Can a sprinkle of Sensa on your food really help you lose weight? Well, the website of this product claims it’s “doctor formulated” and “clinically proven.” They also have claimed Sensa is backed up by “25 years of study.” I was intrigued by the claims made on Sensa commercial and website – especially all that stuff about Tastants and weight loss - the so I decided to review Sensa and see what I could discover. What follows is my unbiased review of the Sensa weight loss system and website. Hopefully, I can help answer some questions, so that you can make a decision that’s right for you. This is an updated review of the Sensa weight loss system, that I originally looked at in 2010.
Who makes Sensa?
Sensa is made by the company, Sensa LLC which is located at 2301 Rosecrans Avenue Suite 1150, El Segundo, CA 90245. The link shows a large glass building that likely houses several businesses.
To Contact the Sensa, phone number is (866) 514-2554.
The parent company of Sensa LLC is Intelligent Beauty Inc, a health, beauty and fashion company that operates other businesses. See the link for more info on Intelligent Beauty Inc.
According to the Better Business Bureau, Sensa LLC has a rating of A+ as of 9/17/12. It has been a BBB accredited business since July of 2008.
The BBB does list over 777 complaints against Sensa LLC including 304 complaints dealing with billing and collection issues but all complaints have been resolved. When I first reviewed Sensa in 2010, there were 550 complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
What is Sensa?
While sometimes called the “sprinkle diet” technically, Sensa is not a diet. Rather, Sensa is a weight loss product that consists of little sweet and salty crystals called “Tastants” which, are sprinkled on the food you eat. The idea is that these crystals are absorbed through the tongue and roof of the mouth and trick you into thinking you are full. They do this by – in theory - making you think the food is actually tastier than it really is.
If you look up the word “Tastant” you can see that a tastant refers to anything that stimulants the sense of taste. I mention this because Sensa advertising makes it seem like tastants are something unique to Sensa, when in fact the word is a general term that could apply to anything that has a taste.
Salty, sugary and sour foods all are tastants because they elicit a taste. Wikipedia has an interesting article on taste that mentions tastants.
One on of the Sensa TV commercials I saw, (on 12/30/12) it was said:
”Even though it looks like a seasoning, Sensa really doesn’t change the way food tastes.”
This is a very interesting statement that I had not heard before. Previously, I was under the impression that Sensa made food taste better, but now they are saying it doesnt change the taste of food. I’m not sure why they are changing their language but I have a feeling I may know why. Keep reading…
According to the product website, Sensa has the following ingredients:
- Maltodextrin. This is a type of carbohydrate.
- Tricalcium Phosphate. This is just a form of calcium. Some previous research has observed that calcium may have a weight loss effect, but most of those studies used low fat dairy calcium foods (milk etc.) and not a calcium supplement. Also, not all research shows calcium promotes weight loss.
- Silica. This is basically sand and is probably used to give Sensa crystals their hardness.
- Natural and Artificial Flavors. Since Sensa is supposed to trick the body by altering taste/smell, I’d like to know what these flavors are.
Sensa also contains Soy and Milk ingredients.
Sensa is sodium- free, sugar-free, calorie free, gluten-free, and there are no stimulants, drugs or MSG.
The idea of Sensa stems from its creator, Dr Allan Hirsch who is a neurologist. According to the website Sofapedia, the idea for Sensa was developed after noting that people with brain injuries that reduced the sense of smell or taste, tended to gain weight. Would making the food tastier, cause these people to eat less – and lose weight?
It’s an interesting idea but is there any proof?
Sensa is said to be “clinically proven”. To back up this claim the website mentions a 6 month long study that consisted of 1436 people. The average weight of the people in the study was 208 lbs.
At the end of the study, those who received Sensa lost an average of 30.5 lbs (about 15% of their body weight). The people not using Sensa lost only 2 pounds.
I have some problems with this Sensa study.
1. The study does not look like “published peer reviewed” study that typically is found in medical/science journals. In fact, the pdf file for this study actually says “Abstract”. An abstract is a summary of a study and may not be peer reviewed. I often see abstracts listed as “proof” for supplements but they don’t hold as much weight as a study that has been published in a medical/science journal.
2. The study of the 1436 people also does not mention how much Sensa the people used. How many sprinkles did they use on their food? Was it the same as what is being promoted to consumers? It probably, is but I could not determine this from the Sensa website.
3. The study did measure “body mass index” (BMI). The people in this study had a BMI of about 30 which classifies them as “obese”.
Unfortunately the researchers did not appear measure body fat. Considering that they were testing a weight loss supplement, I personally think this was an error.
The study does indicate that people lost an average of about 30 “pounds” but:
- How much of that was fat?
- How much of that was water?
- How much of that was muscle?
- Did the people in the study also exercise?
They dont tell us. That’s too bad because most people want to lose fat, not just “pounds”.
This study is also at the heart of the Sensa class action lawsuit (Correa v. Sensa Products, LLC) that would provide up to $6 million in refunds to consumers who purchased Sensa before August 21 2012. For more on the Sensa lawsuit see this page on the website TopClassActions.com.
The Sensa independent laboratory study
The Sensa website used to also list study conducted by an independent laboratory. This study also seems to not be peer reviewed. This independent study consisted of 83 people (78 completed the study) and also lasted 6 months. The results:
- The people using Sensa lost an average of about 27 pounds.
- Those not using Sensa lost about 0.3 pounds.
Again, how much of that weight was body fat? They don’t tell us.
Note. This study does not appear to be listed on TrySensa.com any longer.
In both of these studies , very little information about how the research was conducted is given. Peer reviewed studies give much more information. This allows others to replicate the study and try to duplicate the findings.
I looked at the National Library of Medicine on 9/17/12 to see if there was any new research on Sensa. I searched for :
“Sensa Weight Loss” – no studies showed up.
That says to me that Sensa has no published peer reviewed research to back up its claims. I find this ironic, since the person behind Sensa -Dr Allan Hirsch – is a scientist.
On the Sensa website -TrySensa.com – they list several “As seen on” logos such as Fox, Shape, The Washington Post etc.
They don’t mention ABC News. The reason for this is probably because of a very interesting video segment that ABC did back in 2008.
Here is a link to the segment ABC News did on Sensa titled “Does the Sprinkle Diet Work?”
Notice in this video that they point out that Dr. Hirsch, presented his study to a group of scientists at the Endocrine Society. His study was not peer reviewed, only presented (basically he talked about the study).
This is a HUGE problem for the “clinical proof” that the Sensa website says exists for this weight loss product. Lack of peer review means that other scientists (the peers) were not able to look at how the study was conducted. I’ve already mentioned some of my issues with the Sensa research. It’s possible that those wiser than I am, might have other issues too.
Looking over the Sensa website, I still see no other scientific evidence for Sensa other than what I’ve listed above. Why? Dr Hirsch is a scientist. Why would he not publish any research on his baby? He presented his initial findings to the Endocrine Society in 2008. What’s taking so long?
Testimonials from people we dont know should never be taken as “proof” that something works.
On the TrySensa Website, there is a video on the “About Dr. Hirsch” Page where Stone Philips of Dateline NBC talks about the “Science” of Sensa. It appears the people in this segment are some of the those who took part in the non-peer reviewed study mentioned above, that was presented to the Endocrine Society.
This Dateline NBC segment must have been aired before 2008 because they never mention “Sensa” - and they say you can’t buy the crystals and Dr Hirsch has no plans to sell them. Well, we know that’s not true anymore…
As an aside, I took notice at how comfortable on camera Dr. Hirsch looked in the Dateline NBC segment – and how uncomfortable he appeared to be during the ABC News segment. It’s just an observation of mine. Take it for what it is.
The Sensa Lawsuit
On November 27 2012 a civil lawsuit filed by California District Attorneys against Sensa LLC was settled. Sensa LLC was fined more than $900,000 for making unsubstantiated claims that the product works. As part of the settlement:
- “Sensa Products, LLC and Intelligent Beauty Inc., the parent corporation, are forbidden from making any claims regarding the efficacy or effects of any of their products without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the claims.”
- Sensa LLC is also prohibited “from continuing to charge customers for shipments sent after a customer has asked to stop the shipments. The companies may not enroll customers in an automatic shipment program without a clear disclosure of the customer’s obligations.”
See the nbcsandiego.com link for a full report on the settlement.
I can’t be sure, but I wonder if this may be the reason why Sensa TV commercials say Sensa doesn’t change the taste of food. Also If you look closely at Sensa TV commercials, you will see this statement :
“Sensa promotes healthy weight loss through portion control.”
I’ve watched several Sensa TV commercials but not until 12/30/12 did I ever see this statement mentioned. I can’t be sure but I think this statement may have been added to commercials because of the Sensa Lawsuit. So, instead of tricking the brain into thinking that food tastes better, they are now subtly saying that the mechanism of action of Sensa is portion control.
This makes more sense to me and it’s actually how many other popular diet programs work. Limiting portion size - and hence calories eaten - is the secret behind Nutrasystem, Jenny Craig, Slimfast, Right Size Smoothies and several other diets you have probably heard of.
But, does Sensa promote portion control because it works on the brain to make food taste better or does Sensa act as a placebo, giving people something to believe in as they try to lose weight? For me, this is the big question that the Sensa research does not answer.
The Sensa Medical Advisory Board
On TrySensa.com, there is a page where people can view the 7 doctors in the Sensa Medical Advisory Board. There is a brief bio of each along with their thoughts on Sensa. I was intrigued by what the the doctors said about Sensa – and what they did not say. For example:
Dr. Hilton Hudson, a heart surgeon : “He believes SENSA is a safe and effective weight-loss solution.”
My thoughts: Notice they say he believes it . They don’t say he “knows” Sensa works.
Dr. Carl Wahlstrom, a Psychiatrist, says “He found SENSA to be a well researched, novel non-drug approach to weight loss.”
My thoughts: Well researched? Dr. Wahlstrom, what research have you seen that I have not? How is a non-peer reviewed study “well researched”?
Dr. Nancy Zamora, an Internist says “she feels that SENSA provides overweight individuals with a tool to help them eat less. ”
My thoughts: Notice she “feels” it but she does not specifically say “it works.”
Dr. Jason Gruss, a weight loss doctor says “He believes that SENSA allows obese individuals to take a safe, surgery-free approach to weight loss. He is also interested in how SENSA® can help patients lose weight without changing their environments.”
My thoughts: Again, he “believes” it will help. He doesn’t say it works.
Dr. Richard Bone, a gastroenterologist says he was ” Intrigued by the results of the SENSA clinical study, and that he “considers SENSA to be an innovative weight-loss solution.”
My thoughts: So this scientist was intrigued by a non-peer reviewed study and he “considers” Sensa innovative. OK, I’ll concede its intriguing… But, he “considers” it innovative; notice he’s not saying “it works.”
Dr. Celestine Marie DeTrana, a psychiatrist says she “believes that SENSA enables individuals to overcome the psychological factors that interfere with successful weight loss.”
My thoughts: She “believes” it, but apparently does not “know” it. Also, what “psychological factors” is she talking about? That’s a vague phrase coming from a scientist, especially when its on a website that’s being marketed to the general public.
Dr. Paul Jones, provided the most reserved endorsement of Sensa when it was said that “Dr. Jones has expressed some optimism that SENSA may provide a novel approach to weight loss that assists individuals in control of portion sizes and in leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.”
My thoughts: “Some optimism.” Really? “May provide.” That’s not the most glowing endorsement if you ask me.
Notice that none of the doctors on the Sensa Medial Advisory Board actually said that”Sensa Works!” What’s up with that?
Who is Dayna Devon?
On the TrySensa.com site there is a video from Dayna Devon who is a TV personality. She talks of a “landmark” Sensa study where people lost 30 pounds using Sensa. That is the unpublished, un-peer reviewed study I mentioned above. Dayna Devon is not a scientist, so I will forgive her using the word “Landmark” when she discusses Sensa. But, According to Wikipedia Dayna Devon appears to have an financial involvement with Sensa. According to Wikipedia :
- “In January 2009, Devon became an on-air presenter on HSN, representing the Sensa Weight-Loss System. She also had a regular blog on hsn.com.”
- “In the fall of 2009, Devon moved to ShopNBC, regularly presenting Sensa systems in “Our Top Value” presentations.”
As such, her words about Sensa should be taken with skepticism.
How Much Does Sensa Cost?
On the Sensa website I see they will give you a free 2 month starter kit - BUT if you do not cancel within 30 days you will be charged $89.95 AND you’ll be “enrolled” in an auto ship program where they send Sensa to you each month (at a cost of about $59.95 a month). To opt out of this you MUST SEND BACK THE BOTTLES of Sensa (even if they are empty they say) to not be charged. So, you will have to pay to send them back!
Sensa side effects
I was unable to find any side effects for Sensa from the research I saw. On the website TopClassActions.com some people have reported that Sensa knocked out the sense of taste and caused leg cramps. It’s hard to know how prevalent these side effects are, or if they are really side effects of Sensa itself. Sensa does have soy, but how much I dont know. When in doubt, if you have problems with soy, this might be something to consider.
The Sensa website does list various supplement’s that it’s said will “kick start your weight loss with a targeted blend of vitamins and antioxidants designed to revitalize your body and support a healthy metabolism.” Those words sounds impressive however I see no published peer reviewed proof listed for any of the Sensa Supplements. Therefore, I dont think they will aid in people’s weight loss efforts. Let me speak a little bit on each of the Sensa supplements below.
This costs $49.95 and is said to:
- Support a healthy immune system
- Maintain healthy muscle
- Strengthen the body against free radical influences
Looking over the ingredients in Sensa Complete, it looks for the most part like an expensive multivitamin. It also has some other ingredients, most notably green tea (which contains caffeine).
Sensa Complete for Men
This product is also $49.95 and is said to:
- Boosts energy and supports metabolism
- Fuels muscle recovery and cushions joints
- Contains 100% RDA Vitamins A, C, E and B
Again, this is an expensive multivitamin that has some caffeine (from green tea) and a few other things that I dont think justifies the price. Let me speak briefly on a couple of the ingredients that stood out to me:
Sensa Complete for men contains 1000 micrograms of the mineral, boron. Back in the 1990s some men were taking boron supplements because they heard of a study that suggested that boron might raise testosterone levels. Is this why its in these vitamins? I hope not because, several studies show boron does not raise testosterone levels in men.
Sensa Complete for Men also has a mineral called vanadium (vanadyl sulfate). Valadyl sulfate might have a blood sugar lowering effect and that “might” help some people with blood sugar issues (why isn’t vanadium in the woman’s formula too?). Regardless, exercise has a better blood sugar lowering effect than vanadium.
Sensa complete for men also has 150 mg of glucosamine HCL. This is likely to help reduce joint pain from osteoarthritis (Again, why doesn’t the female version of Sensa Complete have joint support too?). The problem with this is that 150 mg is very little (the recommended dose is 1500 mg per day) AND the type of glucosamine Sensa Complete has is the wrong type. Most of the good research is on glucosamine sulfate – not glucosamine HCL. For more see my glucosamine sulfate facts post.
I could say more about Sensa Complete but I will end here and say that I just think these products are over priced.
Sensa Quench is said to be an “energy enhancing vitamin drink.” The “energy enhancing properties probably has to do with the 90 mg of caffeine that each serving has. Caffeine can definitely wake people up, however, at $39.95, I just think its over priced.
Sensa and Dr. Oz
On November 16 2012 Sensa was featured on the Dr. Oz Show. I watched the show as many did and wanted to mention a few things that were brought up in the segment.
The first thing that jumped out at me was when Dr. Oz said “The big question is how much does it cost and where you find it.” Huh? That’s not the big question because everybody knows about Sensa; it’s TV commercials are on all the time!
The REAL BIG QUESTION is what I would ask Dr. Hirsch —and that’s why have you never published your Sensa research in and peer-reviewed medical journal? How did Dr. Oz miss this important question? If you ask me, he didn’t miss it.
I think his producers preferred Dr. Oz not get into the discussion of peer review of Sensa research for fear of boring the audience.
The Dr. Oz segment also featured Dr. Lewis Aronne, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at NY Presbyterian Medical Center and Kristen Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.
When Dr. Oz asks Dr. Aronne what he thinks about the Sensa research noting that people can lose 30 pounds in six months, Dr. Arrone says, while “theoretically it’s possible”, “that amount of weight loss is an extraordinary result” AND —and this is the important part — “this really is not a research study.”
This is a VERY important point to remember —and it was the only time this glaring fact is ever brought up.
Dr. Aronne rightly points out that the research people see on the Sensa website and TV commercials is not real scientific proof, because it is not published in a medical journal. Published research showing significant effects are the holy grail of science.
Failure to publish the Sensa research – after all these years – makes me wonder why. Why not publish the research? What are they afraid of?
To respond to this criticism Dr. Hirsch talks about a study done at Duke University in the 1980s (30 years ago!) – but Sensa was not around in the 1980s, so this study is not valid in my view.
Dr. Hirsch then goes on to talk about a study currently going on at “a major university” —but he doesn’t tell what university it is or when we might see the results of that study.
Kristin Kirkpatrick RD of the Cleveland Clinic made an interesting point about one of the Sensa ingredients—Maltodextrin. She mentioned if the maltodextrin is derived from wheat, then it may contain gluten and this, in turn, may be a problem for those celiac disease or gluten insensitively. Unfortunately, Dr. Hirsch did not respond by telling where the maltodextrin in Sensa comes from.
When Dr. Oz asked what the natural flavors were in Sensa, Dr. Hirsch didn’t specifically respond, except to say that the ingredients were “GRAS”
GRAS means generally recognized as safe. Foods /ingredients can be called GRAS if they have been in the food supply for at least 50 years.
But, when Dr. Oz pressed further by asking “But why wouldn’t you put those ingredients more openly on the label?” Dr. Hirsch didn’t really answer him, instead choosing to return to his mantra that the ingredients cause weight loss.
When Dr. Oz pressed further by saying, “But it would seem me that you could write what those actual flavors are on there. Why not?” Now, Dr Hirsh struggles again to answer, finally responding “Sure, that would be another mechanism of doing it.”
Are the natural flavors in Sensa critical to how Sensa works (if it really does work)? I don’t know, but if they are, then I can see how keeping them a trade secret would be an important thing. Another idea is that maybe the people who make Sensa didn’t think their omission of these ingredients would be a big issue? Either way I don’t know.
Does Sensa work?
When I originally reviewed Sensa, I was skeptical about whether it would help people lose weight. I had hoped that Dr. Hirsch would eventually do some peer reviewed research on Sensa to prove me wrong, however that still does not seem to have happened. The lack of good science to support Sensa and even the carefully worded statements from its own Medical Advisory Bord, just raise big red flags for me. I want to keep an open mind about this, so if Sensa has helped you – or not – I’d like to hear from you.
What do you think?