I have a friend who's begun taking Herbalife products, presumably for weight loss. I informed him that their products, like all supplements, are not regulated by the FDA, and that there have been numerous cases of liver toxicity associated with them. He still insists that he has watched his sister lose over 100 lbs while on their products, and nothing can sway him. Are their products safe, and is it possible that they promote sustained weight loss?
Since 1986, Herbalife have been under a permanent injunction from the California Courts, which restrains it from
B. Representing that defendants' products contain herbs: (1) which in and of themselves naturally curb the appetite; (2) which burn off calories; or, (3) which naturally cleanse the system....
C. Representing that one who uses defendants' products will lose weight without a reduction in the user's caloric intake.
and a long list of other things. So it would be difficult for anybody to claim that it promotes weight loss in itself, especially after ephedrine related substances were removed from products.
Safety is a much harder issue, and there have been persisent allegations that taking Herbalife is associated with liver problems. But even here there are correlation/causation issues. The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition scientific committee looking at "hepatoxicity associated with consumption of certain food supplements" said:
There seems to be no link between the hepatic anomalies noted and the consumption of a specific product. The adverse effects are rather associated to the particular habits of consumption of these products that have been attributed with benefits for slimming and for improving general wellbeing. It is not uncommon to find examples of rapid weight-loss behaviour among this group of people, with combinations of food-deprivation alternating with other eating habits and/or taking different botanical extracts or synthetic products or, more generally, taking food supplements to which promising slimming properties have been attributed.
In other words, rapid weight loss has medical side effects, some of them negative. The committee recommended that this type of product should carry a warning about the possible health risks associated with very rapid weight-loss.