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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.

vxtreme CNN's Dan Rutz reports.

"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 for himself.

"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 disorder.

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," she says.

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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