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Should you trust the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program?

Amanda Cofer, MPH

With healthcare riding the weight loss wave it can be tough to distinguish between programs that are there for you versus programs that have another agenda. While, the topic of weight loss in your doctor’s office is an important one, it’s crucial that you have all the details before you make your decision about which program you want to use to help you improve your health. The Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program was created by internal medicine physician, Dr. Robert Posner, in 2004. The program’s website touts multiple approaches, almost all of which use appetite suppressants and supplements to promote weight loss. The program may be medically supervised but should you trust a program with this kind of set up? Here are the deets to help you decide.

The Serotonin-Plus Supplement vs. Noom and Weight Loss

Before we dig deeper into this program and the supplement it uses, it may be helpful to first talk about what serotonin actually is and what it does in your body. Serotonin is a biochemical used in the body to transmit messages between nerve cells (think bike messenger in a big city). The messages sent play a role in regulating emotions, moods, cognition, autonomic functions like heart rate, appetite, and sleep. It’s naturally occurring in the body but some of us may be deficient which can lead to depression and increased cravings (which is why it’s thought to be related to appetite regulation). Another key point to make is that serotonin does not cross the blood-brain barrier so  most serotonin supplements taken orally just hang out and circulate in the blood, making it unlikely that the chemical will reach its intended destination (like the bike messenger was given the wrong directions). The amount of serotonin in your brain and gut is based on the availability of certain amino acids that help your body increase production.

On the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program website you won’t find an ingredient label listed for the SeroPro supplement that Dr. Posner created (sketchy, no?). The description of the product on their website says that the supplement uses a patented formula that goes unharmed by the digestive process to make sure serotonin is delivered to the place you need it most. While the ingredients aren’t listed anywhere on the website, it’s much more likely that this supplement uses 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin itself to “correct the imbalance.” The end goal with this supplement is to reduce cravings for carbohydrates, sugars, and other “unhealthy” foods. On top of this supplement the, Serotonin-Plus program uses the prescription appetite suppressant pill, phentermine, to control calorie intake. There seems to be a small (very small) element of what they are referring behavior modification however  the focus may be more on what you “should” be eating and what you “shouldn’t” (#cringe).

This approach differs wildly from Noom’s. With Noom you will not be popping pills before meals to crush cravings but learning to hone them and navigate them. The Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program says that their plans are individualized but in the end everyone is placed on the same medications. Noom has elements of true individualization to help you lose weight at your own pace in ways that work for you. The goals you set are entirely your own and you’ll have the guidance of a highly-qualified health coach the whole way. Also, no foods are considered “shouldn’t” eat foods. The weight loss may be slower but in the end, it will last longer because you’ll truly be building up new habits to replace your old ones. Not even Dr. Posner denies that about a less drastic weight loss speed.

The Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program vs. Noom Safety and Weight Loss Results

While the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program is supervised by licensed medical professionals, it doesn’t go without safety concerns. Supplements used to boost serotonin levels and phentermine both have their side effects, some of which can be more costly than you think. There are also drug interactions to consider. While, 5-HTP has been studied for use in weight loss assistance, the supplements themselves are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that they do not go through rigorous safety testing before being released to the public for use. Side effects of taking a 5-HTP supplement may include: heartburn, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and muscle problems. These may not sound so scary, but the interactions this supplement can have with other medications can lead to more serious ailments, such as heart complications.

Phentermine is one of the most popular medications used for weight loss but it too comes with side effects and interactions. The American College of Cardiology gave us the rundown. Those taking this appetite suppressant may experience impaired thinking, shortness of breath, chest pain, unusual thoughts or behaviors, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and dry mouth, to name a few adverse effects. It’s also potentially unsafe to take if you are already on a blood pressure medication, antidepressant, or certain medications for diabetes. Also, phentermine is labeled as a Schedule IV drug, which means it has potential to be addictive and abused.This should never be the only part of a weight loss program but should be accompanied with lifestyle changes as well.

On these pills, weight may drop quickly (at first anyway). The Serotonin-Plus website and Dr. Posner estimates that you’ll lose anywhere between 3-5 pounds each week. Seems great, right? But is it worth the side effects and potential interactions between other medications? For long-term results, there isn’t enough evidence out there supporting the effectiveness of supplements like this for weight loss. Phentermine may be FDA approved but is really only meant for short-term use. Noom takes a very different route and thinks long-term. While you lose your weight at a sustainable pace and forgo uncomfortable side effects, you’ll also be changing your life and losing the diet mindset.  

Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program: The Bottom Line.

While there is some research backing for the use of similar supplements for weight loss but not enough evidence out there to support the safety and effectiveness for the approach that the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program uses. Phentermine has been approved by the FDA for use in weight loss treatment, but only in the short-term. In the end, having a meaningful conversation with your doctor before starting any program or supplement is extremely important to your health and safety. Making sure you share your medications and conditions with them before taking a 5-HTP supplement could be the difference between a trip to the ER or just a stomach ache. So, should you trust the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program? We’ll let you decide. The weight loss you may see with the Serotonin-Plus Weight Loss Program may be eye catching but it doesn’t hold a candle to life-long change you could see with the Noom.

Author: Amanda Cofer, MPH