Patti Stanger's Diet Product Based On Dubious Science

Last Updated Oct 14, 2011 2:21 PM EDT

"Millionaire Matchmaker" Patti Stanger's diet product Sensa is drawing complaints from consumers who can't get the company to stop charging their credit cards. And the science behind the product -- you sprinkle Sensa on your food and allegedly lose weight -- isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's yet another case of a celebrity courting legal problems under the FTC's new regulations that hold stars accountable for the products they endorse:

Sensa costs $90 for the first month. But it's difficult to cancel the program if you don't like it, according to Gawker. Complaints about unauthorized credit card charges can also be found here and here and here.

"Clinically proven"?
Stanger claims Sensa is "clinically proven," but the web site's small print notes that the level of proof is low:

As a food product, FDA approval is not required for SENSA®. All SENSA® ingredients are on the FDA designation list of GRAS - Generally Recognized as Safe.
Generally, if a product is not FDA-approved it means the science behind it just isn't good enough. (If it was good enough, you'd want the FDA to say so, right?).

Sensa's ingredients sound science-y -- maltodextrin, tricalcium Phosphate, silica, and others -- but you don't have to spend too much time on Wikipedia to figure out that you're paying $90 to sprinkle corn sugar, salt, sand, artificial flavoring, soy, and milk products on your food.

Sensa claims that the salt-and-sugar sprinkles make eaters feel more sated more quickly, thus reducing their desire to over-eat. A study by Dr. Alan Hirsch, widely touted on the web site, claims that 1,436 test subjects lost lost an average of 30.5 pounds in six months.

41 percent give up on the product
In fact, the results were not that spectacular. Hirsch did three studies (a pilot and two others), none of which have been published in respected peer-reviewed media on PubMed. That's a red flag. And just try finding the 1,436-subject study online: It ain't easy. This poster abstract shows that the study began with 2,437 participants, 41 percent of whom dropped out before the results were tallied. Given that the subjects were overweight, weighed before they started and told to sprinkle the stuff on their food, it would not have been too difficult for them to figure out that they were in a weight-loss experiment. On the same data, you could argue that all that Hirsch appears to have found is that only 59 percent of overweight people are really, really determined to lose weight.

If Hirsch could show through a repeated, large, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in a respected peer review journal that sprinkling more salt and sugar on your food makes you eat less and lose weight, then this would be an extremely interesting piece of news. To do that, however, he would have to sprinkle Sensa on their food for six months without them knowing.

Until that happens, you can assume the main affect of Stanger's Sensa product will be to make your wallet lighter, not your body.