suppress Your Appetite

For only $139.95 for a 3-month supply, it says you can “start looking and feeling better NOW!” It promises to be the “answer to your prayers,” to be safe and “the most effective appetite suppressant EVER!” [There are lots of caps and exclamation marks, just like the overuse of colors in Dr. Orac’s find, as well as grammatical and spelling errors for that professional touch.]

Before you can order, however, you have to read their lengthy disclaimer which says they are not associated or affiliated with Sanofi-Aventis and warns: “Our web site content is provided on an "as is" "as available" basis, without representations or warranties of any kind. We shall not have any liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in content in this site. We do not represent or warrent [sic] that the information found on this website is accurate, complete, reliable, useful, or current or that this website will operate without interruption or error....

A February press release by this same company announced:

An exciting new breakthrough in weight control...announced the release of Acompliex™, an appetite suppressant clinically proven to reduce appetite by up to 38%....Acompliex ™ is a pharmaceutical grade non-prescription product designed to suppress appetite by a unique dual function which includes blocking neurotransmitters in the brain that trigger cravings for food as well as stimulating the release of the hunger suppressing hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) and the glucagon like peptide GLP1, which act to send a “full" feeling to the brain, thereby further decreasing the desire to eat - all without causing any stimulatory effects or dangerous side effects.

What are the active ingredients in this Acomplia facsimile?

“Pinoleic Acid and Hoodia Gordonni [sic].”

Neither ingredient has been shown in any published clinical trial to be safe or effective. As you may remember, just this past January, the FTC had cited TrimSpa and fined it $1.5 million for making unsubstantiated claims about Hoodia gordonii as being an appetite suppressant and weight loss aid.

In fact, the February 2006 issue of Consumer Reports specifically warned consumers from taking Hoodia, an extract from a South African cactus. They found only two studies in the literature addressing the effectiveness of Hoodia: an unpublished report from a manufacturer about nine volunteers who were followed for 15 days, and a study where it was injected into the brains of rats. Neither of these studies substantiated the claims made by hoodia marketers, they said.

And Consumer Health Digest warned readers about another Hoodia weight loss supplement, called Anatrim, that was being sold via emails by “a reputed criminal element overseas.” It said: “To date, there is no reliable scientific evidence that it does anything for weight loss. Additionally, real Hoodia is an endangered species and is almost impossible to obtain.” The South African government has limited the export and farming of Hoodia to prevent over-exploitation, and have banned wild harvesting of the hoodia plant. In October, 2004, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) banned the export of Hoodia gordonii. So what you’re actually paying for with Hoodia products is anyone’s guess.

There is even less safety and effectiveness data known about pinoleic acid, a pesticide that’s made from pine nuts. No legitimate source, including Consumer Labs offers any supportive information for its use as a weight loss aid.

As we recently reported, supplement companies don’t have to provide any evidence to the FDA that their claims are true before they can sell their supplements.

In a recent journal issue of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Robert B. Saper, M.D., MPH, and colleagues at Harvard Business School reviewed OTC weight loss products and found:

More than 50 individual dietary supplements and more than 125 commercial combination products are available for weight loss. Currently, no weight-loss supplements meet criteria for recommended use....Of note, approximately one half of the most common individual supplements used in weight-loss products [ephedra, bitter orange, guarana, caffien, country mallow, yerba mate, chromium, ginseng, guar gum, glucomannan, psyllium, l-carnitine, hydroxycitric acid, green tea, vitamin B5, licorice, conjugated linoleic acid, pyruvate, chitosan, dandelion, cascara, St. John’s wort, laminaria, spirulina, guggul and apple cider vinegar] have not been studied in randomized controlled trials in humans.

Because dieters were frustrated by the failure of diets to work long-term, they found many people were turning to over-the-counter weight loss supplements, with the greatest use among young “obese” women. The reasons most often given by those seeking supplements, they said, was the social stigma of being fat, the belief that weight loss offered health benefits, because supplements were more easily available without having to go through a doctor, and their appeal as a “natural” remedy and the [false] perception that natural equals safe. Their review yielded supplements that were not only unproven or ineffective, but potentially dangerous or that could interact with prescription medications.

Please be careful out there. If you're tempted to buy a weight loss drug, product or dietary supplement from an unsolicited email or on the Wild West that is the internet because it sounds too good ... well, you know the rest of that adage.

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