Dieters switching to Herbal Fen-Phen
But some say it needs further study
July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT)
From Correspondent Dan Rutz
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The diet drug combination known as Fen-Phen
made headlines this week when Mayo Clinic researchers
revealed that it may cause heart disease in some patients.
But some dieters, wary of Fen-Phen's side-effects, had
already made the switch to an herbal version of Fen-Phen that
they say works just as well.
Jackie Thompson of New York says she has struggled for years
to keep her weight down. She exercises regularly and is
careful about what she eats, but she also gives credit to an
herbal version of Fen-Phen called Herbal Phen-Fen.
"With the Herbal Phen-Fen," she says, "I don't have the
cravings in the evenings like I was. So I don't think it's
just in my mind. It works."
Dr. Steven Heymsfield of the St. Lukes-Roosevelt Medical
Center has begun a study of the herbal version to find out
"Whether or not it is more effective than a placebo," he
says, "that has not been established."
Herbal mixture: ephedra and St. John's Wort
The Fen-Phen taken by 18 million Americans is a combination
of two drugs -- fenfluramine, an appetite suppressant, and
phentermine, a mild stimulant.
Combined, they create a powerful diet drug that may damage
the heart valves of some users. There have also been other
studies linking it to a rare but sometimes fatal lung
Herbal Phen-Fen is also composed of two ingredients. One is
ephedra, an herb that acts as a stimulant and may, in some
cases, be too stimulating. The other is St. John's Wort, an
herb that is an anti-depressant and also thought to help
control the appetite.
"The idea of combining the two herbs," says Heymsfield, "is
that there is a positive synergism as there is with
conventional Fen-Phen. But that has yet to be established."
Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, the head of obesity research at St.
Lukes-Roosevelt Medical Center, says he doesn't think Herbal
Phen-Fen should be marketed before research is complete, even
though the company that makes it is paying for the studies.
"I personally think it is a mistake and the public in many
ways is getting bilked into buying substances that we don't
have any evidence that they're working," he says.
Diet pills no substitute for discipline
Barbara Peters, a participant in the study, says she doesn't
know if she's getting a placebo or Herbal Phen-Fen, but she
says she has more willpower than she used to have.
"I walk by temptations I might not have walked by before,"
If research confirms that the herbal version does work,
weight-loss counselors say it is best to use it as an aid to
good discipline, not a substitute for it.
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