Effects of the diet patch?

Dear Alice,

I really need to lose some weight because I am unhappy with the way I look. I have been about the same weight and the same size as long as I can remember, but I know if I can get the weight off, I can keep it off. I exercise regularly and eat a fairly good diet and I don't understand why the weight won't come off. I read about these new diet patches that are ephedera-free and free of harmful substances. They contain fucus vesiculosus and I was wondering if it is harmful and if it will negatively affect my birth control pill. Please write back soon.

Thanks a lot,

Dear BR,

It seems like you're upset with your lack of perceived results even though you stick to a workout regimen and eat a balanced diet. It can be discouraging to work very hard at something and not reach the outcome you desire. It may be helpful to remember that working out regularly and eating right will not only help you get into better shape, but also to be healthy in general. Recently, there are more and more diet patches on the market that advertise fucus vesiculosus, or bladder wrack, as the active ingredient. While theoretically possible, there's no scientific evidence that substantiates that it could support weight loss or that using this alga for weight loss is safe.

Fucus vesiculosus is a brown algae found primarily in the North Sea, the western Baltic Sea, and the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The main component in fucus vesiculosus that could potentially be related to weight loss is iodine, which manufacturers claim will stimulate the thyroid gland to speed up metabolism. However, there isn't evidence to indicate that this translates to weight loss. Additionally, there's also no substantial research that suggests fucus vesiculosus will have an effect, negative or positive, on your birth control. The few studies that have been done on the effects of this alga suggest that it could be harmful to people with particular medical conditions, such as those with with diabetes or heart problems, as it could negatively affect insulin levels and cause heart palpitations. 

When it comes to diet patches as whole, it's helpful to remember that these are considered dietary supplements by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, they're not regulated by the FDA in the same ways that other medicines and prescription drugs are. While they're required to be labeled as a dietary supplement, there are no requirements from the FDA that the supplements provide safety data or that the marketing claims on the products be proven true. There have also been instances where the ingredients on the label are missing or are present in different amounts than advertised. While the FDA will take some action if there are reports of negative effects, there is significantly less oversight of dietary supplements than there are of other substances. Due to this, it's wise to investigate the claims and discuss with a health care provider each dietary supplement you're considering using. 

Overall, you may want to be wary about diet patches and other "miracle" weight loss products. Some of these products state that they'll visibly change your appearance starting within a few days. Unfortunately, this claim appears scientifically impossible. What does seem to be evident is that those who do begin to lose weight do so solely based on improved nutrition and exercise regimens, which the manufacturers of diet patches recommend be used in conjunction with them. A wise person once said, "If a product’s claim seems too good to be true, it probably is." You may also want to reflect a bit more on why you're interested in losing weight. You mention that you're unhappy with the way you look — do you know where that comes from? Could there be other ways you make adjustments to your appearance that help you feel better without changing your body (changes in clothes, hairstyle, etc.)? Thinking about where these feelings are rooted may also help you make a decision that could address the primary cause of those feelings. 

If after checking in with yourself, you still feel that weight loss is the best option for you, you can check out the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition and Physical Activity archives for more information on balanced diets and physical activity.

Last updated Mar 25, 2022
Originally published Feb 10, 2006

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