Three women reveal the worrying truth about the new herbal diet pills that are for sale on the High Street
- Pamela Horne, 40, suffered from crippling cramps and a distended stomach
- Francesca Fonzarelli, 29, ended up in A&E after a panic attack
- She was later diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition
- Lena Doherty was affected by dizziness and quickly gave up the pills
Like most brides-to-be, Pamela Horne was keen to for her big day. She’d picked a figure-hugging dress and knew that if she slimmed to a trim size eight, it would look even better.
So in September 2013, with her wedding booked for the following August, the 40-year-old began searching for anything to help her lose weight. ‘I find it difficult as I have a sweet tooth,’ says Pamela, a manager for a chemical company, who lives in Northamptonshire with her husband Tony, 49, a company director, and her two children, aged 14 and 18.
‘I sit down all day at work and if there are biscuits, I find it impossible to resist. Then I found a supplement online called Skinny Fiber. There was lots of information about how it expanded in your stomach, so you felt less hungry, and there were positive reviews. It was described as a natural supplement containing plant extracts, which reassured me.’
Pamela Horne, 40 (pictured), was keen to lose weight for her wedding day and so began taking a supplement called Skinny Fiber which she had found online
These so-called appetite suppressants are the latest fad being pushed by the £2 billion diet industry — seen as a safer option to diet pills containing the banned chemical dinitrophenol, which have caused 60 deaths worldwide, including four in Britain.
Most appetite suppressants to slow digestion, thereby reducing cravings, but some also claim to ‘burn’ fat or speed up calorie expenditure.
Popular ingredients include garcinia cambogia and , a plant extract used by tribesmen in South Africa to help them survive without food while hunting in the desert.
And they’re available on the High Street. Health food shop Holland & Barrett sells garcinia cambogia pills for £19.99, while Boots sells £24.99 own-brand Appetite Control pills, containing a fibre that swells in the stomach.
But the consensus seems to be that appetite suppressants do not produce the sought-after results — and, even worse, that those bought from online suppliers could contain dangerous ingredients that could prove fatal.
In December, Cara Reynolds, 24, died after an overdose of Forza slimming pills she’d bought online. These ketones are compounds that give raspberries their smell and, in recent years, a flurry of ketone supplements have been launched following unproven claims they can prevent weight gain.
Pamela (pictured on her wedding day) did not consider the health risks that have been related to taking appetite suppressants and was encouraged by the thought of a quick fix
In a British Medical Journal article, Cara’s death was explained as a cardiac arrest due to the high dosage of caffeine in the pills. The author wrote: ‘Many slimming products have concentrations of up to 250 mg of caffeine per tablet, which is equivalent to more than four cans of Red Bull or seven cans of Coca-Cola.’
Although caffeine is usually safe, general advice is not to consume more than 400 mg per day (an espresso has around 200 mg). Very high levels of caffeine can have adverse effects on blood pressure and the heart.
Last year, the UK’s banned from sale unless they had been officially approved — though they can still be used in small quantities as a flavouring or extract. This allows companies such as Holland & Barrett to sell £19.99 pills marketed as raspberry ketones.
After two days of taking the supplements, Pamela (pictured on her wedding day) developed intense and crippling cramps and a distended stomach
Meanwhile, full-strength raspberry ketones are readily available online.
For Pamela, though, any safety concerns were trumped by the lure of a quick fix. She sent off for a free, two-week trial of Skinny Fiber (it sells online for £40 for 120 pills) and followed the instructions, taking one or two a day with food.
But things quickly went wrong. In two days, she was struck by crippling cramps and a distended stomach. ‘The pains were agonising — really intense cramps,’ she says. ‘I was rushing to the toilet several times a day. My stomach became bloated and felt rock hard. I also had this terrible thirst, which wouldn’t go.’
Pamela’s (pictured) husband, Tony, managed to persuade her to stop taking the pills and she felt better within a day
Pamela hoped her symptoms would subside, and kept up the supplements for seven days. But she felt dreadful. ‘They did suppress my appetite — but only because I felt so unwell that I couldn’t eat much,’ she says.
Eventually, Tony urged her to stop taking them. Within a day, she began to feel better. ‘I felt really angry that something with such strong effects could be so easily available,’ she says.
We were unable to contact Skinny Fiber for comment. However, an independent distributor says: ‘I’ve had many satisfied customers who have lost weight while using the product. Results vary and are dependent on the person. This customer was experiencing the detox stage, which can be more extreme for some than others.’
Francesca Fonzarelli, 29 (pictured), struggled with her weight for years before deciding to try raspberry ketones which she found on eBay after the ban had come in
He added it was possible Pamela bought her supplements from an unreliable vendor or website.
A major concern is these products are being bought online. Dr Colin Cable, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says: ‘If you go to a reputable High Street shop, you’ll have some kind of degree of safety.
‘The problem with online ones is that because they’re unregulated, you don’t know what you’re getting.’
Francesca is seen here in 2006 when she weighed 20 stone, she resolved to lose weight after her marriage broke down
Tests on slimming supplements by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have shown some contain illegal and harmful ingredients, including sibutramine — a slimming drug banned because it was shown to raise the risk of heart attacks penis enlargement pill and strokes. They also found phenytoin — an anti-seizure drug — and bumetanide — a diuretic — both of which could have serious effects on health. ‘If you were taking these, you could run into blood pressure problems or liver damage,’ says Dr Cable.
Francesca Fonzarelli, 29, a make-up artist and mother-of-two from Hertfordshire, decided to try raspberry ketones, which she had bought on eBay before the ban came in, after battling with her weight for years.
‘I left school a size 18. When I got married at age 20, I wore a size 24 wedding dress and was 21 st,’ she says.
When Francesca (pictured with her father) got married in 2006, age 20, she weighed 21 stone and wore a size 24 wedding dress
When her marriage broke down four years later, Francesca resolved to lose weight. She tried various diets without success and, five years ago, turned to the ketones she’d bought on eBay.
She took a few a day and did lose 1½ st over three months, but also noticed worrying symptoms. She already suffered from heart palpitations, due to being overweight, but says that these increased after taking the pills.
Then, two months later, she suffered an acute episode.
Francesca (pictured with ex-husband, Mark) started taking a few ketones a day and lost 1½ st over three months but also suffered from increased heart palpitations
‘I was watching TV and my heart started beating furiously,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t feel my fingers or catch my breath — I felt as if I was having a heart attack.’
Francesca was taken to A&E, where doctors said that she was having a panic attack. Three weeks later, the same thing happened again.
But this time, an electrocardiogram revealed an irregular heartbeat. She was referred to a cardiologist, who diagnosed her with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease causing overproduction of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which can trigger a fast heart rate.
Francesca is seen here with her daughter Imogen, 8, in 2014. Francesca ended up in A&E and was diagnosed with Graves’ disease
‘I realised I had no idea what I had been taking,’ says Francesca. One theory is that slimming supplements could be linked to Graves’ disease because they have an effect on the thyroid, but this has not been proven conclusively.
Francesca has since lost 6 st through diet and exercise and is a size 12. But she still suffers symptoms from Graves’ disease and needs daily medication. ‘I’m permanently cold, my immune system is weak and I get palpitations — I have to be careful with strenuous exercise,’ she says.
‘I’m going to be this way for the rest of my life. When you’re overweight you feel ashamed, so it is tempting to stay at home and try to find a solution online. These firms exploit that sense of shame.’
Francesca (pictured) has since lost 6 st through diet and exercise and is a size 12 but will suffer from the symptoms of Graves’ disease for the rest of her life
An eBay spokesman says: ‘We work closely with the MHRA, who advise us of items that are prohibited for sale online or require a prescription. All sellers are required to abide by our site rules or face penalties.’
Lena Doherty resorted to slimming pills after struggling to lose weight after having children. ‘I’m 13 st — I’d love to lose 4 st, as I’m only 5 ft 2 in,’ says Lena, 38, an office worker who lives with her husband and five children in Merseyside.
She was browsing for dietary aids in Holland & Barrett when an assistant suggested she try garcinia cambogia extract — said to suppress appetite. ‘There was lots about the supplement online, so I thought it was worth a shot,’ says Lena.
Lena Doherty (pictured) resorted to slimming pills after struggling to lose weight after having children
But within hours of taking her first capsule, she began to feel dizzy and her heart started to race.
‘I thought the wobbliness I’d felt was because my body wasn’t used to it, so I decided to keep taking them,’ she says.
The dizziness passed and, over three weeks, Lena lost 5 lb — but after consulting a nurse friend, she decided to stop.
Lena, pictured with husband, Wayne and children Jack and Emily, started using garcinia cambogia extract which is said to suppress appetite
A spokesman for Holland & Barrett says: ‘We recommend that customers check with their GP before embarking on weight loss and use food supplements only as part of a sensible diet and exercise plan.
‘Garcinia cambogia is a natural food supplement, which may support individual weight loss goals until better habits are established.
‘Research shows garcinia cambogia is well tolerated with few side-effects. However, as with any product, allergic reactions are possible. Customers should consult their GP if they are on medication or unsure about individual suitability.’
Lena, pictured with her family, suffered from dizziness initially and lost 5 lb in three weeks but decided to stop taking the suppressants after advice from a friend who is a nurse
With nearly two-thirds of men and women obese or overweight, the notion of a miracle remedy to shed pounds is alluring.
According to experts, the only proven effective weight-loss drug licensed for UK use is orlistat, sold as Xenical or Alli.
The reality is that the best way to lose weight is by eating less and exercising. Pamela Horne did manage to lose a stone for her wedding — thanks to an old-fashioned method.
‘The thing that worked for me was walking and cutting sugar,’ she says. ‘Lots of women want a