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 commercials and website – especially all that stuff about Tastants and weight loss – so I decided to review Sensa and see what I could discover. What follows is my unbiased review of the Sensa weight loss system. Hopefully, I can help answer some questions so that you can make the right decision for you. This is an updated review of the Sensa weight loss system that I originally looked at in 2010.
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.
One on of the Sensa TV commercials I saw, 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 doesn't change food taste. 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, and 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 a “published peer-reviewed” study that is typically 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 researchers measured “body mass index” (BMI). The people in this study had a BMI of about 30, classifying them as “obese”.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not appear to 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 don't 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.
The Sensa Independent Laboratory Study
The Sensa website used to also list a study conducted by an independent laboratory. This clinical trial, however seems to not be peer-reviewed. This independent study comprised 83 people (78 completed the study) and 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.
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.
To my knowledge this study has not been published in medical journals.
On the Sensa website -TrySensa.com (site no longer works) – they list several “As seen on” logos such as Fox, Shape, The Washington Post etc.
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 Sensa, the 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.
According to the Better Business Bureau, Sensa LLC is out of business.
The BBB did list over 777 complaints against Sensa LLC, including 304 complaints dealing with billing and collection issues but all complaints have been resolved.
The Sensa Medical Advisory Board
On TrySensa.com (the website longer works), 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 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 it's 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 it's 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 website, there is a video from Dayna Devon, 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 for using the word “Landmark” when she discusses Sensa. But, According to Wikipedia, Dayna Devon may have a 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.
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.
Sensa Lawsuit Update
On January 7 2014, the FTC ordered Sensa to refund over 26 million to consumers. The FTC alleges that Sensa LLC used deceptive advertising. Furthermore, under the settlement, Dr. Allan Hirsch is barred from making claims about dietary supplements unless those claims are backed up by at least 2 rigorous scientific tests or research studies involving humans.
If you read the FTC press release, Sensa was not the only company the FTC cracked down on. They also went after makers of the HCG diet supplements and others as well.
See the review of the HCG diet for more information.
Sensa and Octavia Spenser
At or around the beginning of 2013, Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spenser started advertising Sensa on TV and other media after the Actress credited Sensa with helping her lose weight for the Academy Awards. But, as reported by the website Hollywood Reporter, Sensa has cut its ties with Ms. Spenser, resulting in Ms. Spenser taking legal action against Sensa.
How Much Does Sensa Cost?
Sensa is no longer being sold but when it was, the website was offering 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 the 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!
Those who are interested in Sensa and want to compare prices and avoid the auto-ship program can also get Sensa on Amazon.
Sensa Side Effects
In healthy people, Sensa is likely very safe. I could not 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 don't know. When in doubt, if you have problems with soy, this might be something to consider.
Other Sensa Supplements
The Sensa website also listed various supplements 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 sound impressive. However, I see no published peer-reviewed proof listed for any of the Sensa Supplements. In my opinion, They were just added “profit centers” to get people to spend more. Let me speak a little bit about 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 other ingredients, notably green tea (which contains caffeine).
Sensa Complete for Men
This product, which was sold for $49.95 and was said to:
- Boosts energy and supports metabolism
- Fuels muscle recovery and cushions joints
- Contains 100% RDA Vitamins A, C, E, and B
This is an expensive multivitamin that has some caffeine (from green tea) and a few other things that I don't think justify 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 took boron supplements because they heard of a study suggesting that boron might raise testosterone levels. Is this why it's in these vitamins? I hope not because several studies show boron does not raise testosterone levels in men.
Sensa Complete also has a mineral called vanadium (vanadyl sulfate). Vanadyl 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.
The product 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 info, see my glucosamine sulfate facts post.
I could say more about Sensa Complete for men but I will end here and say that I just think these products are over priced.
If you are interested, here it is on Amazon for less.
Sensa Quench is said to be an “energy-enhancing vitamin drink.” The “energy enhancing properties probably have to do with the 90 mg of caffeine that each serving has. Caffeine can definitely wake people up; however, at $39.95, I think it's overpriced.
Here is Sensa Quench on Amazon.
Sensa and Dr. Oz
On November 16, 2012, Sensa was featured on the Dr. Oz Show. I watched the show as many did, and I 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 BIG QUESTION I would ask Dr. Hirsch is why you never published your Sensa research in a 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 no real scientific proof because it is not published in a medical journal. Published research showing significant effects is the holy grail of science.
Failure to publish the Sensa research – after all these years – makes me wonder why. Why not publish the research?
To respond to this criticism, Dr. Hirsch talks about a study done at Duke University in the 1980s (decades ago!) – but Sensa was not around in the 1980s, so this study is not valid in my view.
Dr. Hirsch then talks about a current study 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 that if maltodextrin is derived from wheat, it may contain gluten, which may be a problem for those with celiac disease or gluten insensitively. Unfortunately, Dr. Hirsch did not respond by telling me 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 it works (if it really does)? I don't know, but if they are, I can see how keeping them a trade secret would be important. 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 Board 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.