The quest for a magic bullet for weight loss is far from new. Throughout the last century a bewildering array of strategies emerged only to be discredited due to lack of safety or efficacy. Of the more extreme ideas, the purposeful ingestion of tapeworms must surely rank as the most bizarre. Whilst this may just be an urban legend, today's Internet abounds with articles on the subject, implicating the rich and famous and apparently still offering tapeworm eggs for sale as dietary supplements. The very thought of this is repugnant, but it does demonstrate the lengths to which some might go to achieve weight loss.
By the 1960s amphetamines had become the product of choice for appetite suppression. Ephedra is an evergreen shrub found in central Asia. It contains the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. It achieved remarkable popularity and, latterly, notoriety in the weight loss arena. Finally the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of ephedra in dietary supplements in February, 2004 (FDA, 2004).
Increasing obesity rates combined with an ever diminishing perception of the ideal body shape, encouraged by the popular press, means that there is an ever greater disconnect between reality and expectations. This fuels the intense effort to find that magic ingredient for weight loss. Today we have the advantage of sophisticated scientific know-how combined with consumer representation and well-developed legislation. This should ensure that new ingredients reaching the market have a proven track record of safety and success, and a repeat of past failures should be avoided. However, even today there remains a disconcerting reliance on anecdote and inade quate science, particularly as evidenced by the more outrageous Internet selling techniques.
Food ingredients that facilitate weight loss fall under the spectrum of 'functional' foods as defined by the European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE) (Diplock et al., 1999): 'A food can be regarded as 'functional' if it is satisfactorily demonstrated to affect beneficially one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of risk of disease'. However, the distinction between foods, supplements and medicines is becoming increasingly blurred and 'functional foods' as such do not appear as a specific category in food law either in Europe or in North America. Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU) in Japan do approximate to the concept of functional foods.
There are many complex aspects involved in the introduction of a new food ingredient for weight management. The area is fraught with scepticism, false hope and promises, claims and counterclaims, and highly motivated consumers fuelling industry growth. Boucher et al. (2001) counselled healthcare professionals to encourage their clients to resist 'the temptation to buy a "magic" pill or potion that promises effortless weight loss or weight maintenance'. Pittler and Ernst (2004), in a systematic review of dietary supplements for body weight reduction, concluded 'the evidence for most dietary supplements as aids in reducing body weight is not convincing. None of the reviewed dietary supplements can be recommended for over-the-counter use.'
It is against this background that the quest for effective strategies continues. The science is becoming increasingly sophisticated and several thorough and convincing studies have been published since the Pittler and Ernst (2004) review. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human intervention studies are important in the evaluation of individual ingredients and it is encouraging to see such studies being published (see, for example, Preuss et al., 2004a, b discussed in Section 10.3.2). It is also encouraging to see major food companies such as Unilever entering the arena. The emphasis is gradually shifting from that 'magic bullet' to a more holistic approach and consumer expectations are becoming more realistic as the positive impact of a 5-10% reduction in body mass is now better understood (see Calorie Control Council websites). Most consumers know by now about the benefits of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, caloric restriction, exercise, etc., but this has had little impact on burgeoning waistlines. For example, in the USA calorie consumption increased by 450 kcal per capita per day from the mid 1960s to the 1990s (Anon., 2004). From this it is clear that some extra help is needed.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a brief perspective on new developments in weight loss food ingredients, highlighting the different aspects that must be addressed before such ingredients could be deemed to be successful. Criteria for a successful ingredient will be listed and some of the regulatory considerations introduced. Some details of (-)-hydroxy-citric acid (HCA) will be provided as an example of the approach that is being taken. Several other examples will then be outlined, together with comments on future directions. No attempt has been made to provide a comprehensive review and the reader is referred to the publications cited for further details.
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