body image · diets · weight loss

Raspberry Ketone, Pure Green Coffee Extract, Garcinia Cambogia, Weight Loss, and the Fallacy of Appealing to Authority

raspberriesMy usually skeptical husband forwarded me an email message late last week with the subject “weight loss.” It contained a short video of Dr. Oz endorsing pure green coffee bean extract as a miracle weight loss potion.  My husband’s question to me:  “what do you think?”

The clip I watched showed an enthusiastic Dr. Oz with the creator of the product.  Oz declared it a weight loss miracle.  When I went back to the link a few days later, the link led me to something different. This time, Dr. Oz was interviewing someone about a different weight loss miracle:  Garcinia Cambogia.  Apparently it’s also an amazing fat burner! Like pure green coffee bean extract, this product is supposed to result in weight loss without any changes to diet or activity.

Neither the green coffee bean extract page or the garcinia cambogia page would let me leave them without not one but two pop-ups asking me if I was sure I wanted to leave that page.

Dr. Oz has also spoken highly of “raspberry ketone.”  Available in pill-form (because you’d have to eat NINETY pounds of raspberries to get the appropriate “dose”), raspberry ketone is no less than “a fat-burner in a bottle,” according to Dr. Oz.

His website states that “research has shown that raspberry ketone can help in your weight-loss efforts, especially when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet of healthy and whole foods.”  I love the addendum “especially when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet…”

I think I will stick to the regular exercise and healthy whole foods and save myself the $180 for a 90-day supply.

Most reviews of these products that I’ve read have questioned the research.  A Globe and Mailarticle notes that the study on which the main claims about green coffee bean extract were based involved very few participants. Moreover, participants also lost weight during the placebo phase of the trial.

A Canadian Livingarticle on raspberry ketone notes that so far mice have been the only research subjects. Both articles quoted credible MDs claiming that, surprise, surprise: There are no magic solutions!

From the Globe and Mail: “Usually when studies break the physical laws of the universe, there’s usually something wrong with the study itself,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute, who writes Weighty Matters, a popular blog on nutrition issues.

I haven’t linked to Dr. Oz’s website and I am not going to say a lot more about these products. Both his site and the products are easy to find on the internet.

What I do want to say is this: there is a well-known fallacy that we learn about in philosophy called “the appeal to authority.”  Appealing to authority is not a good strategy for those seeking truth claims. Just because some authority like Dr. Oz said it’s true doesn’t mean it’s true. Of course we do not need to dismiss the claims of experts. Good science is based on sound studies that have undergone peer review and are based on approved methodologies and ample evidence.

Unfortunately, Dr. Oz is not an expert in most of what he goes on about. And yet he is accepted as an authority by countless people. His stamp of approval on some product or health claim is taken as gospel by many people.  It boosts sales the way Oprah’s endorsement of books used to (perhaps still does) have undue influence in the publishing industry.

This is not to say that everything he says is false. It is only to say that just because he said it doesn’t make it true. We need more evidence than that.

But the medical community has long told us that there are no magic pills for weight loss. Dr. Oz’s claims about these miracle weight loss products are just plain irresponsible, given his level of influence.

I’ve heard all sorts of claims about this and that miracle food or product. When I was a teenager, people took caffeine pills to lose weight. As an undergraduate, smoking cigarettes was the thing.  At one time or another, the special powers of cabbage, grapefruit, and bananas took centre stage in the weight loss culture.  Now it’s more likely to be raspberry ketone, pure green coffee bean extract,  or garcinia cambogia.

And I haven’t even touched on fad diets like eating for your blood type (based on totally ungrounded claims), the lemon-cayenne pepper-maple syrup-water detox, or any variant of a low carb/high protein plan (my first diet—circa 1980—was the Scarsdale diet, a high protein low carb plan that people loved because you got to eat “plenty of steak” for dinner).

If healthy and sustainable weight loss is what you are seeking, none of these supplements or plans will work. They are not sustainable ways of eating for the rest of your life.  And like the claim about raspberry ketone, pair anything with regular exercise and healthy eating and you’re good to go.

No magic and no surprises. As Globe and Mail reporter Carly Weeks says in her evaluation of raspberry ketone, the bottom line hasn’t much changed: “While the promise of the synthetic compound sounds alluring, the best way of losing weight hasn’t changed: It’s still diet and exercise.”

I would only add that “diet” shouldn’t be taken to mean “diets,” those restricted eating plans designed to lose weight. Diets don’t work.  In this context we should understand “diet” to mean simply the way we eat on a regular basis.  We talk a lot on our blog about why weight loss alone is not a great measure of fitness and why we’re not big fans of dieting. Also here and here.

Just to reiterate:  “Dr. Oz said it” is not a reason on which you can base a strong conclusion. In philosophy we call that an appeal to authority, and it’s a fallacy.

19 thoughts on “Raspberry Ketone, Pure Green Coffee Extract, Garcinia Cambogia, Weight Loss, and the Fallacy of Appealing to Authority

  1. A friend of mine sent me a link to that Dr Oz piece the other day. Her comment? The “before” photos of women photographed (only the mid section of their bodies were shown) looked ok. The “after” photos looked as though they had anorexia. I agree with you Tracy. It’s better to eat a healthy diet than to take supplements.

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  2. I feel like I regularly see Dr. Oz on this TV show or that magazine cover touting some new weight loss “miracle.” I imagine it’s great for his bank account, as the thirst for weight loss “miracles” in this country never seems to cease, but you’ve got to wonder about the guy’s ethics. At least, I do.

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  3. I just stumbled onto your blog and pretty much whole heartedly agree with what you’ve stated. In fact the thing that lead me here was doing a google search to find other people that seemed to have also noticed that every few weeks Dr. Oz seems to be spouting off about the next miracle cure – without ever even acknowledging, of course, that he was just talking about another (different) miracle cure just a few days earlier. So which is it Dr. Oz? Is the new miracle the “real” miracle or was it the last one? And if it wasn’t the last one, how come you were so sure only to be fooled again (props to pete townsend & co, of course)… his credibility should be more than a bit strained by now – but he’s on TV, A freaking DOCTOR (they never lie for their self serving interest do they?) so people (women, sadly for the most part) will just continue to lick it up – what ever comes out of this idiot’s mouth…

    I would point out that there is some “near science” with some of this. For example, there is a known relationship between adiponectin levels and fat metabolism and insulin resistance. The connection between adiponectin levels and raspberry keytone consumption on the other hand is a little less scientific. There are some absolutely known ways to increase adiponectin levels that include, as you’ve mentioned, including eating a better diet (which many if not most nutritionist, with real scientific support, increasingly indicate includes drastic reduction in both sugar based and wheat based carbs and starches) and exercise.

    Keep up the good work!

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  4. I ran across your blog from this Google search: “raspberry ketone diet same as garcinia cambogia?” I clicked an ad (my first mistake) for the latter and thought, “WOW!” But I decided to check it out some more. When I googled the magazine writer’s name, I got the raspberry ketone ad. It looked exactly like the garcinia cambogia ad, only “garcinia cambogia” had been replaced with “raspberry ketone diet.” That’s when I googled the search phrase that led me to your blog. I know there is no quick fix, but it’s comforting to think there might be. I’ve got a lot of weight to lose and I guess I’ll just have to do it with a balanced diet and exercise, just as you say. Thanks for your blog.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Allison. We post a lot about shifting our attitudes about goals in a way that helps us maintain enthusiasm for our training and develop manageable and sustainable ways of thinking about food, eating, and body composition. Good luck with finding an approach that works for you. 🙂

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  5. So, I have a biochemistry degree, and to me “ketone” is a very generic term. Like, it can be any organic molecule with a carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom somewhere in its structure.

    I have often wondered just what a raspberry ketone is, for this reason. Is it any and all ketones found in raspberries, extracted and concentrated in pill form? Or is it one or two types of ketones in particular?

    And why do they have to be from raspberries??

    I AM SO CONFUSED.

    (I know it’s total bullshit, but I still want to know the answers to my questions. Maybe I will write a post on it, if I can stomach what I will most likely find if I google “raspberry ketones”.)

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  6. The effects of Raspberry Ketones on humans and fat loss have not been fully researched, studied and tested. Raspberry Ketones have been in many diet supplements for years. However, there have been no clinical studies that support the effectiveness of Raspberry Ketones on weight loss. All evidence presented is simply testimonials of people who have tried the pill.

    The problem with testimonials is that it is more subjective than it is scientific; not very different from pills of placebo effect.

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  7. I wish I had read all of this before I bought my 4 bottles. I was hoping this was the miracle pill I was looking for. Silly me, I should have known better. Its just that my body is’nt too bad proportionally BUT over the years there has been an increase of happy little fat cells making my tummy their home and I have tried everything including a healthy diet that did absolutely nothing across that part of the body. Perhaps its an age thing. Its like family, it just hangs on till I turn up my toes.

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  8. Hi shae deschenes,
    your comment is very nice.
    Water is the most abundant substance in the human body. It is a component of virtually everything, except tooth enamel and bone. We are about 70% WATER, 25% PROTEIN and 5% MINERALS.

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