The Healthy Skeptic on Sensa

The Healthy Skeptic on Sensa

In case you don’t know what Sensa is, I’ll let Paul explain:

Sensa Tastants—”sprinkles” as they are also referred to on the TrySensa.com web site—are a product you “sprinkle” on your meals to increase satiety (the feeling of “fullness”) and decrease appetite. They work, apparently, by using…

“…your senses of smell and taste as allies in weight loss. Sprinkling Tastants on your food makes you feel full faster by stimulating the part of your brain that tells your body it’s time to stop eating.”

Sensa’s been on the market for over 2 years now. Both Paul and I had our reservations, but I, for one, was willing to give the inventor, Dr. Alan Hirsch, a partial pass. At the time Paul wrote the review, Dr. Hirsch had presented some pretty impressive research results at a professional meeting, but his study had yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. But, as I told Paul, it can take months for a paper to be formally reviewed, accepted and published… so the fact that his study hadn’t yet been published wasn’t necessarily damning.

Fast forward to 2011… and this “Healthy Skeptic” column on – surprise! – Sensa. And guess what? The study still hasn’t been published.

A TV ad for Sensa calls it “a revolutionary weight loss system that will change your life.” Users are assured that they can “eat what [they] like and still lose weight.” How much? One woman in the ad claims to have lost 50 pounds, and another says she lost 45.

Dr. Alan Hirsch, creator of Sensa and founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, a Chicago treatment center for people with smell and taste disorders, says that Sensa is clinically proven to work. He conducted a study of 1,436 subjects (mainly women) who used the Sensa program for six months. The study hasn’t been published in a medical journal, but it was presented at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in 2008. In the study, Sensa users reportedly lost an average of 30.5 pounds or almost 15% of their body weight. One hundred people who sprinkled fake Sensa on their foods reportedly lost only 2 pounds on average.

…But there’s a credibility gap between such research and the results promised by Sensa, says Adam Drewnowski, director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington in Seattle and a renowned expert on taste, appetite and obesity. Because the Sensa study wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal, many questions about the design and the results remain unanswered. Among other things, he says, it’s impossible to know how the subjects were selected, how they were weighed and the range of weights that they lost. “Did some people lose zero pounds?” he asks. “Who knows?”

Emphasis mine. And yes, I did a followup search for the paper… and came up empty-handed. So I gotta give Paul credit for his intuition:

“…I can’t say I’m holding my breath to see this published anytime soon. But I’m a skeptical guy by nature and I’ve found that when it comes to the supplement industry I rarely go wrong assuming the worst.”

What can I say? The man knows this business.

At any rate, the “Healthy Skeptic” offers a pretty realistic take on Sensa… which is much the same as the one Paul had: it’s safe, but don’t hold your breath.

Author: elissa

Elissa is a former research associate with the University of California at Davis, and the author/co-author of over a dozen articles published in scientific journals. Currently a freelance writer and researcher, Elissa brings her multidisciplinary education and training to her writing on nutrition and supplements.

4 Comments

  1. Why don’t you try it, so I can see if it really works. My tv is blowing up with scheduled informercials on almost every channel touting the success of Sensa. How can this product be a scam if all of these people on the commercial are testifying that it does with before and after pics. I’m more confused than ever. Does it work or not?

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  2. @Linda:

    For starters, I have no particular desire to lose weight. And secondly, the stuff’s pretty pricey. There’s no way I’d touch the so-called “free trial.” This is a gimmick known as “negative option marketing” (i.e., accepting the free trial automatically puts you on a recurring billing/autoship program, unless you opt out within a very narrow time frame).

    For the record, some people love Sensa. And some people find it utterly useless. You can get a feel for both reactions here: http://www.real-customer-comments.com/fat-burners/sensa-tastants-customer-testimonials-comments-feedback/

    FYI: I wouldn’t go by infomercials or testimonials. At best, testimonials and pictures are cherry-picked, so that only the best, most flattering ones are presented. And – at worst – they can be manipulated or bought.

    Since Dr. Hirsch has yet to present any real data, unfortunately the question, “does it work?” cannot be answered scientifically, only anecdotally. And so far, the anecdotes I’ve seen are pretty divided on the subject.

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  3. Well, I was and still am (a little bit) a bit skeptical, but I need something that will boost my workouts. A woman in her mid-50’s needs a little help in that department. I’ve sat on the sidelines for 2 years, expecting the users to develop some type of illness or side effect from it, but I haven’t heard anything but good news. That said, I’m going out this morning to Costco and purchase my first month’s supply. Maybe I’ll see my results faster and this could be the permanent solution I’ve been searching for.

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