With more than 50% of women and 29% of men in South Africa suffering from overweight or obesity, it is understandable that there are many adults in South Africa who are desperate to lose weight.
These often frustrated people are an ideal target for weight loss scamsand the South African market overflows with instant slimming solutions ranging from dubious diet pills to thermogenic stimulants to wonder diets to equipment supposedly designed to make fat melt away.
No regulatory safeguards
South African consumers are particularly vulnerable because we have so few checks and balances in place to prevent fraudulent advertising and the sale of dubious products related to the weight loss industry.
There is at present very little regulation of the highly lucrative slimming aid market in place in our country.
Practically anyone can import or make concoctions or sell gadgets that are supposed to ensure weight loss, even if there is no evidence that such products will have any effect on slimming.
In the absence of clear-cut laws and regulations, the only avenue open to us to prevent the public from being duped, is to lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The Alcat case
Late last year, the ASA ruled that the evidence in support of the claims for the Alcat were inadequate to justify the claims being made for the product (Adsa, 2009).
Now the Alcat (Antigen Leucocyte Cellular Antibody Test) is advertised as a system to test a person’s reaction to different commonly eaten foods and chemicals, which are supposed to cause food intolerances, sensitivities or delayed food allergies.
According to the Alcat website, “a tremendous number of health problems have been linked to food intolerances such as migraines and chronic headaches, aching joints and frank arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders (including IBS, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis), chronic and unexplained fatigue, eczema and chronic skin disorders, hyperactivity or other varieties of ADD, obesity and unexplained weight gain, asthma”. (Alcat, 2010).
The Alcat, therefore, claims to predict which foods are responsible for the above mentioned list of conditions, of which obesity is probably their most popular application.
‘Waste of money’
In a press release to dieticians, the Association for Dietetics in SA (Adsa, 2009), points out that according to the ASA ruling, Alcat may not continue to advertise in any medium (radio, print, television, websites, etc), that the Alcat is able to assist in the diagnosis or management of the conditions previously listed.
The press release also encourages dieticians to inform their patients, who may be contemplating being tested with the Alcat system, that this is a costly but unsubstantiated diagnostic product (Adsa, 2009).
In other words, dieticians need to let their patients know that the use of the Alcat is basically a waste of money.
Implicit in the Adsa warning is also the admonition that health professionals such as dieticians and doctors should not use the Alcat to dupe their patients.
Lack of logic
The claims published on the Alcat website, which is still in operation despite the ASA ruling, state that the use of the system “is often accompanied by significant weight loss” (Alcat, 2010).
The website also promises that once an individual has been tested and their so-called allergies, intolerances and sensitivities have been identified, they “can reasonably look forward to a loss of between 5 and 15% of their total body weight without calorie restriction, or an increase in their exercise routine” - a tempting promise for anyone who is struggling to lose weight.
The weight loss is explained in terms of improved metabolism, caused by the fact that “your body is no longer fighting with your food” and decreased water retention.
Anyone who views these statements from a logical point of view must realise that if the Alcat supposedly identifies a long list of unsubstantiated allergens in your diet and you then cut these foods out, you are actually reducing your food and energy intake and that this causes the weight loss, not the fact that “your body is no longer fighting with your food” (a statement which must take first prize for unscientific writing!).
Of course you will lose weight if you cut out a whole range of foods, but what the promoters of the Alcat don’t mention, is that their machine does not test for true allergies and that you may well be avoiding foods that you are not allergic or sensitive to, and that this avoidance can lead to deficiencies over time.
Tips to avoid being duped
As the distributors of Alcat don’t seem to be reacting to the ASA ruling, and the majority of health professionals who bought this expensive system are not going to stop using it on the unsuspecting public, you need to be aware and vigilant that you don’t waste time and money on this scam.
Keep the following tips in mind:
- If you consult a health professional about any of the myriad conditions listed above or for weight loss, and they suggest that you should be tested with the Alcat in their rooms, then firmly say “No”
- If you suspect that you may suffer from a true food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity, ask your medical doctor to send you for the proper tests which will be conducted at an accredited pathology laboratory
- Do not let yourself be duped into undergoing an Alcat test, rather use the money to join a good gym where you can exercise to stimulate your metabolism and promote weight loss
There is no magic solution to weight loss, but you can achieve a great deal by using a sensible balanced, energy-reduced diet, that does not cause deficiencies, together with exercise to lose those kilos.
(References: Adsa, 2009. Alcat ASA Ruling. Adsa Newsletter, December 2009; Alcat, 2010)
(Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, January 2010)