Niki Bezzant: Is this a magic weight-loss pill?

We human beings are always interested in quick fixes, magic solutions, silver bullets.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of weight loss. It’s why we have a thriving multi-billion-dollar diet industry, despite the fact that diets – almost without exception – do not succeed long term in keeping weight off.

The latest weight-loss tool to pop up feels slightly old-fashioned. It’s an appetite suppressant pill, Calocurb, made from an extract of NZ hops and developed by Plant & Food Research and supplement company Lifestream.

Appetite-suppressant drugs have been around for decades. In the 1930s people took something called dinitrophenol, which was taken off the market due to severe side effects and deaths.

In the ’50s and ’60s, amphetamines were prescribed for weight loss.

In the ’70s there was ephedra, which was withdrawn after being found to cause heart problems, stroke and hypertension.

And in the ’90s there was fen-phen, which was wildly popular in the US until it was withdrawn due to serious heart-related side effects.

Calocurb is a natural product, classified as a supplement rather than a drug. The bitter hops extract is said to trigger the release of satiety hormones, signalling the brain that we’re full.

The company has conducted one trial on 19 men, which showed they consumed an average of 238 fewer calories a day while taking the supplement. Further trials on women are underway.

Since Calocurb has been on the market, reports have surfaced of people suffering some side effects. The Calocurb website describes these delicately as “the effects of a mild laxative”.

There’s also been one serious issue: Medsafe has published a report of “a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)” to Calocurb. Whether this will affect the company’s move into the US market remains to be seen.

The wider question remains, though: is a pill the way to long-term weight loss and health?

History would suggest the answer is no. And so would common sense.

There are many reasons why we eat. Only one of those is hunger. We eat for pleasure. We eat for social connection. Some people eat for emotional comfort.

If Calocurb makes you want to eat a little less, great. But I doubt it’s going to suddenly turn you into a healthy eater if you haven’t been one before. Eating less is not the same as eating well.

Calocurb is a promise of the former, but the latter is something we need to develop for ourselves.

You could feasibly lose weight using the product and still have a pretty unhealthy diet and an unhealthy relationship with food.

And as with weight-loss diets, the effects will only last as long as you’re on the diet, or in this case, as long as you take the supplement.

If you have the willpower and budget to do either for life (and assuming there are no long-term side effects) you might be on track to permanent weight loss. But getting healthier takes more than popping a pill.

* Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide.


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