Does the Sensa Diet Really Work?

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What if you could lose 30 pounds in six months – more than a pound a week – without dieting or exercising? All you have to do is pepper your food with a special powder.

That’s the claim of Sensa, an appetite suppressant that hit the market a few years ago and has recently been advertised on TV. But do you buy it? And would you spend $354 for a six-month supply?

Hopefully not before doing some homework…

The claim

The product: Sensa was created by Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist who founded the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation and authored “What's Your Food Sign? How to Use Food Cues to Find True Love.”

According to Sensa’s How It Works page, the calorie-free product enhances your sense of smell, which helps your scent receptors more quickly signal to your brain that you are full. As a result, “you eat less and feel more satisfied.”

The proof: The Sensa FAQs state that Hirsch conducted a study of 1,436 people, who lost an average of 30.5 pounds in six months using Sensa – and were not asked to change their diet or exercise routine.

The truth

The product: There’s nothing unique about Sensa’s known ingredients…

  1. “Maltodextrin (Derived from Corn from the USA)”: This food additive can be found in lots of processed foods, in which it may be used for texture or flavor (it’s a little sweet) or simply as a filler. The body quickly breaks it down as glucose, or sugar.
  2. “Tricalcium Phosphate”: This food additive is a mineral commonly used as an anticaking agent.
  3. “Silica”: Also known as silicon dioxide – and sand – this food additive is commonly used to help powdered foods flow without clumping. Health magazine named it among the 18 Most Sickening Food Ingredients.
  4. “Natural and Artificial Flavors”: The Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to list exact flavorings (they can just say “flavors”), and Hirsch has chosen to keep his secret: “The exact combinations of the Sensa blends are proprietary and patent-pending,” says the Sensa FAQs. But whatever it is, Sensa can’t contain much of it: Because this ingredient is listed last, it means Sensa contains less of it than any other ingredient.

The proof: The Sensa website conveniently omitted the fact that Hirsch’s study was not published in any peer-reviewed journals, which essentially means the scientific community doesn’t recognize it as valid.

The website also contradicts itself: While numerous pages boast that diet and exercise are not required, the How It Works page says, “Sensa and Dr. Hirsch advocate a healthy lifestyle consisting of portion control and a regular exercise regimen.”

Lastly, Sensa has been around a few years. If it worked as well as promised, you probably would have heard about it from someone besides celebrity spokespeople.

The bottom line

Sensa is a great illustration of a principle we cite often: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Especially given what we now know about Sensa, it’s more logical that the product is marketing malarkey rather than a miracle discovery.

Even the experts agree that there’s still only one key to healthy weight loss…

Until more research is done to support the link between smell and weight loss, many experts recommend sticking to traditional weight loss plans that involve eating less and exercising more. —WebMD

Skip the scents and focus on what’s proven to work – reducing the calories you eat and increasing the calories you burn through exercise. —Mayo Clinic

That may not be what you wanted to hear, but hey, at least you won’t blow $354 coming to the same conclusion.

Karla Bowsher worked in health care for 10 years before going into journalism. She covers health, consumer, and retail issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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