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posted: 3/10/2014 4:00 AM

Supplements to lose weight remain unproven by studies

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Americans are too heavy.

More than one in three are actually considered obese. Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes and a major risk factor for knee and hip joint replacement.

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America definitely has a weight problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, 37 percent of Americans were defined as obese.

The most common measure for determining obesity is the body mass index. This index, however, does not directly measure body fat.

If you are very athletic and have high muscle mass, your body mass index will also be high. I work with several professional athletes who weigh between 280 and 320 pounds. The amount of body fat on these athletes is minimal and they are definitely not obese.

Body mass index is not the only measure of obesity. Waist circumference is also a good indicator of an increased risk of a number of different diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Americans have been fighting the waistline battle for almost 50 years. In the 1950s and '60s, a number of machines were marketed as a way to lose weight.

In the past 20 years at least half a dozen dietary supplements are sold with the suggestion that it will increase metabolism and that weight loss will soon follow.

One of the promises of nontraditional medicine has been appetite suppression and weight loss through dietary supplements. The results of research have not borne out this promise.

There are many dietary supplements that claim either directly or indirectly to be able to increase metabolism or reduce weight. Over the past month several of my patients have asked about a trendy, new dietary supplement advertised as an appetite suppressant, Garcinia Cambodia.

Sale totals for supplements and foods for weight loss exceed $1 billion per year. This is big business that includes food and pharmaceutical companies.

Garcinia Cambodia is a recent addition to this list.

Garcinia Cambodia is a tree that is cultivated throughout Southwest Asia and parts of Africa. The fruit of the tree is consumed as part of the local cuisine.

In 1998, one clinical trial demonstrated that participants exhibited weight loss when consuming the suspected active ingredient (hydroxycitric acid) of the Garcinia Cambodia fruit.

However, the weight loss was minimal and not statistically different from placebo.

In 2012 Dr. Mehmet Oz, on his TV show, suggested that consumption of Garcinia Cambodia products can result in weight loss and the sales of this product took off.

My own research led me to conclude that there is no reasonable medical research indicating this is the "holy grail" of weight loss. Some studies suggest serious toxicity with at least one of these products.

Increased physical activity, proper food choices, portion control, stress reduction and addressing potential underlying psychological reasons is the only proven (nonsurgical) methods for addressing obesity.

On the upside, increased activity and proper nutrition are the foundation stones for lifelong good health.

• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.

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