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.
Again, since there is no proof that any Sensa supplements add to the effects of Sensa, I don't think they are needed.
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.
Guys have anyone tried SurelySlim (www.bio-paranta.com) It is made in Canada. They say it is cutting edge technology of three fat burners in one veg capsule?
camel, I looked at SurleySlim. For what its worth I dont see anything new with its ingredients It has
Green coffee bean extract
Green Tea extract
I have reviews on all of this stuff. If it helps,
Here is my garcinia cambogia review
here is my green coffee bean review
here is my raspberry ketones review
If you search my site for “green tea” you’ll see ALL the other products that have it. Its very common in wt loss supplements.
I also noticed that on the contact page of the Bio-Paranta webiste that they didnt really tell me where they were located. They just listed ” BioParanta Inc. Ottawa, ON. Canada.” Id like to see the exact address so I can see what the address looks like on Google. They list a phone number of (613) 878-3745. When I googled that # I found that it was the same phone number for a company called “Global medical Discovery” also located in canada. Im not sure if this is the same company or not but here is the BBB link http://www.bbb.org/ottawa/business-reviews/online-publications/global-medical-discovery-ltd-in-ottawa-on-50946
Hope some of this helps
Thank you for your review. I watched some of Dr. Oz’s tv show on the subject of Sensa, and I became very skeptical. The creator of Sensa did fine on his initial presentation, but when challenged by the doctors, he seemed to stumble quite a bit.
To be honest, the only weight loss program I’ve ever had success with is Weight Watchers. It uses portion control, journalling food intake, and provides a lot of good advice on how to really lose weight. On line, you can communicate with other members for advice and support. (This is not an ad for WW, this is just my experience.) It also teaches you how to eat more healthily. If you choose to continue eating in a healthy way, weight loss can be easily maintained.
This is another issue I have with Sensa. If I rely on something artificial to help me eat less, and don’t learn how to eat right, what will happen when I stop using it?
Janet, thanks and Im glad you were able to find me. I have likewise also met many people who have had good success with weight watchers.
I have found when I want a bunch of opinions on a product I go to Amazon and type in the name of the product. I just did that for Sensa. I found more negative comments than positive ones.
Sonny Hoffer says
Hi Joe…I have had weight issues all my life and am still fighting the battle of the bulge. In the past year I went from a stunning 152lbs up to 200. Am now sitting at 184 and have been as low as 179 during this round. I exercise only because I do physio therapy 3x weekly and also watch my carbs. Though I don’ follow the Atkins diet per se, I do subscribe to its principles. Low carb/high protein intake is my mantra combined with the Atkins low carb protein shakes.
My problem is I have just self-diagnosed as an ice cream addict, after doing much research, devouring as much as a gallon a day. I also have a lust for Snyder’s Old Thyme pretzels and can consume a 1lb. bag at a sitting.
I have an extensive designer wardrobe fitting a 30 inch waist and 40 jacket. At the moment I am not able to fit into anything but a pair of “fat jeans” and a sloppy tee shirt. I have yo yo ed up and down since I turned 13 and throughout my almost 69 years have probably been on every diet that has come along.
22 years ago I lost 97lbs in 5 months,under my doctor’s care, on the Medifast programme. I am now heading south again under my own steam, using every ounce of discipline I can muster to get back in shape. I have sworn an oath to myself forsaking these two food passions, though I still do crave them.
So last night when I found myself caught up in the Sensa tv infomercial I became delusional, thinking I could continue with my ice cream/pretzels, albeit in smaller quantities, with the sprinkling of these “magic” crystals. But after watching the Dr. Oz segment, and reading your article and the ensuing comments it engendered, I have decided to pass and continue using the old fashioned way of discipline, smart eating and exercise to lose the rest of the weight.
What I have learned over the years is paying attention to food choices and weight control is hard work. And despite the promises I always make to myself once I lose the weight that I will never allow myself to “fall off the wagon” again, there is always some emotional anxiety that sets off the downward spiral to weight gain.
Hopefully this will be the final time I embark on this recurring path of self-destruction. Thank you and all those who shared their thoughts and comments regarding Sensa, enabling me to discount this fantasy of a magic product to do the work that only I myself can do. You are a great consumer advocate! SMH.
Sonny, thanks for writing and I do hope something helps you. Id say focus on calories and not just carbs. Have you ever tried counting calories with MyFitnessPal? A lot of people say it helps them. Ive listed about 13 things that might help on my personal site, here is the link http://www.joe-cannon.com/what-weight-loss-supplements-work/
Celeste Louise says
Joe, thanks for writing a thoughtful and informative article!
Celeste, glad to help 🙂
Joe, I think what you are doing here is awesome. These “snake-oil-salesmen” need to be identified. Current and valid research shows that less calories intake and more calories burned equals weight loss in a generally healthy individual. Here self control is important usually it is necessary to exercise to burn more calories than one eats. Food deprivation is not a valid means of losing weight as it can cause other serious health conditions and it is temporary. Eventually you will either starve or eat! I would like to add some to your research Joe.
Well after reading this page and many others, including comments, I decided to do some research on claims that Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., the founder of Sensa has published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association. After a couple hours of research. It is my opinion that Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., has not published any scientific research in Jama.
Almost all the articles found in Jama bearing his name are his written reviews of other people’s books. One item published is a correspondence to add an additional patient case study to another person’s publication. He simply has not published and therefore the claims he has published in Jama are false!
If you question my research, you can do a simple search yourself. Go to http://www.jamanetwork.com, type Alan R. Hirsch, M.D or even just his name, and behold you will know the truth. He has simply published nothing in JAMA!
Great article Joe! Keep up the good work.
Jubal, I was not aware of this thanks for the heads up – and for that website too! I bookmarked it.
I have been using sensa for 2 weeks now along with taking a multivitamin, b12 vitamin, and cranberry pills (2 with each meal) daily. I have lost 4.5 pounds but I am not sure whether it was due to the sensa, the vitamins, or normal weight fluxtuation. I have been eating less (skipping some meals and eating about 2/3 of what I normally eat.) I’m not sure if sensa is a placebo or not.
If it truly does work it will only help if you stop eating when you’re full which I have been doing. I haven’t noticed any side effects yet. Please let me know if you find out anything else!
Anonymous, thanks I will 🙂
i tried the product and had no results at all. sadly, i waited too long to return and lost the 89.95 expensive lesson.