Weight loss miracle?

from http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ah-patentmedicine.htmlAmericans are fat. That’s fact, not judgement. The reasons for our obesity are complex, without simple answers. Some of it is social: availability of cheap, bad foods; sedentary lifestyles encouraged by the way our society has developed. Some of the reasons are biochemical. Obesity is a complex medical condition which, once present, reinforces itself through hunger responses driven by hormones and neurochemical changes in the brain.

Given obesity’s complexity, it’s not surprising that we’ve failed to find a “cure”.  A pill to cure obesity would need to affect several hormonal axes, neurotransmitters in the brain, and our society’s social ills. Despite the absence of a true obesity pill, fake ones are very popular with a global market of about one billion dollars yearly.

One of the hardest things about being a doctor is telling people that there are no easy answers. Whether it’s diabetes, breast cancer, or obesity, we have few magic bullets in our bags. Some doctors cannot deal with bad news, so they ignore it or even make up solutions that don’t exist.

Take Dr. Oz, the cardiovascular surgeon who has risen to prominence through his appearances on Oprah and now has his own show. Many of us in practice dread his name. It’s hard to find a doctor who hasn’t had to debunk Oz’s wild claims which often waste our time and our patients’ money.  One of the latest wild, unfounded claims from Oz (“claims from Oz”; I’ve got to remember that one) is “Raspberry Ketone: Fat Burner in a Bottle“.  His unbridled enthusiasm for this product is embarrassing.

His video makes him look like a sideshow barker, with the hyperbolic language, grandiose gestures, and distracting tricks (the balloons and liquid nitrogen—liquid N2 is always cool).  But the content is far worse.

Raspberry ketone (RK) is a chemical compound which gives raspberries their characteristic aroma.  Some have hypothesized that it may have a role in fat metabolism and potential as an aid to weight loss.  This hypothesis has been tested—a little bit.  A study in rats found that RK, when fed to rats getting a high-fat diet, may mitigate their weight gain.  Another study found that certain kinds fat cells in the lab behaved differently (expressed different cytokines, accumulated fat differently) when exposed to RK.

There are a couple more similar articles—and not one study of the affects of obesity in humans, the one claim exuberantly advertised by Oz.

This is unconscionable behavior from a physician.  His show is an infomercial in all but name.  People suffering from obesity deserve better than a doctor who shills for the latest patent medicine.


Morimoto, C., Satoh, Y., Hara, M., Inoue, S., Tsujita, T., & Okuda, H. (2005). Anti-obese action of raspberry ketone Life Sciences, 77 (2), 194-204 DOI: 10.1016/j.lfs.2004.12.029

Park, K. (2010). Raspberry Ketone Increases Both Lipolysis and Fatty Acid Oxidation in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes Planta Medica, 76 (15), 1654-1658 DOI: 10.1055/s-0030-1249860


  1. Dianne

     /  May 21, 2012

    Some of it is social: availability of cheap, bad foods; sedentary lifestyles encouraged by the way our society has developed.

    I think that there’s at least two other social factors involved: stress and sleep deprivation. Stress, particularly chronic low level stress causes increased levels of cortisol and similar hormones, which lead to obesity, poor glucose intolerance, and hypertension. Sleep deprivation also seems to increase weight, possibly via the same mechanism. People who are afraid of losing their job or house or medical insurance are chronically stressed. People who have to work two jobs to keep their house, etc are often sleep deprived, as are people who work more than 40 hours a week in one job may also be sleep deprived. It’s probably no accident that residents often gain weight and not just because they’re eating at hospital cafeterias too much.

  2. saffronrose

     /  May 22, 2012

    The reasons for our obesity are complex, without simple answers.

    Thank you so much for saying this–it is NOT a simple matter of cutting out sugar-sweetened sodas or snacks: besides, it’s HFCS these days, unless you find a speciality store.

    Nor is it “mere” sedentary behavior: in some cases obese folks are sedentary because they are mobility-impaired in one way or the other, whether as cause or effect. I think it was on NPR a man who taught various forms of activity decided to
    show his heavier students how easy it would be to lose weight following his example. First he bulked up about 50 lbs. Then he tried to lose it by going back to his former habits of food and exercise…and found out it wasn’t that easy.

    Social–the people or companies that find a way to market, at a competitive price, quick healthier foods-to-go are going to make a mint. Living single, I generally ate more healthily, but I ate more salads once they came pre-cut in a bag, especially for more than just lettuce. It wasn’t so much the cost of getting the ingredients for an interesting salad together, but how quickly it spoiled, given I was the only one eating it, and not in small amounts, either!

    Some reasons are indeed biochemical: one sometimes gets the short stick in genetic roulette. My thyroid/TSH is finally very close to 1.0, but I’m still not shedding weight. I’m on a minimum of weight-positive (making your appetite higher, and losing weight harder) medications now. Did you know that some diabetes meds make taking weight off & controlling your appetite even harder? Kids who have epilepsy, asthma, some mental disorders, auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and the like will be on some meds, which can be weight-positive, for the rest of their lives, starting from a very early age. In the midst of healthier kids who can eat lots of things they can’t…their entire lives.

    As Dianne said, major stressors and sleep deprivation (yea, Dianne! Someone finally gets this!–a lifelong insomniac) also contribute to acquiring Metabolic Syndrome, of which obesity can be a part.

    For those chronic insomniacs who may be reading this, get yourself over to InsomniaLand.com, where you will NOT get idiotic blowoffs, platitudes or suggestions for folk/OTC remedies or even sleeping meds. Insomnia and sleep deprivation are serious matters, strongly affecting health and safety, which are slowly being included as disorders rather than symptoms or side-effects.

  3. DLC

     /  May 23, 2012

    doesn’t matter if you eat HFCS or cane sugar. it’s all sugars. chemically, hfcs is more similar to honey than cane sugar, but it’s all sugars. to be used in moderation, only. And that’s the thing. we provide plenty of food, much of which is good wholesome food. But we have trouble limiting our intake. The response has been thus far to blame it on the people who produce the food, or on the people who advertise and sell the food. But the truth is, the end-consumer is the one who has to make the all-important decision not to eat more than moderate amounts. It’s not easy. I know. right now my doctor wants me to lose a bunch of weight. I was already 50 lbs overweight when I quit smoking, and I gained another 50 since then. So, I’m carrying an extra dude around with me. I know full well why it’s easy to eat a large pizza with my favorite toppings on it. Or a double bacon cheeseburger. or 1/4 of a pie instead of 1/8th. But I continue to struggle. and to try to get in more exercise. I can’t run due to weight and previously injured knees, so I walk. or do leg lifts at my desk. and range of motion exercises. and even a light dumbbell-lifting exercise. Honestly, it sucks and I’m not making any real measurable progress, but I’m trying. /rant. ,. .

  4. I’m an instant gratification kind of girl, and it takes me a geologic epoch of eating very little to lose a pound or two. It’s very difficult to stay motivated without visible rewards early on. I enjoy access to and the time to prepare healthy foods-mostly plants-at home. I get a ton of exercise, eat right most of the time, and still it’s a tremendous struggle to just loose a few of pounds so I don’t have to hold my breath while wearing a swimsuit. I completely understand how people fall for the snake oil.

    • I just generally found low-carbohydrate regimens easier to stick to than low-fat regimens. Especially by reminding myself that those fries and soda are carbohydrates. Cutting out restaurants does a lot for your waistline.

      Of course, “ketones” have nothing to do with it. They don’t help you magically lose weight; nor do they cause ketoacidosis (unless you have uncontrolled diabetes) as the vegans claim. It’s just that for me, fat’s more filling than carbohydrate. Also, I can’t help but think (again) of soda.

  5. The talk show circuit is pretty annoying. Basically Oprah has a “believe anything” mentality. Just look at how many moral panics she’s helped spread. The rest just followed her lead. It works for them, I guess.

    The worst are The Drs. I remember one segment about autism. And even though they conceded that autism probably (which is science-speak for “almost certainly P” but pop-speak for “there’s still a chance ~P”) has a genetic element, and even had a family who, after I did a pedigree chart, would suggest a genetic element to autism (though again, I would never use one extended family as proof of anything, but that’s the evidence on the show*), they simply took this to say people with a family history of autism should avoid vaccines.

    The previous segment was on colon irrigation, where the prevailing opinion among the doctors was “most people won’t need this but some might”. Take that for what you will.

    *Notice talk show science involves dozens of qualifiers as to why it’s not ideal scientific conditions?

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