Investigative report: Quick fix? Serious complications

It is easy to be charmed by the idea of rapid weight loss, but the easy path is not always the right one. Weight loss is a complex process and a human body needs time to adapt to the changes. Losing too much weight too quickly or taking extreme measures can put an individual’s health in danger and result in some unpleasant side effects.

In this report, The Peninsula explores how online businesses make misleading claims about weight loss and some people travel abroad for bariatric surgeries and return with complications. What are the wrong practices followed by individuals who try to lose weight quickly and what are the experts’ views are also covered in it?

The Issue
Genetic, psychological, sociocultural, economic, and environmental factors can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Gaining weight is associated with several related conditions such as some people appear to be genetically susceptible to weight gain and obesity, while others experience strong food cravings or addiction. This especially applies to sugar-sweetened, high-fat junk foods which stimulate the reward centres in the brain, high insulin levels and insulin resistance are linked to the development of obesity. 

To lower insulin levels, one must reduce the intake of refined carbs and eat more fiber. Some medications may promote weight gain by reducing the number of calories burned or increasing appetite. Leptin, an appetite-reducing hormone, doesn’t work in many individuals who have obesity, according to a publication by Harvard Medical School.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight for height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. BMI is a value derived from the mass (weight) and height of a person. When the BMI reading ranges between 25 and 29.5, the individual is classified as overweight. Individuals with a body mass index of 30 or more are considered to have obesity while those with a BMI of 40 or higher are considered to have severe obesity.

Unhealthy practices
Health experts agree that making lifestyle changes—including following a healthy dietary pattern, reducing caloric intake, and engaging in physical activity—is the basis for achieving long-term weight loss. But because making diet and lifestyle changes can be difficult, many people turn to dietary supplements promoted for weight loss in the hope that these products will help them more easily achieve their weight-loss goals. Also, there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending herbal and dietary supplements to help people to lose weight.

Unhealthy weight loss practices can become popular for various reasons like misinformation, pressure from society, quick results, lack of knowledge etc.

Weight loss supplements
The manufacturers of weight loss products make extravagant promises about the properties of their drugs, but most of these claims are not backed up by clinical research. The drugs that promise to help shed pounds or burn fat may hold hidden dangers to health. Despite the risks of using weight loss supplements, the supply and demand for these products continue to rise.

Scientific research has not borne out such claims.

The Peninsula learnt that some oral supplements sold as weight loss tools get into the country under the label of dietary supplements.

“Such supplements are a multi-billion industry all over the world and the problem is that they come as dietary supplements and get approved. There is no restriction on dietary supplements and people bring such things here and sell them. It’s a dietary supplement and not a medicine or tool for weight loss and people should understand this,” Dr. Buthaina Ibrahim said at a press conference on an earlier occasion, speaking in her role as a Senior Consultant Diabetes and Endocrinology Department and a member of Qatar Metabolic Institute at Hamad Medical Corporation.

Weight loss supplements or fat burners sold online can be dangerous for several reasons, including lack of regulation, contamination, false claims, interactions with medication, and unknown long-term effects.

Bariatric surgery
Bariatric surgery is a type of weight loss surgery that involves making changes to the digestive system to help people lose weight. Like any surgery, bariatric surgery carries risks, and patients must meet certain requirements before undergoing the procedure to ensure their safety and improve their chances of success.

If a person undergoes bariatric surgery without meeting the requirements, there can be significant dangers and negative consequences.

Weight loss supplements come in a variety of forms, including pills, gummies, powders, and liquids, like teas. Sellers of these supplements claim that their products help lose weight by blocking the absorption of fat or carbohydrates, curbing the appetite, or speeding up metabolism.

When The Peninsula contacted some online weight loss supplement sellers, all of them claimed their products are safe and effective. One of them said the product is a very effective and easy-to-follow nine-day cleansing programme that will give the tools needed to start transforming the body from day one of the use.

Another vendor said that the product is a one-stop-shop for health and weight loss. He also claimed that a person will start seeing results within 15 days and advised to take it for two months. They said the product is made of natural ingredients and is in a liquid soft gel form. 

An online vendor selling a plant-based supplement claimed that the product works great to get rid of excess visceral fat, tone up any flabbiness, and speed up metabolism. Weight loss supplement vendors often tout fast and easy weight loss with a promise and many tend to take the promise seriously.

“I tried diet pills because I wanted fast results. I went for trying to be skinny as quickly as I could. I found these tablets online and it was really easy to get hold of them. I got them delivered the next day,” said *Natasha, 35 years old.

Although she was not getting the promised result from the online vendor, Natasha has to take fewer calories and it was becoming a gateway to what could have turned into an eating disorder.

“In terms of physical side effects, I was feeling light-headed. I felt unwell as I was eating less and I was getting heart palpitations,” she said.   

Another Doha resident who has bought weight loss supplements online said that she spent around QR600 and the result was disappointing.

“I spent QR600 for two packets of weight loss tea packets. I was instructed by the seller to drink in the morning and night for two weeks, claiming it to be a very effective natural weight loss supplement. But I didn’t get results. When I asked the seller they said to buy the second level of the supplement which will cost around QR1,000. I didn’t buy it,” she said.   

*Laima who has also spent over QR500 for an herbal weight loss supplement said the ingredients mentioned on the label included green coffee beans, green tea, turmeric, and other herbal items. “The seller instructed me to mix it with hot water and drink it 15 minutes before the meal. After a few days, I felt like my appetite was suppressed, and started to get nausea and coughing. I immediately stopped using it,” she said.

Laima said that she has stopped looking for quick results and now following a diet and regular exercise as advised by a dietitian.

Expert advice
It is always best to talk to a doctor or clinical dietitian before following any weight loss process, especially if a person has any medical conditions or is taking any medications. The dietitian can help a person follow the best approach for achieving a healthy weight, according to clinical dietitian, Hamad Medical Corporation’s Hazm Mebaireek General Hospital, Sibusiso Kutama.

“If anyone wants to lose weight, they should consult a physician or seek help from a dietitian,” he insisted.

“It is important to understand that healthy weight loss is a gradual process that involves making changes to diet and exercise habits. 

“Unhealthy weight loss practices can have serious health consequences, including malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to the heart and other organs. If an individual is concerned about weight, it is best to talk to a doctor or a registered dietitian who can help develop a safe and effective weight loss plan,” said Kutama.

Kutama said that only very little scientific evidence is available on how weight-loss supplements work.

“Very few high-quality studies have been done on some supplements, with little data on long-term safety and effectiveness. Many trials are small and poorly designed, and some don’t report on the composition of the supplements being investigated,” he said.

According to Kutama, some weight loss supplements sold online may even contain ingredients banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US.

He also cautioned against taking dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals without a physician’s consultation.

“Some dietary supplements are sold over the counter but people should consult a physician and find if they require taking it,” said Kutama, adding that such supplements are not an alternative to a balanced diet. While some medicines are prescribed for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol.

Kutama emphasised that prescription weight loss medicines can help obese people lose weight. They are usually prescribed by a doctor when diet and exercise alone are not working.

Bariatric surgery, a treatment that involves operating on the stomach and/or intestines, is an option for obese people who are unable to lose weight by other means or have serious obesity-related problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the long-term success of this procedure also depends largely on the commitment of the patient to the prescribed post-operative medication, diet, and exercise regime.

Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Center at Hamad Medical Corporation is one of the largest centers specialising in obesity treatment and bariatric surgery in the world, as it has steadily continued to expand since 2011 to provide integrated, evidence-based medical services at the highest international standards.

At HMC bariatric surgeries are performed at Hamad General Hospital and the Al Wakra Hospital. They have performed more than 10,000 surgeries since 2011; among that 703 conducted in 2022.

However, many people, especially those who don’t meet the criteria for bariatric surgery go abroad for the procedure.

HMC warns against undergoing bariatric surgeries, such as sleeve gastrectomy or gastric bypass, in unreliable medical centers abroad due to the adverse effects associated with these procedures if performed in unsafe medical conditions.

Experts warned that several patients who underwent bariatric surgeries abroad were recently admitted for follow-up treatment after suffering severe complications due to surgical errors and received treatment at Hamad General Hospital.

Consultant of Metabolic, Bariatric, and Robotic Surgery at HMC, Dr. Jassim Fakhro said, “We are giving many messages and warning against doing bariatric surgeries outside Qatar.”

He called on patients wishing to perform bariatric surgeries abroad to take necessary measures to check if the surgery is essential, the expertise and skills of the surgeon who will perform the surgery, as well as the level of quality at the medical center where the operation will be performed.

“Most people go outside the country and undergo bariatric surgery because they fail to meet the requirements,” said Dr. Fakhro, adding that some individuals go abroad for the surgery without the knowledge of their family.  

“Most of the cases we see with post-surgery complications are coming from outside. The causes we don’t know, if the surgeon is certified and qualified or they using quality products during the surgery – which play a major role,” he said.

Dr. Fakhro said that HMC has recorded the lowest rate of post-bariatric surgery complications in the world. 

The complications that these patients suffered after undergoing bariatric surgery abroad include gastric leakage, bleeding, and septicemia, which can be life-threatening.

The tremendous growth in the weight loss supplement and surgery industry and the popularity of these underscore the urgency for conducting larger, more rigorous studies to have reasonable assurance of their safety and effectiveness for weight loss. Online sales of weight loss supplements should be regulated. Also, it calls for individuals to take responsibility for their health, and safety and follow the right path.

Note: *Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.


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