Facebook users recruit friends for diet, supplement programs — but is it legit?
Last winter, Natalie Vargas was nearing her mid-30s, eating fast food for lunch, drinking about nine cups of coffee a day, and feeling exhausted and sick to her stomach. But all of that changed in April 2015, when she began following a program she heard about on Facebook from a friend who had been struggling with similar issues.
“My body started to feel better and better and better,” Vargas, an aesthetician who lives in Newburgh, N.Y., told FoxNews.com.
Vargas, 34, credits the transformation to a $125/month weight loss and cleanse program she purchased through Plexus. The company is one of countless that uses multi-level marketing (MLM)— a trend that experts say has helped fuel the U.S. dieting industry’s growth to an estimated $64 billion value, the latest data available from research firm Marketdata Enterprises.
As New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym and eat healthily begin to wane, droves of Americans like Vargas will turn to similar programs that suggest their brand-specific supplements can help kick-start users’ metabolism, detoxify their systems and boost their energy.
Many people will learn about these programs through friends on social media who are then compensated by the company whose products they’re promoting— the basis of MLM, or network marketing.
But due to flexible federal regulation of weight loss products and their often obscure ingredients, many registered dietitians question whether these programs offer more than what can be attained through a traditional healthy lifestyle. Others worry some may be Ponzi schemes that could leave participants not only sicker— but also broker— than when they started.
Can you really “detox” the body?
On Amazon, nearly 3,000 products are listed under the subcategory “Detox & Cleanse.”
“The terms ‘detox’ and ‘cleanse’ have become so mainstream in the dieting world that those terms don’t mean too much anymore,” Heather Mangieri, spokeswoman for American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) based in Pittsburgh, told FoxNews.
But if you talk to anyone with a degree in dietetics from an accredited university— like Mangieri, who received her master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh— or any biologist with similar credentials, they’ll tell you the same thing: The body already cleanses itself. That’s what the liver, kidneys, and colon do naturally.
“If [cleanses] ever did the kind of thing they’re claiming to do, they’d kill you,” Michael D. Gershon, a pathology and cell biology professor at Columbia University, told FoxNews.com.
Gershon, who studies the bowel’s relationship with the nervous system, said the bacterium in the body’s colon lining plays a fundamental role in digestion and nourishment. For example, cellulose, a component of fiber found in leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, can’t be digested by the body without the delicate balance of bacterium that self-regulates in the colon.
When the colon absorbs toxins— by way of exposure to a foodborne illness like salmonella or cholera, for instance— the body becomes nauseated and vomits to try to rid itself of that toxin. In foods that are safe to eat, toxins aren’t absorbed. The body flushes them naturally.
“One way to avoid a toxin is don’t eat it,” Gershon said.
Taking any supplement in excess has the potential to have the opposite of its desired effect— that is, overloading on supplements may intoxicate the body, said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
Heller, a registered dietitian for nearly two decades, referred to Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling’s 1969 theory that vitamin C was a “miracle” supplement that could cure the common cold and extend people’s life spans. Following that belief, which has been debunked multiple times but is still popularly held today, people began taking too much vitamin C, causing the vitamin to transform from a disease-fighting antioxidant to a pro-oxidant, Heller said.
“Our bodies are designed to deal with these vitamins in teams,” Heller told FoxNews. “[Vitamin C] works closely with vitamin E and selenium to balance the body’s system, so too much of one or the other can really knock it off. So in addition, you may be overloading your body’s ability to metabolize and detoxify these supplements, overwhelming your liver and kidneys.”
“We don’t know what large doses of these supplements may do to our bodies,” Heller said.
Can supplements help you lose weight?
Popular programs like Plexus, as well as Isagenix, AdvoCare, and Arbonne, call for taking supplements, either in pill or powder form, and some version of fasting from whole foods.
Heller hasn’t extensively studied the ingredients of products in those plans, but she said a quick review suggests many contain Stevia, a non-nutritive sweetener that research suggests may “interfere with the gut-brain axis, increase sweet cravings and appetite, and shift the gut microbiome in an unfavorable direction.” The microbiome refers to the crucial population of bacterium that Gershon described.
Heller said some of the products for these programs also contain laxatives.
“Looking at the long lists of ingredients in these products, one wonders, ‘Why not just eat real food, where Mother Nature has created the perfect balance of nutrients for the body?’” Heller said. “These kinds of programs are a waste of time and money.”
Isagenix, a company that has about 230,000 likes on Facebook, has a whole catalog of packages not only for weight loss but for performance enhancement and energy, among other solutions. Its 30-Day Cleansing and Fat Burning System calls for, during two different periods throughout the cleanse, and elimination of full meals and taking a mix of shakes and supplements the company says may “accelerate” weight loss, as well as “cleanse” and “flush” the body.
AdvoCare, which has about 374,000 likes on Facebook, has a 24-Day Challenge that features a bundle of supplements to be taken during a 10-day cleanse phase to “rid your body of waste,” among other effects, and then offer “appetite control and overall wellness” during the following 14-day phase.
Whether it’s helpful at all to supplement a healthy, balanced diet with any vitamins and minerals in the first place is unclear, registered dietitians say.
Article Source: Foxnews