Diet Pill Abuse
December 27, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

What are the health risks of taking a "cleansing" product like Acai Super Cleanse for too long? Details...

My girlfriend started taking Acai Super Cleanse capsules a while back to help with weight loss. She didn't need to lose any weight, but I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, and it might make her feel better about herself. The directions indicate that its about a 2-week program. Well, I just found out that she has been taking them constantly for over 6 months, perhaps for as long as 9 months.

She obviously has some body image problems that need to be dealt with. She's 5'0" and 94 lbs. Size 0 clothes fall off of her -- even XS clothes are often too big. Yet, she thinks anything over 90lbs is fat. I'm trying to get her in to see a therapist, but she's very upset about the whole situation -- she lied to me about taking them and feels very guilty about it, but she's also terrified that she will be "fat" if she gains even a pound. I'm trying to be gentle with her right now and not push her to see a therapist -- something she is very reluctant to do -- so I'm just trying to deal with the situation slowly and delicately.

My first goal is just to make sure that she's OK physically. She's terrified that she has permanently damaged her body -- she has severe cramps and stomach pains, along with various digestive issues. I've almost got her convinced to see a doctor, but, as with the therapist, she's reluctant and ashamed.

So, my questions are: What has she done to her body? What are the dangers of abuse of this product, and what can we do right now to try to alleviate any health issues -- OTC meds she should or should not take, foods she should or should not eat, etc.

Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Her electrolytes are probably way out of whack, I'm sure her GI tract is all torn up. She needs to get to a doctor, even if it is her internist or gyn, ASAP. Go with her. She needs to stop the dieting. Also, be prepared that she is doing more to lose weight than she is admitting too.

Call the dr.'s office today. See what can be done.

Best of luck.
posted by 6:1 at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

What has she done to her body?
Nothing permanent. The "treatment" doesn't do anything. It's the latest "miracle fruit" scam. However, taking large quantities of anything over a long period of time is going to mess with a body's internals. She should stop taking the scam product and adopt a normal diet. She may have to deal with some gastric discomfort for awhile, as her body cleanses itself of that crap.

What are the dangers of abuse of this product...?
Loss of money, mostly. And some gastric discomfort.

...what can we do right now to try to alleviate any health issues?
Counseling to address her body-image issues and probable eating disorders. And drink lots of water. And eat properly.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:39 AM on December 27, 2010

She is anorexic and perhaps bulemic. This is not really a "probably" but more of an "almost surely." She needs help but as with alcoholism and drug addiction it is nearly outside of your power to get someone to accept help. One of the first steps is to let her know that she is not fooling anybody.
posted by caddis at 10:41 AM on December 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

The acai berry is just a fruit. Any weight loss claims related to it are absolute bullshit. So your GF is not acai'ing herself to death, but she is (possibly quite literally) flushing her money down the toilet. If she's taking a lot of these pills and they do actually have the whole fruit in them, her cramps and et cetera may be coming from an overdose of dietary fiber.

The real problem with taking these things is that a little googling shows that the company that makes this particular snake oil pill doesn't disclose the complete list of ingredients for it. That's a worry: unregulated supplements from fly-by-night scam companies have notoriously bad quality control, so your GF could be ingesting any number of nasty and unhygienic things in every pill.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:47 AM on December 27, 2010

It really sounds like your gf is abusing laxatives as part of a pattern of disordered eating. That has potentially serious consequences, because it fucks up your electrolyte balance, which could result in heart problems. Among the people who have died from the results of laxative abuse are Karen Carpenter and Terri Schiavo.

Please encourage your gf to see a therapist who is experienced in helping people recover from eating disorders. She probably needs to see a gastroenterologist as well--because, yeah, taking laxatives every day for months does a number on your stomach and intestines--but she needs to see the therapist right away, before she does any more damage to her body and mind.

Best of luck to you, especially to her. Recovery from disordered eating is tough, and the folks who abuse laxatives often have an even harder path than people whose issues revolve only around food.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

The "treatment" doesn't do anything.

Pretty much everything that's labeled an herbal "cleanse" or a natural "cleanse" is a strong laxative. Using laxatives daily fucks your digestive system up like whoa. This is not a placebo--this is a chemical agent that is disturbing the body's homeostasis.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:54 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dittoing the encouragement and support for her to get help. Eating disorders result in bone loss and heart problems. No one wants osteoporosis, but you definitely don't want to be a young, active person getting hip replacements.
posted by yeloson at 12:07 PM on December 27, 2010

Reassure her that doctors and therapists see this type of problem routinely. They aren't going to be ashamed of her or disappointed in her. They are going to help her heal. She has a medical problem. She needs to have treatment to fix it. The longer she waits to seek help, the worse the problem can become.

Disordered eating and body dysmorphia are tough to conquer. It's not a DIY fix. Getting professional help gives her a fighting chance. Good luck to you both.
posted by 26.2 at 12:16 PM on December 27, 2010

Holy fuck! I went to look for an ingredients list, and this has both senna and cascara sagrada in it (also walnut hulls, which are a roughage laxative, but that's the least of the problem here).

Senna, in regulated doses, is a well-tolerated laxative, but this pill has many times the recommended daily dose in it. Cascara sagrada was banned as an over-the-counter medicine by the FDA in 2002 because of concerns about its lasting effects on the colon.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get your gf to stop taking this immediately and never take it again. She definitely needs to see a gastroenterologist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:37 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

And when she sees the gastroenterologist, she needs to bring the contents label from the pills, and to be absolutely honest with the doc about how much she has used and for how long. This stuff is actually more dangerous than I thought it might be; now that I've seen what's in it, I think she needs to see a GI specialist as soon as possible.

In the meantime, avoiding foods that trigger irritable bowel syndrome is probably wise for her as well. Seconding the suggestions upthread for yogurt and probiotics. Drinking lots of water can only help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:40 PM on December 27, 2010

And, yeah, there may be other equally toxic crap in there that they didn't disclose, but the stuff they disclose is plenty worrisome.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:41 PM on December 27, 2010

She's terrified that she has permanently damaged her body -- she has severe cramps and stomach pains, along with various digestive issues.

When you or someone you know is in severe pain and is terrified, please don't rely on medical advice from internet randos. We're not qualified to give it, you couldn't verify it if we said we were, and those who are qualified wouldn't do it in a forum like this (e.g., the one RN in this thread says go to the doctor). Please seek real medical advice through a proper medical channel. Pick up the phone and call a doctor. They will tell you to come in, and I know your girlfriend is resisting that, but maybe they can give you some general advice to follow in the meantime or can route you to an appropriate specialist. Getting that kind of information from them is a lot better than getting it from us. Nobody here knows anything about this supplement that you can't google yourself and neither you nor we can get very far with that information.

A question more appropriate for the crowd here might be, "How can I convince my girlfriend to go to the doctor?" People here may have been in a similar situation with a loved one and may be able to suggest techniques that worked for them. No degree required.

And even then maybe a better route, if this is indeed an eating disorder, and if not wanting to go to the doctor due to shame is a common obstacle to treatment of eating disorders (?), would be to get advice from someplace like the National Eating Disorders Association. You could call their hotline yourself at 800.931.2237 with or without telling your girlfriend (depending on conditions). Tell them what's happening, tell them what you suspect, and see what they advise. Their phone specialists most likely won't be medical professionals, but will understand the situation you're in and will be trained to steer you to the information and resources you and your girlfriend may need. On that note, have a quick look at their website for some general info first. It sounds like you're already doing some of the things they suggest in their "What Do I Say?" one-pager for friends and family members of people with eating disorders, so maybe they can give you some deeper info than that on the phone. Good luck.
posted by Askr at 3:13 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

She's terrified that she has permanently damaged her body -- she has severe cramps and stomach pains, along with various digestive issues.

Eh, I had serious colitis a few years ago, which probably produces the same nasty effect which is disturbance of gut flora and destruction of gut lining.

Does it suck? Yes. I felt terrible for probably a year afterward and have to eat a gluten-free diet now. Most grains and especially gluten make me really sick. The protocol I used to recover had lots of broth, marrow, organ meats, and even if you don't like that stuff a commercial probiotic is a must. You can find them in the refrigerated section at a good health food store.

I suggest you guys see a therapist/doctor ASAP, but people have recovered from worse gut damage and often it's good to know that going into treatment.

She should know that laxatives are bad news though and that gut bacteria and your gut lining are very very very important!
posted by melissam at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2010

It sounds like your girlfriend has disordered eating and some irrational thoughts about food and weight. I don't want to jump to conclusions, but it sounds like an eating disorder.

Your trying to control what she does and doesn't consume (diet pills, food) is going to freak her disorder out. Don't do it. Honestly, don't do it. There's no quicker way to drive a wedge between the two of you. Don't suggest that she eat yogurt or butter or green beans or anything. We, in this thread, shouldn't be suggesting that she eat yogurt or butter or green beans or whatever, because we are not trained to deal with this.

A dietitian (not a nutritionist, who do not have to meet any certain qualifications, but an RD, who does) can answer the questions about what might help her digestive system recover from any damage. A physician is also a good idea.

There's a lot of shame involved with eating disorders/disordered eating, which makes treatment that much more complex. It's very easy to intensify that shame through comments that don't mean anything to you or me, but can to someone else. I second the suggestion to contact NEDA, and wish you and your gf the best.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:08 PM on December 27, 2010

I don't think the OP is saying that s/he is not going to encourage the girlfriend to go to the doctor/therapist, or that this isn't a severe issue. Nor did I get the sense that s/he is trying to control the girlfriend -- it seems the question is on behalf of both of them.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:36 AM on December 28, 2010

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