Sensa is a brand of diet aid created by Alan Hirsch, an American neurologist and psychiatrist. The product lacks scientific evidence of effect and has been the subject of controversy and lawsuits. Following a $26 million fine by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2014, the company ceased operations.
According to the advertisements promoting the Sensa diet, you can eat your favorite foods without counting calories, deprivation, or cravings. All that is needed is to sprinkle all the food one eats with flavor-enhancing Sensa crystals, and that will result in weight-loss.
These "Sensa crystals" were developed by Alan Hirsch, MD, the founder and neurologic director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. The Sensa crystals (or "tastants") are said to promote feelings of fullness and, ultimately, weight loss. If a person sticks with Sensa, the website claims that a person could lose 30 pounds in six months.
According to the "Sensa diet", when using the product, there is no specific diet regimen or list of food restrictions associated with Sensa.
Hirsch says there was a peer-reviewed study by the Endocrine Society supporting the claim that subjects lost over thirty pounds using Sensa. However, the Endocrine Society says they did not review the study. On ABC's news magazine program 20/20, the Endocrine Society stated they "were surprised and troubled by the promotional nature of his presentation."
Controversy and lawsuits
None of Sensa's internal studies have been confirmed by peer-reviewed medical journals.
Critiques of Sensa-claimed research and Dr. Hirsch's research include: (1) the studies were not blinded in any directions (both researchers and subjects knew who was given Sensa and who was given a placebo, which is a conflict of interest and exposes the study to outcomes driven by the placebo effect), (2) the studies have not been open to peer review or verified by any independent medical or health organization, (3) the results have not been duplicated, (4) all studies have been conducted by organizations that are affiliated with Sensa and stand to gain financial compensation (conflicts of interests), (5) Sensa's statistical claims in their infomercials largely contradict information shown on product patents, and (6) experts from the fields of medicine that Sensa is derived from and medical experts which study and treat health-weight issues have consistently disagreed with the scientific reasoning behind Sensa, noting on numerous occasions that none of the ingredients in Sensa have shown any of the properties that the product is claimed to have.
In 2013, the marketers of Sensa paid $905,000 to settle false advertising charges in California after an investigation by the Statewide Nutritional Supplement Task Force determined they were making unsubstantiated claims regarding the efficacy of their products and making unauthorized charges to customers.
On January 7, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) assessed a $26.5 million fine against the company to settle charges of unfounded weight-loss claims. Under the order, the defendants are barred from making weight-loss claims about dietary supplements, foods, or drugs, unless they have two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies supporting the claims; making any other health-related claim unless it is supported by competent and reliable scientific tests, analyses, research, or studies; and misrepresenting any scientific evidence. In October 2014, Sensa declared insolvency and ceased operations, and entered into an assignment for the benefit of creditors. In December 2014, the FTC announced that it was sending 477,083 refund checks totaling $26,023,329 to consumers who purchased the weight-loss supplement.
- Bishop, Harold (December 15, 2014). "Misleading “Sprinkle, Eat, and Lose Weight” Claims Result in $26M Refund". Law & Health. Wolters Kluwer. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
- Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD -The Truth About Sensa Can 'The Sprinkle Diet' really help you lose weight? WebMD. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
- "Does the Sprinkle Diet Work?". 20/20. August 1, 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Woolston, Chris (14 March 2011). "The Healthy Skeptic: Sensa promises to curb eating". Los Angeles Times.
- Federal Trade Commission v. Sensa Products, LLC, et al, no. 14-0072, (N.D. Ill. Jan. 8, 2014) (Stipulated Final Judgment and Order for Permanent Injunction and Other Equitable Relief)
- "Sensa marketers assessed $905,000 in false advertising case". Consumer Health Digest. National Council Against Health Fraud. February 14, 2013.
- California v. Sensa products, LLC, et al, no. CV-175655 (Super. Ct. Santa Cruz Nov. 20, 2012)(Complaint for Civil Penalties and Equitable Relief)
- California v. Sensa products, LLC, et al, no. CV-175655 (Super. Ct. Santa Cruz Nov. 20, 2012)(Stipulation for Entry of Final Judgment & Final Judgment Pursuant to Stipulation)
- "Sensa and Three Other Marketers of Fad Weight-Loss Products Settle FTC Charges in Crackdown on Deceptive Advertising". United States Federal Trade Commission. 7 Jan 2014.
- "Sensa (assignment For The Benefit Of Creditors), LLC". Bizpedia. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
- "FTC Sends Refund Checks Totaling More Than $26 Million to Consumers Who Bought Sensa Weight-Loss Supplement". Federal Trade Commission. December 10, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2015.