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Herbal Phen-fen


Rebecca Harbin

"Lose All the Weight You Want", "Look Sexy and Feel Great", "Use the Safer Alternative", claim advertisements promoting the use of a recently-created dietary supplement known as herbal phen fen (CompuGraph International ) Created after the original phen fen (phentermine fenfluramine) drug was recalled from the market as a result of serious side effects, including severe heart problems which proved fatal for some consumers, the new herbal phen fen was praised by creators for being "all natural" and lacking any harmful side effects. One who relies strictly on internet advertisements for information concerning herbal phen fen, however, may be seriously misinformed and misled about the true nature of this herbal "cure-all" for weight problems. Articles from various journals and periodicals reveal a darker side of herbal phen fen, illustrating the possible harmful side effects of the pill and explaining the dangers of individual ingredients composing herbal phen fen. Claims of many advertisements for herbal phen fen drectly contradict medical research and scientific studies, raising questions about the effectiveness and safety of the new pill.

Popular culture teaches people to search for immediate gratification and quick fix-all methods for every problem, thus fast-working pills appeal to those who don't want to spend months trying to lose weight by exercising and eating healthfully. Advertisers capitalize on this quality of public consumers by appealing to public demands for fast results. "Phen-'Nominal' Results Fast" states one ad on the internet, appropriately titled "Herbal Phen Fast", which boasts the pill's ability to "suppress the formation of fats". The ad, which was produced by the company HealthMatrix, Inc., portrays herbal phen fen as a quick, safe, easy and effective way to control hunger, reduce cravings and ultimately lose weight, yet avoids explaining the side effects of the pill by dismissing symptoms as "few and well-tolerated". The ad names and defines the two primary ingredients of herbal phen fen, St. John's Wort and Mahuang, explaining that the combination of these ingredients leads to weight loss. The ad is designed to appear scientific with the claim that the main ingredient of herbal phen fen, St. John's Wort, "prolongs the reuptake of serotonin in the brain", leading to feelings of personal satisfaction (HealthMatrix, Inc.) The ad provides no evidence, research or case studies for this claim or any other claims. Three quotations by consumers of the pill are included in the ad, but interestingly enough, though the consumers claim feeling "more energetic" and satisfied by smaller portions, none of the quotations actually mention weight loss. (HealthMatrix, Inc.)

One internet advertisement by CompuGraph International utilizes advertising techniques of capitalizing and embolding words such as "all natural" and "NOW" and including warnings in miicroscopic print, leading readers to ignore the fine print for the attention-catching claims about the pill. Herbal phen fen is presented in this advertisement as a "safer alternative" to the other "dangerous drugs" created as dietary supplements. The ad by CompuGraph International begins with a brief article on the dangers of the original phen fen and presents the new herbal phen fen as the safe solution to weight loss. By capitalizing on the dangers of original phen fen, proponents of herbal phen fen attempt to disassociate the "natural"pill from the original one, yet, as researchers point out, the two pills share the same name, similar ingredients, and thus possibly some of the same harmful side effects.

Reach4Life displays a slightly more scientific ad for herbal phen fen with the inclusion of study results of subjects who had been administered the herbal medicine, yet the study lacked data. The "evidence"supplied by the ad states that one thousand four hundred and one subjects were included in the study, yet no figure is given of those who benefitted from the medicine. The study results vaguely and broadly state that subjects demonstrated "classical exponential weight decline (Reach4Life)." Side effects were dismissed as minimal, yet not defined or explained.

Internet information on herbal phen fen appears overwhelmingly in favor of the herbal medicine, based on broad claims supported by little research. Most articles found on ProQuest, however, illustrate the controversial aspects of herbal phen fen. One article titled "Stop the Insanity" informs readers that the Food and Drug Administration has not even approved herbal phen fen as safe or effective. Mahuang, a stimulant included in herbal phen fen, is described in this article as an "amphetamine-like compound [which] has been associated with more than 800 reports of adverse events, ranging from headaches to death, since 1994 (Medical Economics, Inc.)." Another component of herbal phen fen known as St. John's Wort has been questioned by the FDA as to the "safety and efficacy" of the ingredient, according to "Stop the Insanity". A third questionable ingredient of herbal phen fen, 5-hydroxytryptophan is closely related to L-tryptophan, a product which was discontinued because it was "linked to more than 1,500 cases (including 38 deaths) of a rare blood disorder known as eosinophilia mylagia syndrome (Medical Economics, Inc.)."

In addition to illustrating dangers of individual ingredients and warnings of possible side effects of herbal phen fen, many articles questioned whether herbal medicines could even cause people to lose weight at all. The article "Prevention" states that "there have been no clinical studies to show that this combination [ephedra and St. John's Wort] will enhance weight loss (Emmaus)." This article also cautions users about the drug ephedra, which is not meant to be used over seven days according to an FDA recommendation (Emmaus).

An article from "USA Today"questions the "all-natural" claims concerning herbal phen fen by illustrating the fact that the very name herbal phentermine fenfluramine implies a composition of drugs. Even though herbal phen sounds like a drug, the herbal medicine has not gone through any drug-approval processes. According to "USA Today", the FDA is very concerned about herbal phen fen and has taken no steps to support the herbal medication ("USA Today").

MedLine services at the Vanderbilt Biomedical Library contained no information on herbal phen fen and little information (only forty-three articles) on original phen fen. In fact, the title herbal phentermine fenfluramine was completely unrecognized by the computer. Lack of information in recent medical journals reflects the novelty of herbal phen fen as well as the lack of factual information on herbal medicines for weight loss in general, raising questions of legitimacy concerning internet claims.

The "Phen-'Nominal' Results Fast" advertised to the public may not be so phenomenal in the long run, thus people should be wary of taking any pill, such as herbal phen fen, which has not been thoroughly researched or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (Medical Economics, Inc.). If herbal phen fen lacks the ability to control weight loss, as suggested by many articles, one should seriously question reasons for trying this type of medicine. Claims of controlled appetite, all-natural, safe ingredients and substantial weight loss may be just that: claims. Extensive research is needed before herbal phen fen should be considered safe or even effective, and I caution people to educate themselves about weight loss and dietary supplements before succumbing to quick "cure-alls" which may leave them with more problems than extra pounds.


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