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    Rainbow Investigations
    513-18th Avenue SW
    Calgary, Alberta
    T2S 0C6


    Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta

    Rainbow Investigations Interviewed
    in June 19, 2001 Globe and Mail

    Shedding pounds -- or dollars?

    The only thing that will be slimmer after taking certain weight-loss pills is your wallet, says one crusader who believes untested products are slipping through the cracks.

    Source: LAURA EGGERTSON,
    Special to The Globe and Mail

    Tuesday, June 19, 2001

    The ad seemed to jump out of the pages of Reader's Digest: apple-cider-vinegar capsules, the "natural" way to lose weight quickly. Just take one capsule with water an hour before meals and presto, the pounds would melt away. Fast, too -- within eight days, lose up to 11 pounds.

    The most seductive aspect of the weight-loss plan was its ease. No dieting, no increased exercise required. All a body had to do, according to Naturalab, the Toronto-based company listed on the advertising material, was fork over $32.31 (plus tax) for 100 gelatin-coated capsules that would loosen those waistbands in record time.

    Naturalab even offered a money-back guarantee, complete with glowing testimonials from customers the literature said had swallowed their way to a whole new look.

    Who couldn't afford to lose a few pounds? It's not like a drug; after all, the capsules are apparently just a concentrated form of the apple-cider vinegar sold in grocery stores. And the Internet is filled with stories from people devoted to what was originally branded as a folk remedy cure-all for everything from arthritis to high blood pressure.

    There's just one problem with the apple-cider-vinegar weight-loss system being marketed in Canada and the United States, says Ron Reinhold, a Calgary-based private investigator who operates Rainbow Investigations.

    There has been no scientific evidence put forward to prove the capsules actually work, says Mr. Reinhold, who is also a former Health Canada drug inspector. And yet, he adds, companies can sell these and other weight-loss products, without proving their claims, because of a temporary void in Canada's regulatory system.

    Under the existing Food and Drug Act, Health Canada has the responsibility to regulate all products making therapeutic claims -- including promises that taking these supplements will result in the loss of a particular number of pounds. Such products are required to apply to the federal government for a drug-identification number.

    To get a drug-identification number -- known as a DIN -- companies have to submit studies attesting to the safety and efficacy of their product. If Health Canada approves it, the drug is issued a DIN. Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar capsules have not been issued a DIN, said Micheline Ho, manager of Health Canada's product-information division. That means no federal regulator in Canada has reviewed their safety, or whether they actually work.

    Health Canada is currently undergoing a reorganization that will result in an Office of Natural Health Products. That office will take over the regulation of products such as the "natural" weight-loss pills. The regulations governing the new office have not yet been passed, so it will not be up and running until early next year, says Ms. Ho.

    In the meantime, Ms. Ho acknowledges that no one at Health Canada is looking at these products unless there is evidence they are a danger to public health. "It's difficult to be very strict about enforcing the current rules . . . [because] they may change," says Ms. Ho.

    But it's a safe bet, say health professionals, that any product that claims to promote weight loss without a change in the number of calories consumed or burned won't work -- especially over the long term. "You still should have a reduced-calorie diet and preferably also an exercise program," says Ms. Ho.

    Mr. Reinhold has been investigating Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar weight-loss system and similar "natural" weight-loss products for more than a year as part of a personal crusade. He's upset that people who are desperate to lose weight could be throwing away their money on products that don't work.

    Although most of his other cases involve personal injury, divorce or background checks, the private investigator maintains an interest in health issues that stems from his background as a drug inspector with Health Canada's Vancouver regional office from 1990 to 1999, he says. "It bothers me, so I just do that out of personal interest," he adds.

    So, when Mr. Reinhold saw full-page ads that ran in The Calgary Sun last summer, his alarm bells rang. Those newspaper ads were for two different products: the Hollywood Weekend TurboDiet weight-loss plan, and Plant Macerat, a concoction of 16 plants touted as a slimming agent in a heart-rending testimonial by one Chantal Legrand.

    The weight-loss marketers also placed ads for their products in U.S. magazines including Parade, a glossy weekend supplement that is inserted in The Washington Post and many other major U.S. newspapers. Mr. Reinhold traced them back to one company -- PhytoPharma, which lists as its North American headquarters an address on Morningside Drive in Toronto, a location that belongs to a mailbox service. That is the same company, says Mr. Reinhold, that is also behind Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar pills.

    The Hollywood Turbo Diet, Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar capsules and Plant Macerat are among dozens of "natural" weight-loss pills being marketed in Canada through advertisements and direct-mail campaigns.

    Mr. Reinhold doubts that any of these products would stand up to scientific scrutiny. But, at the same time, they are not likely to pose an obvious "health risk" that might prompt an immediate investigation by Health Canada.

    He is trying to fill the information gap for consumers by posting information about several of these weight-loss systems on his Web site, http://www.rainbowinvestigations.com.

    He directs consumers to Dr. Stephen Barrett, a U.S. psychiatrist who, in his retirement, has devoted himself to debunking various medical claims.

    Since posting the results of his investigation into PhytoPharma, Mr. Reinhold has heard from 60 or 70 people who either wrote away for the products or were checking them out before buying, he says. He has not heard from anyone from PhytoPharma. The majority of the people who contacted him are from the United States -- demonstrating the reach of the Canadian-based mail-order businesses.

    Scott Toney wrote to Mr. Reinhold after his fiancé, Melinda Mouton, ordered the Plant Macaret diet system and received only half of the elixir in the mail. She was also frustrated in her unsuccessful attempts to contact the distributor or manufacturer.

    The ads for Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar capsules, the Plant Macerat concoction and the Hollywood Turbo Diet -- another "natural" pill -- carried toll-free numbers.

    When Mr. Reinhold -- and, independently, this writer -- called the toll-free numbers, they all led to Corporatel, a Saint John call centre that takes orders and responds to basic questions from customers. Corporatel's customer-service agents confirmed that PhytoPharma was the name of one of the call centre's accounts. But they refused to pass on a reporter's questions to the people behind PhytoPharma, or to provide their names, and could not provide any details about the testimonials from people quoted in the company's promotional material. All attempts to reach the company were unsuccessful.

    Dr. Barrett, who is based in Allentown, Pa., debunks questionable weight-loss programs and other alternative medical treatments on his Web site, http://www.quackwatch.com. Dr. Barrett checked out both the apple-cider-vinegar and Plant Macerat claims. The use of apple-cider vinegar has been around for more than 25 years, Dr. Barrett says. "I don't think there's any evidence that it has any usefulness at all. I don't know of any study that's even tested it (for weight loss)," Dr. Barrett says.

    Similarly, when he looked at the ingredients of the 16 plants that are supposed to constitute the Plant Macerat supplement, "there's nothing in it that would contribute to weight reduction," he says. The ingredients do include laxatives and a diuretic, which promotes water loss. But as soon as someone drinks water again, they will regain the weight they lost through the diuretic, Dr. Barrett says.

    "I don't believe that any product sold through the mail as a weight-control pill works. I've looked at hundreds and hundreds of advertisements. I've never found one that could possibly live up to the claims made in the ads," he says.

    Even total starvation will not produce a weight loss of eight to 10 pounds a week, as the Macerat diet promises, says Dr. Barrett. "The most you could possibly lose if you take in 1,000 calories a day -- which is very unlikely anyone will ever get down that low -- would be something like five pounds in a week. And that wouldn't be safe," he says. Safe weight loss is limited to about half a pound or a pound a week, says Dr. Barrett. "What you really want is not a diet. It's a change of lifestyle that results in your taking in the same amount of calories to maintain your weight or a little less to gradually lose. What you need to change is your whole way of eating."

    Despite the sensible advice that doctors, dieticians and fitness experts regularly dispense, there are still willing customers for the products that offer instant gratification without any changes in lifestyle or diet. Mr. Reinhold warns people who read his Web site, that when it comes to weight-loss products, "it clearly is buyer beware."

    Beware of magic bullets

    The Hollywood Turbo Diet, Naturalab's apple-cider-vinegar capsules and Plant Macerat are among dozens of "natural" weight-loss pills being marketed in Canada through advertisements and direct-mail campaigns. Once customers try one, their name is passed on to other marketers, and offers for similar products flood the mailbox. Shortly after ordering a sample of the apple-cider- vinegar capsules, this reporter received direct-mail ads for the following products:

    Fat Free claims to be "America's No. 1 Slimming Treatment." The ads state that it requires no diet or exercise but results in five pounds of weight loss per week.

    Success are pills which are said to contain garcinia, "a fruit native of India widely known in the medical field," which would result in the loss of a pound a day without dieting.

    Pectalite are pills made of apple pectin, which the ads state "eats fat cells and cholesterol."

    Slim Express is sold as "an amazing little flower that can drive your body to lose all the excess fat in 15 days."

    1-Way Ogliopeptide is said to be derived from "natural food sources," which "tell our digestive system to ignore all the excess fat our body does not need, and pass it by."

    Slim & Simple is sold as an "all-natural . . . lipid fragmentation formula" that claims to help you lose up to six pounds a week by breaking down fat into smaller particles which are said to be easier to burn.

    Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired U.S. psychiatrist who now devotes himself to reviewing alternative medical treatments and mail-order products, casts doubt on the efficacy of "natural" products such as these.

    He and other health professionals note that there is really only one way to lose weight naturally: Burn up more calories than you consume. And that's done by eating less, exercising more -- or a combination of both.

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