Monday, July 13, 2009
Image by FranUlloa.
"Can you imagine...
A lollipop with the amazing Power to Suppress the appetite and give you a burst of energy. What could be more simple?"
So begins a brochure promoting Power-Pops, a lollipop which claims to reduce appetite, increase energy, and help you lose weight. Power-Pops have received a fair amount of media coverage in the USA, including the following video from the television program Extra (email readers can view the video on our main page by clicking here).
I've got to admit, a lollipop that suppresses appetite is a pretty slick marketing idea. Not surprisingly though, there is hardly any evidence to back up their claims of appetite suppression and weight loss, and some of their claims seem to defy basic physiological principles, or completely contradict each other. Let's look at them one at a time.
The primary "active" ingredients in Power-Pops are Hoodia, Citrimax, and Guarana - all popular ingredients in over-the-counter weight loss medications. Hoodia, which I have discussed previously, comes from a plant found in South Africa which is said to suppress appetite. While there is evidence that Hoodia can reduce appetite when injected directly into the brain, there is not a single clinical trial in humans to suggest that Hoodia has any effect on appetite or body weight, leading the Mayo Clinic to conclude that "There is no conclusive evidence that hoodia is an effective appetite suppressant or that it contributes to significant, long-term weight loss".
Let's move on to the second major ingredient in Power-Pops - Citrimax. Citrimax is the fancy name for hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which comes from a plant called Garcinia cambogia. Steven Heymsfield and colleagues at Columbia University performed a randomized controlled trial examining the effects of 12 weeks of HCA consumption in overweight men and women, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Sixty-six subjects received a daily dosage of HCA, while 69 subjects received a placebo. This study was double-blinded, meaning that neither the subjects nor their physicians knew if they were receiving the HCA or the placebo. This type of study is the gold standard for determining the effectiveness of a new drug. What did they find?
The HCA group lost weight... But no more than the subjects in the placebo group. In fact, the placebo group actually lost slightly more weight than the HCA group, although this difference was not statistically significant. Body weight isn't always an ideal measure, so what about body fat specifically? Heymsfield and colleagues concluded that: "there were no observed selective fat-mobilizing effects specifically attributable to the active agent, hydroxycitric acid".
The take home message? Citrimax (aka HCA, aka Garcinia Cambogia) is literally as useful for weight loss as a sugar pill.
And what about guarana, the third and final major ingredient in Power-Pops? Guarana is a natural source of caffeine, so it actually has some potential as an appetite suppressant. For example, Boozer and colleagues have reported that a combination of Guarana (caffeine) and Ma Huang (ephedrine) resulted in a significant decrease in body weight and body fat in overweight men and women. However, one quarter of the subjects receiving the Guarana and Ma Huang dropped out due to severe side effects which included dry mouth, insomnia, and headaches. Further, combining caffeine and ephedrine is very dangerous, so do not try that at home!
What I find very interesting is that although Power-Pops claim to contain guarana, their website also claims that "These delicious lollipops do not contain... Caffeine or other types of ingredients that "speed" you up." [emphasis added].
Now they never say on the website how it is possible to have guarana as an ingredient while remaining caffeine free. That would be like putting coffee grounds in a cake but claiming it has no caffeine - it doesn't make any sense. And even if they used de-caffeinated guarana (if such a thing exists), caffeine is the reason that guarana is used as an appetite suppressant! That would mean that they took out the only ingredient in their product which is thought to have any impact on appetite!
So as far as the active ingredients in Power-Pops are concerned, there is very little evidence to suggest that they have any effect on appetite. In addition, the Power-Pops brochure makes some claims which are so strange that they need to be pointed out. For example, how can Power-Pops "give you a burst of energy" without having any "ingredients that "speed" you up"? Further, they claim that you should drink a glass of water and eat one Power-Pop 30 minutes before a meal in order to "activate" the ingredients. In fact, the brochure claims that "Water is the most important ingredient of the Power-Pops". After the meal you are advised to drink another glass of water to "flush" the ingredients from your system.
This is probably obvious to our readers, but that is not how the human body works. If the ingredients are activated by water, why wouldn't they be activated by the liquids that are already in your mouth and digestive tract? Further, I have not come across any information suggesting that any of the ingredients in Power-Pops are "activated" by water. What probably is happening, is that when you drink plenty of water (especially just before a meal), it can help reduce feelings of hunger. So if you're drinking more water, you will be less hungry. But it might not have anything to do with your lollipop.
The other claim made by the makers of Power-Pops is that it helps you burn fat. This suggests that it somehow increases your metabolism, or helps you to specifically burn fat and spare carbohydrates. I can't find any evidence to suggest that any of the ingredients in Power-Pops have any of those effects on the human body. Caffeine can result in carbohydrate sparing, but as mentioned earlier, Power-Pops apparently contain no caffeine, so no dice there either.
I emailed the local Power-Pops sales representative to ask about the claims that are made in the Power-Pops brochure, and he was kind enough to put me in contact with Mike Wenninger, the creator of Power-Pops who is featured in the above video. Mike called me almost immediately, and seemed very eager to chat about his product. I was busy at the time so he said I could call him back in a day or so, but since then I have been unable to reach him by phone or email (I tried each several times). It's unfortunate, because I was and remain very eager to discuss the claims that are made on various Power-Pops websites and brochures (especially regarding caffeine). If there is any evidence behind any of the claims, then Mr Wenninger should have no problem pointing it out to me. If I do hear from him again (if you're out there Mike, I'd still love to talk with you) I'll be sure to put it up in a future post.
In case you still want to try Power-Pops yourself, the Canadian website can be found here. They claim to be delicious, and of this I have no doubt. In Canada they are affiliated with the tanning salon iTAN, so if you frequent them be sure to ask if they know anything about the strange claims being made about the product. One bag of Power-Pops contains 30 lollipops and costs $28.95,which would last all of 10 days if they are being consumed before every meal as suggested - weight loss tools with this much science behind them don't come cheap.
A big hat tip to my friend and co-worker Kelly Heffernan for bringing Power-Pops to my attention. And to receive the latest obesity news and research by email, please enter your address in the "Subscribe via email" box in the upper right-hand corner of this post.
1. Hoodia for weight loss - where's the evidence?
2. Acai berry scam - we called it!
3. Leptothin - nature's most powerful weight loss agent?
Heymsfield, S. (1998). Garcinia cambogia (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Potential Antiobesity Agent: A Randomized Controlled Trial JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 280 (18), 1596-1600 DOI: 10.1001/jama.280.18.1596
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