A Barrage of adverts posted on social media about a dietary supplement that promises a “funeral for your fat” has raised alarms over the availability of diet pills — with many people unaware of the related risks and side effects.
Medical practitioners are warning consumers against the use of a popular weight-loss product “The Secret Fat Burner”, which has landed a number of people in hospital.
The Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (Semdsa) last month sent a letter to the South African Product Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), asking them to attend to this issue urgently.
Semdsa chairperson Nazeer Mohamed told Weekend Witness there are potentially life-threatening complications that may arise as a result of using this product.
“Patients who use this product presented with features of an overactive thyroid. Other features of an overactive thyroid include palpitations, anxiety, heat tolerance, aggravation of hypertension,” said Mohamed.
He said use of the product also presented cardiac complications such as rapid heart rate and — scariest of all — cardiac failure.
“We strongly advise healthcare professionals [to acquire] the knowledge to warn, advise and treat patients that may have used the product, since it has been freely advertised on social media,” added Mohamed.
The product contains mostly plant extracts. Bitter orange extract, chromium (trace mineral) and yohimbine (derived from the bark of a tree with the same name in central and western Africa), are a few examples.
There are several warnings on the company’s Facebook page warning members of the public about a fake version of their product. The fat burner supplement is not available in pharmacies or shops. It has to be acquired through an agent.
According to a statement on the company’s Facebook page, it has submitted samples of the product to the Department of Health officials.
“The products were submitted together with our own independent test certificates, clearly proving that our products do not contain any illegal substances,” read the statement.
Efforts to get comment from The Secret Fatburner SA head office have been unsuccessful.
According to The Secret product packaging, side effects include a slight headache, insomnia, a coated, pasty tongue and irritability.
Durban resident Courtney van Schalkwyk alleged that she fell victim to the side effects of the product after using it in November 2016.
Van Schalkwyk told Weekend Witness that she had been introduced to the product after a family member used it and had great success with it.
“I started having side effects 10 days after taking the product. I had very bad upper abdominal pain.”
After consulting with a doctor, Van Schalkwyk said she thought it was an ulcer. “I informed my doctor that I was using this product. Although he hadn’t heard of the product he advised me to stop taking it. He prescribed medication for an ulcer — the pain went away.”
Against her doctor’s advice, she continued to use the product because she had already seen instant weight loss results.
A month later, Van Schalkwyk said the same pain returned and it was discovered she had three blood clots, which she believes formed after she used the product.
“I had one clot in my main portal vein, one in my splenic vein and one in the vein that supplies blood to my small intestine. The clots were so severe that they had stopped blood flow to vital organs.”
Van Schalkwyk underwent surgery and had to be placed on a ventilator for five days.
“I’m on blood thinners for life, which means I inject myself in the stomach every day to prevent my blood from re-clotting. I never expected something like that to happen from a fat burner, especially one that claimed to be natural. It changed my life forever.”
Anche Dauth from Howick said she had also suffered terrible side effects when she started using the product in January.
“I suffered from terrible headaches and nausea. I was not happy with the results. I think I only lost one kilogram and I never carried on with it because I thought it was just a waste of time.”
Another woman from Pietermaritzburg who started using the product in December 2016 said she had experienced severe headaches and extensive hair loss.
“My friend had worse side effects, and since then she has had treatment for thyroid issues and BP [blood pressure],” said the woman who declined to be named.
She said although she had lost 13 kg while on the product, after she stopped taking the pills she piled on the weight again.
Dietitian Jessica Potgieter, said the temptation to lose weight easily and quickly is hard to resist but agreed that most of these products have proven to be ineffective.
“There is not enough research done to confirm the safety and efficacy of these drugs. They are also not endorsed by any medical backing,” said Potgieter.
For weight loss, Potgieter advised a lifestyle change
“Unfortunately, the pill will not be a ‘magic trick’ that fixes everything,” she explained.
While at least three people told Weekend Witness they had purchased The Secret at a pharmacy in Pietermaritzburg, the pharmacy denied ever selling the product.