Israel Health Ministry Issues Warning Against Heavily Advertised Low Energy Diet

Memorandum issued by the head of public health services says extremely low calorie diets usually include a supplement that is supposed to reduce appetite and weight, and constitute a health hazard.

The Health Ministry has issued an official warning against low energy diets recently advertised in various media outlets, which offer a menu including less than 500 calories a day.

According to a memorandum issued by the head of public health services in the ministry, Professor Itamar Grotto, these extremely low calorie diets usually include a supplement that is supposed to reduce appetite and weight, constitute constitutes a health hazard.

The main target of the memorandum is the hCG diet, marketed in the web as a "fast diet" or "knock-out diet," which includes a supplement imitating a hormone called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, which is found in Algae and beets. The hormone is naturally produced during pregnancy and is used as a prescription medicine in fertility treatments. Several firms in Israel market the supplement to be used in fast diets, with the recommendation that claims it significantly reduces the daily consumption of calories.

According to the Health Ministry, "consumption of the supplement is accompanied by directives to adopt extreme nutrition habits, without changing destructive life style habits. According to the ministry's recommendations, the healthy and reasonable way to lose weight includes a balanced diet, sports and realistic goals. Fast low-calorie diets, with or without the supplements, include recommendations which could be dangerous to the public."

The Health Ministry's warning comes in the footsteps of the FDA warning against the diet. The warning, which was issued in December 2011, was aimed at the seven firms marketing the diet in the U.S., and determined that the diet products included illegal homeopathic preparations that did not receive the FDA's authorization, as well as claim to have medicinal qualities without any scientific backing. According to the FDA the diets constitute a health hazard, since they significantly disrupt the body's metabolism and expose the users to increased danger of Gall stones, and create an imbalance of the electrolytes that supervise the function of muscles, the nerve system and disruptions of heart beats. So far, the ministry has not received any complaints following the use of the diet, but according to Grotto, "there is a potential risk of future damage as a result of the diet." In August 2011, researchers from Arizona reported a case of a 15-year-old girl that used the diet and then developed the Wilson Syndrome, which is usually known as a hereditary syndrome, leading to liver damage, following accumulation of copper in the liver.

The hCG hormone was first marketed as a diet product in the 1950's but then disappeared from the market in the 1970's, after research failed to offer evidence that it consistently helped with weight reducton, only to resurface recently. Grotto's warning calls on professionals, including doctors and dieticians, to advise their patients not to use the supplements. "The messages of these diets cannot be proven, and might even mislead the public and harm the health of those carrying out extreme diets. Misleading the public is even worse, since it is said that there is no need to exercise due to the supplement, a message that severs even more the process of the muscle tissue dilution," Grotto warned.

The ministry began its debate of the hCG diet more than six months ago in a committee which was put together to discuss the public’s deception over the diet. The committee's chairman, Dr. Tal Lavi, warned in December 2011 that two firms marketing the diet in Israel were advertising the diet on the Internet in a way that describes it as offering a "comprehensive solution to extra weight," "liquidation of all superfluous fat" and "an average reduction of 200-500 grams every day."