More people than ever are overweight, and I would guess that the percentage of people on diets has gone up proportionally as well. Add the number of dieters who really do need to lose weight to those who diet out of some misguided desire to be skeletal, and you’ve got a lot of people. Weight loss is big business as a result, and companies keep coming out with new and exciting products which claim to put you on the path to slenderness.

Do any of them work? This column and the next will be devoted to this question, and along the way we’ll have a look at some good old-fashioned weight-loss techniques as well.


This fiber, derived from shellfish, has been showing up in weight-loss products for a while now. The premise behind its use: Chitosan binds with fat, then removes the fat from the body, because we cannot absorb the chitosan. Tests on animals have shown the substance to be effective, but as quantities used are much much greater than those recommended for humans — up to 20 times greater — scientists are not convinced of chitosan’s efficacy as a weight-loss aid in humans. Humans apparently have shown little loss of weight with the use of chitosan, though there are those who claim it works for them.


This is an enzyme derived from pineapples. It is known to break down protein and may be used to tenderize meat. It will not break down fat. It will, however, work as a super exfoliator if you apply a little fresh pineapple juice to your skin for 10 minutes (not for sensitive skin though).


Coffee and other caffeine-containing foods, drinks, or chewing gums are supposed to raise your metabolism and enable your body to burn off extra calories. It doesn’t work. Some external products employ caffeine to stimulate the circulation externally — I haven’t seen any evidence either way on this, though some anticellulite-product makers claim it works wonders.

Fucus vesiculosis

Also known as Bladderwrack, this is a seaweed that is used in traditional herbalism to stimulate a sluggish metabolism. I haven’t seen any scientific studies on this, but it is said to be an effective diuretic and gentle laxative. The iodine it contains can help regulate the thyroid, which is sometimes a factor in weight problems. It works against fluid retention and is used both internally and externally.

Diet pens

These aromatherapy pens developed by American neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch may sound like the most farfetched idea of all, but in fact there is apparently some evidence to suggest they might work. They are based on the idea that the urge to eat may be controlled by switching off the satiety center in the brain through the use of specific aromas. One inhales the scent from a pen — one of a set of seven — just before eating, and the desire to eat is supposed to be greatly lessened.

I do not know how widely available these are; I have never come across them myself. I must admit I am skeptical about this one, but I will try to track the product down and investigate it firsthand. Stand by for a full report!

Urtica urens

This is the stinging nettle plant, another traditional herb used in stimulating the metabolism. It acts as a diuretic. A good old-fashioned slimming aid, but you’re not going to shed kilograms overnight using it. It can accompany a sensible diet and exercise program to help speed things along a bit.

St. John’s Wort

This is well known these days as the herbal answer to Prozac. In addition, this herb can apparently help to decrease the appetite due to its tryptophan content — a stimulator of the brain chemical serotonin which contributes to a reduction in the appetite.

A note on some of the complex metabolism-stimulator-cum-diuretics that are on the market: Though some of these can speed up the metabolism to a considerable degree, some people find they become jittery, dizzy, or nauseous when they use them. Certainly, anyone with high blood pressure or a weak heart is advised to stay well away.