MOTUNRAYO JOEL writes about the new trend of using slimming tea for weight loss and its consequences

The hype about the wonder-working powers of slimming tea lured Mrs. Mercy Ugoma to purchase one that almost took her life.

Narrating her experience to SUNDAY PUNCH, Ugoma, who is a pharmacist based in Enugu State, said a friend told her about the efficacy of the tea.

She said, “My friend kept pressuring me to try the tea, she said it could help me lose weight within a few weeks. I think she regularly sold the product which was why she had confidence in it. The first day I tried the tea, I drank it in the morning and by afternoon, my trauma began.

“I started to have palpitations; it was as if I was going to pass out. I was restless, I knew something was wrong. When I checked my blood pressure it was over 140; I had never battled with high blood pressure in my life. No one had to tell me to throw the remaining teabags away. I am glad that the situation did not aggravate into something else. Many cases of kidney disease are linked to slimming tea consumption. What makes matters worse for people like me who use slimming teas to lose weight is that there are so many in the market. One could buy a fake product thinking it is the original. “

In 2013, a Delta State-based Nollywood location manager, Chinedu Epeagba, reportedly died after a brief illness which was believed to have been aggravated by the slimming tea he consumed.

Shortly after he drank the tea, he was taken to a hospital after complaints of weakness but his body did not respond to treatment.

Just like Epeagba, the media was awash with the news of the demise of one Betty Kums in January 2014. An autopsy report revealed it was the side effects of a slimming tea that took her life.

Slimming tea craze

Thirty-year-old Zainab Hazeez is obese and desires a trim figure. Her desire is to have a slender shape which will earn her compliments and admiration.

Hazeez soon began to drink slimming tea and was told by many that it was the ‘miracle cure’ for fat.

Being eager to gain a trim form, she bought many brands of slimming tea. She religiously drank them day and night for weeks as prescribed.  But her figure remained unchanged.

“It can be really humiliating when people stare because of one’s weight. I hate going out, most times I prefer to remain indoors. So, I started buying and drinking the tea. There were days I became broke because I had spent my last dime on slimming teas which I was told would burn body fat,” she said.

Hazeez told SUNDAY PUNCH that her battle with excess weight started in 2008.

According to her, in 2008, she weighed over 100kg and she was just 22 years old then.

She added, “That was indeed a lot for my frame, since I was only 5 feet 6 inches tall.  I consciously lost some weight in 2010 but the fat found its way back into my body in no time, perhaps due to my carefree lifestyle.

“From time to time, my family and friends teased me about my weight. I got bigger each passing week, and for that reason, I stayed away from most outings; the occasion had to be really important for me to attend. Finding a suitable outfit was a constant nightmare. Shopping was a terrifying activity because most of the outfits I liked did not come in my size. Therefore, I compromised on my preferred beauty and fashion standards by picking clothes that fitted my large size.’’

She further said after her first child in 2012, she became really big and ballooned to her largest size ever.

Hazeez said at a time, she stepped on the scale and found out she weighed a whopping 111.3kg (about 245lb). “I was angry and scared. I remember asking myself two questions:  ‘How did I get here?’ and ‘What is the fastest way to get out of here?’ That was how I turned to slimming teas which almost made me broke but they did not work for me. Many times I was also tempted to try herbal remedies,” she said.

Dolapo Adeyemi just like Hazeez, had drunk diverse slimming teas with no positive result to show for it.

The 29-year-old told our correspondent that she used different types so she could lose weight quickly

She said the teas could have affected her health if she had not heeded medical advice to stop taking them.

“As a child I used to wear adult panties because of my size. All through high school, I was mocked by friends. I always felt depressed. I was so desperate to lose weight. I bought all sorts of suppressants and slimming drugs. I also tried active diets but none worked. I believe it is God that preserved my life; some of the drugs I took could have harmed my health. I won’t advise anyone to use drugs for weight loss,” she said.

While it may seem that a person drinking slimming teas has lost a few pounds, doctors say the high laxative content acts as a diuretic (excess urine passage), which can cause dehydration in a healthy person. Dehydration, they said, can lead to other side effects such as fainting, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Speaking further, a nutritionist at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Mr. Okunola Oladimeji, said he would not recommend slimming teas for anybody because of what he termed as their ‘undesirable side effects.’

He explained that the effects of taking slimming teas happen so quickly that the user may end up gaining more weight within little time.

The nutritionist said, ‘‘The source of slimming tea and the composition is sometimes hard on  body organs. Hence, I do not recommend it. Weight loss is a serious issue; people have drunk so many things and consumed many things. One of them I consider to be the worst is dry gin. Some people will mix turmeric, cloves or other herb and call it fat burner. They believe it will help them lose weight.”

Describing weight management as involving a lot of discipline and patience, he said many people believe that weight could be shed by merely taking one thing or the other and expecting desired result within few days or weeks.

On his part, a medical doctor, Dr. Shabi Abidemi, said the benefits of tea — antioxidants and polyphenols — could be found in pure tea, adding that the ingredients that come under scrutiny most often are found in products hyped as “slimming tea.”

“It must be noted that the manufacturers and marketers of slimming tea products do not advertise their products as laxative teas.  Obviously, they know that the product would sound less appealing to the consumer. Slimming laxative teas possess the same benefits as pure teas, but pure teas do not possess the risks associated with laxative teas.  The risks far outweigh any benefits found in slimming tea beverages or slimming tea pills,” Abidemi said.

Recognising fake tea

Inscribed on the packs of many slimming teas are promises that include weight loss, increased metabolism, delayed signs of aging, brain stimulation and many more.

Health practitioners however say the consumption of fake, poorly-produced slimming teas could be severe on the user.

A physician, Dr. Ogunyomi Olatubosun, said he had witnessed many cases of people who drank fake slimming tea and developed major health complications. He advised Nigerians who desire to consume slimming teas to buy from reputable sources.

He said, “A registered National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control number could be a criterion to detect fake slimming teas. But majorly, Nigerians should avoid buying roadside slimming teas. Many of them have an ingredient that tends to cause excessive diarrhoea. The person keeps passing out faeces and ends up feeling dehydrated. And dehydration alone is a terrible thing. It could lead to death if not properly managed.

“Pricing is another signal. Before you buy any slimming tea, go online to confirm the price range. If the slimming tea you want to buy is much cheaper than the online price, the truth is that the product may be fake.”

In the same vein, a pharmacist, Mr. Ikechukwu Nonso, compared slimming teas to a drug that should be bought from the right source.

He said, “A reputable pharmacy could be a trusted source, at least the pharmacist will be held responsible for any fake product sold on his or her shelves. Another way to detect a fake slimming tea is through the packaging. Before you purchase a slimming tea, go to the company’s website to see how the product looks or do a Google search on the product. If there are spelling errors, colour differences, generally printing errors, that product may be a fake.’’

A distributor of one of a well-known slimming tea, Mrs. Vivian Ejike, advised that people should buy products that have bar codes.

“If a product is properly produced, it should have a bar code and this bar code can be sent to a NAFDAC for verification,” she said.

Scary diet tricks

The quest to shed weight is not limited to taking slimming tea. Many women say they have tried other methods that didn’t work for them. Josephine Oke said she weighed 115 kilogrammes before February 2015 but when she noticed that the weight was threatening her health, she was forced to embark on a regime to shed the weight. She first started to skip meals and later starved herself.

Oke stated, “I went from eating twice a day to just one meal a day. There were times I felt hungry but I refused to eat. Someone then advised me to try honey, lemon and some herbs. I did it for two weeks then stopped. I realised that any time I drank the mixture, I had serious stomach upset. I purged to the extent that I had no strength left in me. It was terrible. But now, I only control my eating portions.”

Deola Sawyerr was also hooked on quick-fix products for weight loss.

The thirty-two-year-old told SUNDAY PUNCH that the regimen caused more harm than good to her body.

Sawyerr added, “I come from a family of ‘big people.’ Right from when I was a kid, I was told that being overweight was inevitable for me; of course I did not want to hear of it. I swore I would be the exception. I soon began to deal with the tendencies as puberty kicked in. Still, I managed to stay slim enough well into my late teens and early twenties without much effort.’’

According to her, the real battle began as she started piling up kilogrammes and when she got too big, she went starving for days till she lost it and the whole cycle started all over again.

“I tried weight loss products that promised I would lose 10kg in 20 days! Looking back at it now, knowing all that I now know, I wondered why I believed all that,” she stated.

A principal dietician, Mrs. Esther Olubiyi, warned against the use of quick-fix weight loss products.

She described them as death traps.

According to her, anything that promises to make one slim in 10 or 20 days may cause a lot of damages in one’s health system.

“It is risky to take these products; one may also suffer nutritional deficiency. I also advise against taking slimming tablets and teas, because they all contain harmful materials, especially slimming tablets. They contain preservatives which can be harmful to the system.

“Another reason why I advise people against using slimming drugs is because many of the products contain nutrients that are designed to make one feel full. It gives one false satisfaction. By the time one stops taking the product, the person may either dry up or blow up their body structure because the person cannot take the product for life. Green tea is more healthy,” Olubiyi noted.

Noting that the best remedy for weight loss is healthy eating pattern, the dietician added that many people eat anything that is readily available.

Olubiyi stated, “Many diseases we battle with could have been stopped right from the mouth. The food we eat goes a long way in determining our health status.”

Experts’ tips

A weight loss consultant, Mr. Albert Olusesan, linked effective weight loss to good diet.

According to him, there are many tips on how to lose weight but the best remedy is a good diet.

Olusesan said, “In as much as I advocate for constant exercise, embracing diet plans comes first before exercise. Many people always have the mindset of going through excessive exercise to lose weight.

“This has always proved to be the secondary aspect of weight loss after dieting. You will get nowhere in losing weight if you exercise often and yet continue having high calorie intake. You must embrace the attitude of good diet, and to achieve that, it takes discipline.”

Olubiyi lamented that Nigeria has become a dumping ground for weight loss products.

Also speaking, a dietician, Dr. Remi Ogunleye, said weight loss could be achieved by cutting down on carbohydrates.

He said, “If you want to lose weight you should start by avoiding sugar and starch (like bread). There have been an infinite number of weight-loss diets based on eating fewer carbohydrates. Dozens of modern scientific studies have proven that low carbohydrate is the most effective way to lose weight.”

The dietician explained that sugar and starch may increase one’s hunger while avoiding them could decrease one’s appetite for food to an adequate level.

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