Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Physician Can Tell You What's Best 'For You'

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: I ordered a weight-loss drink mix that is organic, but it says I need to consult my doctor first. How do I know if this diet will work and if it's safe? Do I really need to see a doctor?


Dear Reader: Most over-the-counter health products and pharmaceuticals have package warnings asking you to contact your physician prior to use. The same warning is given for exercise programs and dietary supplements. This is because some diet and exercise plans can be harmful to certain people.


Often, a second warning will be listed on the packaging, stating, "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA." In other words, they are not subject to the same rigorous Food and Drug Administration testing that most of our prescription medications are. This means the items may vary in quality and efficacy from product to product, and even from bottle to bottle, despite what the ingredients say.


To determine if a product is safe for you to try and if it may work, I suggest you do call your physician. You may not need an actual appointment. If you have an established relationship with your provider, then he or she likely can discuss your weight-loss reasons and goals over the phone and may be able to determine if a given diet is safe for you.


The key words here are "for you." Diets are not one-size-fits-all. And just as some may not be effective for you, there likely are some that are not safe for you, either.


For example, if you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, a high-protein, high-fat diet likely isn't for you. Such individuals may want to research the Mediterranean Diet, which might be a better alternative.

Another example of an unsafe diet is the HCG diet. HCG is a hormone produced in pregnancy, which is now being used as pills or drops for weight loss. Be sure it's not in your drink mix. Not only is it unsafe, but it actually is illegal as a weight-loss supplement, according to a January 2012 FDA report.


Based on the description of your product, I would ask you to check the label of the drink mix to see if there is protein (such as soy or whey protein) in it. Lean protein will help you curb your hunger, and is part of a balanced diet - along with fruit, vegetables, dairy and nuts.


Since you say the product is organic, you may be less subjected to the artificial flavors and sweeteners of many other meal replacements. However, again, unless it says it is "certified USDA organic," you can't be sure any claims or advertising are true.


Finally, the reason many of these meal-replacement plans work is simply calorie restriction and convenience. You don't need to think about counting calories because they are "pre-packaged."


Is it possible the drink you are mixing is nothing more than chocolate milk and a multi-vitamin? In other words, could you choose a breakfast or lunch with a similar amount of calories but that is less expensive and less, ahem, powdered?


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 06/12/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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