Our web host has just received a threatening note from an “alleged” representative of the makers of Phenocal, alleging that with our review, we have infringed on their trademark and are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You can read the letter and our response to it here. Today, we received a similar notice from our registrar and a PDF file, which you can review here. Accordingly, we’ve added Phenocal’s parent company, Synetgy LLC, to our “Wall of Shame” along with a list of other companies that have used threats of bogus lawsuits to try to intimidate us.
Update: We had to “disappear” this review from view for a while, because of the bogus DMCA allegation. Our domain name registrar, Dotster, was happy to throw us “under the bus”, putting the onus on us to prove that the accusation was bogus. Instead of doing this, we moved UltimateFatBurner.com to an international registrar, one that is not subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA is a U.S. law, not an International one). More on the whole sordid affair here!
The Phenocal™ “rapid weight loss” diet pill promises a whole myriad of the usual benefits, including…
- Increased energy levels
- Elevated metabolism
- Suppressed appetite
- Maximized diet and exercise results
… and so on. But, despite all the talk of “synergistically balanced all-natural ingredients that will produce accelerated fat shredding weight loss results”, Phenocal™ isn’t really anything particularly special or new. And it ain’t particularly cheap either; a single bottle retails for $44!
So what’s in Phenocal™?
That’s a good question, so let’s check it out!…
The first problem with Phenocal is that it contains a lot of ingredients (16 in total, athough several are B vitamins), several of which need to be present in multi-gram doses to be effective.
What’s the importance of this?
Well, the logistics of capsule and serving size limit the amount of ingredient that any product can contain. And, since the effectiveness of individual ingredients is dose dependent, this guarantees that some of the ingredients simply cannot be present in a dose high enough to elicit any effect.
And of course, there’s another problem too; the retailers do not reveal the dosage or standardization of most of the included ingredients which makes it impossible to assess which ones are present at an effective dose or not.
This makes it extremely difficult for both us (and the consumer) to determine whether this product delivers good value for the money.
The principal ingredients in Phenocal are…
1. B Vitamins: It’s not uncommon to see B vitamins in weight loss products, since they are essential to proper cell metabolism. What is unclear, however, just how much benefit these offer to individuals who are not suffering from a deficiency, which is uncommon in North America. This formula also contains Vitamin B12, which according to the retailers…
“… is well known for the energy boost it provides, which can make completing that grueling, calorie-burning workout possible.”
2. Chromium: Helpful for its role in insulin function, evidence validating chromium’s effectiveness for weight loss is contradictory, with some studies showing a positive effect, and others none at all.
3. Fucoxanthin: Fucoxanthin is a carotenoid present in seaweed and other marine vegetables. There is a small amount of promising animal-based evidence that indicates fucoxanthin is useful for weight loss (see Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Jul 1;332(2):392-7, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:196-9). A single, Russian study also documented weight loss (approx. 5kg/16 weeks) in pre-menopausal women taking Xanthigen – a mixture of fucoxanthin and pomegranate seed oil.
There may be another problem too; the low bioavailability of fucoxanthin. This study (see Br J Nutr. 2008 Aug;100(2):273-7) concluded…
… results indicated that the plasma response to dietary epoxyxanthophylls was very low in humans even after 1-week intake of epoxyxanthophyll-rich diets.”
The question then becomes…
If the human body has difficulty accessing this compound, how effective can it be as a fat burner?
It would be tempting to think that the makers of Phenocal have found a solution to this (potential) problem: add a thumping lot of fucoxanthin – 100mg - so that even if only a small percentage is absorbed, it’s more than enough.
The only problem is that this amount – which is prominently displayed on the Phenocal web site – simply cannot be believed.
Here’s the deal: the human weight loss study that propelled fucoxanthin into the spotlight used Xanthigen as the source. Xanthigen isn’t even close to being a pure fucoxanthin supplement: the 600 mg of Xanthigen used in the study provided only 2.4mg of this compound. This isn’t too different from what other, commercial extracts provide, like Bellalean or ThinOgen, which provide up to 5% fucoxanthin.
If the Xanthigen study is anything to go by, it does not take much fucoxanthin to have an effect.
So does Phenocal really contain 100mg of fucoxanthin?
I seriously doubt it – there is zero scientific justification for this… not to mention, a distinct lack of supplement ingredient suppliers selling pure fucoxanthin. It’s much more likely that Phenocal contains 100mg of brown seaweed extract that’s (hopefully!) standardized for 1% – 5% fucoxanthin… although it’s quite telling that the makers of Phenocal don’t seem to know the difference.
So much for “…we know the exact strength of the active compounds in each and every capsule in every bottle of Phenocal.”
4. Glucomannan: An unabsorbable polysaccharide derived from the konjac root (in other words, it’s a fiber source).
Several clinical studies validate glucomannan’s ability to lower LDL cholesterol and blood lipid levels — as well as blood sugar levels (see J Am Coll Nutr. 2003 Feb;22(1):36-42, Diabetes Care. 2000 Jan;23(1):9-14., Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2005 Jun;15(3):174-80)
There also appears to be some preliminary evidence that 1 gram of glucomannan, taken with 8 oz. of water one hour prior to meals, has a significant influence on weight loss. One study showed almost 6 pounds of fat lost in two months — with no changes in eating habits. (See Int J Obes. 1984;8(4):289-93, Diabetes Care. 1999 Jun;22(6):913-9, Minerva Med. 1992 Mar;83(3):135-9).
Regardless, in order for glucomannan to be effective, it has to be delivered in a large dose (3,000 mg per day). Does Phenocal™ contain that much? Given the size of the blend (2230mg) and the number of ingredients in it, it’s not likely.
Additionally, glucomannan may bind with and hinder the absorption of certain nutrients. It has to be considered, therefore, if the presence of glucomannan in significant amounts may actually hinder the effectiveness of the rest of any formula it is included in.
5. Cocoa extract (standardized for phenylalanine, tyramine, 10% theobromine): Retailers have been including cocoa-based xanthines (xanthines are chemicals similar to caffeine) and biogenic amines in fat burners for ages. While they may have a stimulating effect, there’s relatively little evidence they are useful for weight loss.
6. Hoodia: One of the most controversial appetite suppressants on the market and, despite the hype, there is very little real evidence it’s good for anything (you can read the full review of hoodia here!).
The Phenocal™ sales copy states…
“Known for its appetite suppressing properties, hoodia gordonii can make it easier to feel satisfied on smaller portions and forgo those late night snacks.”
Unfortunately, there’s no clinical evidence to support such a statement.
7. Green tea extract: One of the few “bright lights” in the natural weight loss supplement world, green tea does appear to have bona fide benefits for dieters (click here for the full review). Some of these benefits include slightly elevating the metabolism, inhibiting the action of the enzyme (amylase) required for the metabolism of carbohydrates and so on.
Whether this product contains an effective dose of standardized green tea is unknown.
8. 5-HTP (5-hydroxyptophan): There is some clinical evidence that validates this ingredient’s use as an appetite suppressant (see Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Nov;56(5):863-7). It’s important to note that this study used 900 mg of 5-HTP to achieve these results. Back when this product’s sales copy used to include dosage numbers, it was revealed only 200 mg (less than a fourth of the amount used in the study) was included in the formula. Today, it’s not known whether Phenocal™ contains an effective dose, since that information is not revealed.
9. Bioperine® Black Pepper extract: Bioperine® increases the bioavailability of certain ingredients, making them more accessible to the body. A worthwhile addition to any product.
10. CLA: Conjugated linoleic acid is a non essential fatty acid. Taken at the appropriate dose (approximately 3,200 mg per day), supplementation can aid weight loss. To illustrate this, consider a recent meta analysis of existing human studies which concluded…
“Given at a dose of 3.2 g/d, CLA produces a modest loss in body fat in humans.”
Of course, the issue is that once again, we don’t know if Phenocal contains an effective dose.
In the end, the main problem with Phenocal™ is not that it does not contain some useful ingredients. It does; glucomannan, green tea, CLA and 5-HTP have all been clinically demonstrated to show some weight loss benefits, while others, like fucoxanthin, are promising.
The problem is that logistics of serving size all but guarantees that it is impossible that all ingredients can be present at an effective dose. In other words, some ingredients serve as “label dressing.”
Problem is, we don’t know which ones.
The retailers could clearly demonstrate their commitment to their customers by implementing full transparency in their product labeling. There would be no “guessing” as to the value offered by this product in this case. In my experience, retailers whose products DO contain the precise amounts of ingredients shown beneficial in clinical studies are pretty eager to get this information “front and center” in their sales copy.
Additionally, the interests of Phenocal™ would also be better served by eliminating the ingredients for which little or no clinical evidence exists, and shoring up the amounts of the ones that do.
As it stands now, Phenocal™ is an expensive product of indeterminable effectiveness.