(Photograph by MP-Studio/Shutterstock)
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Dr. Oz really knows how to get people talking about health and nutrition, which is a good thing, I guess. He’s definitely increased awareness. But it does seem, at times, that he maybe goes overboard a little in his promotion of certain foods and supplements.
To be fair, though, it’s not just Dr. Oz: Other health-care professionals and researchers have jumped onto the supplement bandwagon in the past, and lo and behold, you suddenly see the supplement of choice plastered all over the Internet and hear it mentioned in water cooler chat at the office. This week, I’m highlighting two such supplements that everyone’s currently buzzing about.
A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Oz hosted Lisa Lynn, a weight-loss “expert,” on his show to discuss (and promote) raspberry ketone supplement. No, raspberry ketones are not the same as blood or urine ketones (end-products of fat-burning). Raspberry ketones are natural substances found in raspberries (in very small amounts, by the way) that give raspberries their delicious aroma. The food industry uses them for flavoring and scenting foods. It was mentioned on The Dr. Oz Show that it would take 90 pounds of fresh raspberries to get the amount of ketone that’s in a supplement form. So, because of this, the raspberry ketone that comes in supplement form is actually concocted in a lab.
The hype. Google “raspberry ketones” and you’ll be amazed at the number of Web sites and advertisements that pop up on your screen. What’s the big deal? Raspberry ketones apparently can promote weight loss by revving up metabolism. How? By boosting levels of two different hormones, norepinephrine and adiponectin.
Norepinephrine is a cousin of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Both of these hormones are involved in the “fight-or-flight” response (imagine being chased by, say, a saber-toothed tiger). They speed up your heart rate, stimulate glucose release, boost blood pressure, and raise body temperature. These effects can increase metabolism, or the rate at which you burn calories.
Raspberry ketones supposedly also increase levels of adiponectin. This is another hormone that’s made by fat cells and interestingly, increases insulin sensitivity. The thinking behind higher levels of adiponectin is that glucose levels in the blood are lowered, thereby decreasing the chances of glucose being stored as fat.
The reality. Raspberry ketones are on the FDA’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list. But in terms of their fat-burning ability, the only research to support this claim dates back years…and that study was done with mice. Not humans. So we really don’t know if this supplement works. And it’s not without some possible serious side effects: increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, agitation, and maybe hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Avoid taking this supplement if you have high blood pressure or thyroid issues. We don’t know enough about it how it affects diabetes control, either.
The verdict. Basing weight loss claims on years-old mice studies is not much to go by. The side effects may not be pleasant, let alone safe. And the raspberry ketones don’t exactly come cheap. I suggest waiting this one out until we learn more and see if it’s truly a fat-burning miracle.
Another supplement that’s getting a lot of attention lately is Glucocil. This supplement is targeted to people with Type 2 diabetes, and its claim to fame is that it can reputedly stabilize postmeal blood glucose levels, decrease carbohydrate absorption, decrease appetite, and promote weight management. Pretty hefty claims for a supplement whose key active ingredient is mulberry leaf extract.
The hype. Glucocil consists of a blend of ingredients. Besides mulberry leaf extract, this supplement contains alpha lipoic acid, banaba leaf extract, chromium picolinate, cinnamon bark powder, gymnema sylvestre extract, fish oil, and a few other things thrown in for good measure. Glucocil’s Web site clearly lists the research — but only for each separate ingredient. Nowhere on the site could I find research citing the effectiveness of the actual supplement. Maybe it’s available by contacting the company, but you’d think this would be on the Web site. As far as mulberry leaf extract goes, a few small studies (mostly done with rats) show some reduction in glucose after ingesting it, but not enough to boast about.
The reality. At this time, it’s hard to recommend taking this supplement because we just don’t know enough about it. We don’t know if the blend of these ingredients actually live up to Glucocil’s claims of glucose and weight control, nor do we know if the amount of ingredients in this supplement are in the right proportions to be effective. The Web site states that people under the age of 18, pregnant women, and people with liver and kidney problems should not take Glucocil. Also, they state that if you take insulin and don’t have cardiovascular, liver, or kidney problems, you can “consider” taking Glucocil. Glucocil side effects include “minor GI discomfort,” such as gas and loose stools.
The verdict. My advice is to hold off on taking Glucocil. The science behind this supplement seems a little weak. Certainly, if you have heart, liver, or kidney disease, avoid taking it. And keep in mind that a one-month supply will set you back between $35 and $50. Let’s wait for more information to support its effectiveness.
As with any dietary supplement, always check with your health-care provider before taking it. Supplements can interact with medicines and may not be safe if you have certain chronic conditions (including diabetes!). Tell your provider about all the supplements that you take, keep close tabs on how your supplements affect your blood glucose, and report any adverse effects.