Prompted in part by reports of choking dieters, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday proposed banning 111 ingredients frequently included in non-prescription weight-loss products. One such ingredient, guar gum, "presents a safety hazard," the FDA said. The agency has received at least 17 reports of throat obstructions that developed after dieters swallowed tablets containing the substance.
Ten of the obstructions required surgery, and one man later died from a blood clot in the lung linked to the operation, said FDA spokeswoman Bonnie Aikman.
A low-calorie, high-fiber substance, guar gum absorbs water in the stomach and swells to produce a feeling of satiety that allegedly discourages further eating. The gum can absorb water in the throat and swell up there, however, potentially blocking breathing.
The hazard can be prevented by drinking an 8-ounce glass of water after swallowing products containing guar gum. But many product labels do not contain clear instructions to do that, the FDA said.
Guar gum is also contained in minute amounts as an ingredient in ice creams, cheeses and salad dressings. It poses no safety hazard in those foods, the agency said.
The other 110 ingredients the agency proposes banning presented no safety hazard but have not been shown effective in helping dieters lose weight. They include alcohol, corn syrup, dextrose, kelp, pineapple enzymes, saccharin, salt, vitamin C and wheat germ.
The FDA also proposed that any non-diet product containing guar gum and other high-fiber substances as active ingredients include in their labels a warning that the product should be consumed with an 8-ounce glass of water.