Question of the Week

January 15, 2008


The headline reads:
"Too Much Sugar-Free Gum Linked to Severe Weight Loss"

With so many advertisements for quick and easy weight loss, some might see this as yet another way to have the pounds fall off without effort. For those who read on, they might notice the means by which the weight is lost.

"Chewing too much sugar-free gum containing the artificial sweetener sorbitol can cause diarrhea leading to potentially dangerous weight loss, German physicians report. ... Both were found to be consuming a lot of sorbitol, primarily from chewing gum, said Dr. Herbert Lochs, professor of internal medicine at Humboldt University in Berlin, and one author of the report. The answer solved the mystery, since heavy consumption of sorbitol has long been associated with a risk of diarrhea, Lochs said. 'There have been case reports earlier, as far back as the 1980s,' he said. 'These were people who did not have malabsorbtion and malnutrition.' "


"Malabsorption is difficulty in the digestion or absorption of nutrients from food. Malabsorption can result from a wide range of diseases. Typically, malabsorption can be the failure to absorb specific sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins. It can also be a general malabsorption of food. Diarrhea, bloating or cramping, failure to thrive, frequent bulky stools, muscle wasting, and a distended stomach may accompany malabsorption."


"Malnutrition is the condition that occurs when a person's body is not getting enough nutrients. The condition may result from an inadequate or unbalanced diet, digestive difficulties, absorption problems, or other medical conditions. Malnutrition can occur because of the lack of a single vitamin in the diet, or it can be because a person isn't getting enough food. Starvation is a form of malnutrition. Malnutrition also occurs when adequate nutrients are consumed in the diet, but one or more nutrients are not digested or absorbed properly. Malnutrition may be mild enough to show no symptoms. However, in some cases it may be so severe that the damage done is irreversible, even though the individual survives."

Many don't think of malnutrition as something that can affect people who are eating enough food. It is not just a matter of eating enough food; it is also a matter of the body being able to absorb and use the nutrients that are eaten.

Products that unintentionally (or intentionally) eliminate from the body the food that is eaten before it can be absorbed can cause weight loss, but they do it in a way that can cause severe health problems, and even death.

"A cup of hot herbal tea may feel soothing to the soul, but instead of soothing the body, some herbal teas can make you sick. This is especially true with so-called dieter's teas, herbal teas containing senna, aloe, buckthorn, and other plant-derived laxatives that, when consumed in excessive amounts, can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, chronic constipation, fainting, and perhaps death. In recent years, FDA has received 'adverse event' reports, including the deaths of four young women, in which dieter's teas may have been a contributing factor. As a result, FDA is advising consumers to follow package directions carefully when using dieter's teas and other dietary supplements containing senna, aloe, and other stimulant laxatives. Consumers should seek medical attention for persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and other bowel problems to prevent more serious complications."

"FDA is advising consumers to follow package directions carefully..."
When reading those packages, it can be helpful to know what to look for, what works, what doesn't work, and what could potentially be dangerous.

"It's the latest weight-loss pill or herbal supplement that has people talking and you wondering whether it really works. Certainly the appeal of losing weight quickly is hard to pass up. But do these pills and products lighten anything but your wallet? And are they a safe option for weight loss? Here's a look at some over-the-counter weight-loss pills and what they will and won't do for you. ... A number of weight-loss pills are available at your local drugstore, supermarket or health food store. Even more options are available online. Most haven't been proved safe and effective, and some are downright dangerous. ..."

(The above site provides information about Bitter orange, Chitosan, Chromium, Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), Country mallow (heartleaf), Ephedra, Green tea extract, Guar gum, and Hoodia, including the claims made about each product and what people need to know about it before taking it.)

Questions of the Week:
When taking anything that might cause weight loss, what do you need to know about the ingredients in the product? How does knowing how a product claims to promote weight loss help you know about how safe it may or may not be? How can you and your peers learn about how the various ingredients work -- and what the potential side effects and risks may be -- before taking a product that can cause weight loss? What do you think would be the best way to educate your peers about the potential health problems that can be caused by these products that can sound so appealing?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site