The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission has issued a warning following its investigation into a weight loss program provider which involved compounding pharmacists
The investigation followed complaints about services provided by the Medical Weightloss Institute (MWI), which ceased trading last month (February 2017).
The Commission warns that consumers need to be “very careful” about advertised claims of effortless, rapid and sustainable weight loss and offers for medicines, supplements or other products promising to achieve this.
It says customers should “find out what evidence is used to support these claims and do not rely only on testimonials from people who have used the program or products,” and recommends they talk to their doctors about any weight loss products they are considering.
Former Pharmacist of the Year Karalyn Huxhagen told the AJP today that consumers need advice from a health professional when considering taking a supplement to aid weight loss.
She says discount pharmacies in particular are “floor to ceiling” with weight loss supplements and products which should not be sold without advice.
“The ones like Impromy, Optifast and IsoWhey not only have a product behind them, but also a plan and a meal management program, and you’re using a pharmacist, maybe a dietitian, and your GP in a planned process for weight loss,” she says.
“But if you look at a lot of the fast-fix ones, there are other issues, such as ingredients like caffeine and guarana, which can impact other conditions.
“If you’ve got an obese patient you’ve probably already got some cardiac and blood pressure issues, so you don’t want them using a product that’s going to compound any underlying issues such as heart rate.”
She says that consumers need to be made well aware that any such product should be used in conjunction with a change in diet and exercise habits.
“There’s a couple out there at the moment that are bordering on deceitful. They don’t mention the exercise component, and the fact that to have sustainable weight loss, you have to look at your meals, especially your meal sizes, because that’s been the biggest issue highlighted by the CSIRO and others: that Australians have too big a meal.
“You can’t let people think they can pop these pills and drink the shakes and they’ll magically eat the excess weight away. If you don’t make changes, any loss won’t be sustainable.”
The Commission’s warning states that, “MWI’s claim that it has developed a fast and easy weight loss protocol involving the correction of hormonal imbalance with tailor made prescription medication regimes is not evidence-based.
“The organisation is considered to have made extravagant claims not borne out by the weight of clinical research in this area.
“The use of initial blood testing to tailor-make the weight loss protocol is clinically spurious and designed to give an appearance of medical authenticity.
“In practice; the organisation’s doctors wrote prescriptions for combinations of complementary and prescription medications without seeing or examining clients in person and a compounding pharmacy mailed the medication without the required accompanying information to ensure safety and effectiveness.
“A particularly vulnerable cohort of health consumers was convinced to part with large sums of money for pharmaceutical preparations that may have serious contraindications and side effects and for which there is no credible evidence of efficacy for weight loss.”
The Commission points out that there are health care practitioners formerly associated with the organisation who intend to continue providing the same weight loss protocol previously promoted by MWI, and who have approached former clients of MWI to offer the same services under another name.