Take longer, healthier route to good health

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Chinh looks like she is about six months pregnant, although her only child was born three years ago.

After many attempts to lose weight through massages and herbal teas failed, the 32-year-old went to a beauty saloon after reading about it on the Internet. She was impressed by its claims as well as the messages of gratitude from its customers. 

Seeing a lot of big sized women at the saloon on her first visit only further confirmed her belief that she had made the right decision.

After four more visits, her skin had almost developed necrosis, and a sadder, wiser 32-year-old woman realized that she, and many women like her, frequently end up being victims of unscrupulous quacks and dubious therapies.

Doctors say many women are so obsessed with their obesity that they make it worse than it already is by believing in sugarcoated advertisements for weight-loss services that, in many instances, are not  medically verified and thus, not only carry the risk of being ineffective, but also that of having adverse health impacts. 

Chinh was receiving the "fat-dissolving" shots that are now advertised by many beauty saloons, especially in Ho Chi Minh City.

She visited one on Le Hong Phong Street in District 10, ready to spend up to VND200 million (US$9,420) raised from her own savings and through loans from both sides of her family.

She was suggested injections in different body parts, including four shots (VND8 million each) into the upper belly, four (VND10 million) into the lower belly, and four others (VND6 million each) to reduce chin fat.

"It was rather expensive but I was determined," she said.

She received the first shot in late October and was supposed to take the following ones every two weeks, paying as and when she took them. 

Chinh said the saloon staff had guaranteed that the shots "cause no pain, allergies or endocrine disorders," but her whole body was in great pain at the first shot into her belly, which became itchy and developed rashes the same night. Three days later, there were pustules.

She complained to the saloon and was told that it was a side effect of vitamin B12 in the shot, that it will be gone in ten days or so.

But the effect only worsened after the second shot, and Chinh gave up after the fourth one, when she had to seek treatment for her damaged belly skin at the HCMC Dermatology Hospital.

The fat-dissolving shots are advertised as a kind of mesotherapy, or a non-surgical cosmetic treatment that involves injections of pharmaceutical and homeopathic medications, plant extracts, vitamins, and other ingredients, and "the most effective weight loss method ever."

One saloon website runs a story, said to come from an obese woman, about her obese friend transforming into a slim figure with fresh skin and silky hair.

The author said they used to be of the same size, until the other changed a lot as they saw each other recently at a high school reunion, and the transformed one did not have to care about her diet, as she ate a lot of everything at the party.

"Her tip was shots of vitamin B12 at a beauty saloon in HCMC. She'd lost more than 25 kilograms," the story goes.

The vitamin deficiency is usually associated with obesity, despite no established casual link, and saloons play into it saying their shots will permanently cure the condition and one will never have to worry about their food intake.

The vitamin B12 shots were described as a miracle that would not only enhance one's looks but also improved one's health since the rare vitamin (which can only be produced naturally by bacteria and the like instead of any fungi, plants or animals) has a key role in the formation of blood.

The story received hundreds of questions from readers asking for the saloon's address, and the website made it look like its service was in great demand.

Doctor Nguyen Huu Duc from Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine said around 100 kinds of oral medicines and injections are being used in Vietnam for weight loss purposes, but they all have the effect of causing one to lose appetite or feel like they're full.

"There's no drug that dissolves fat and makes one skinny by itself."

Duc said mesotherapy is being used in Europe as a dermatology treatment for aging, saggy or discolored skin, "absolutely not for weight reduction."

That is not to mention the illegality of the services, leaving the patients to suffer any bitter consequences on their own.

One patient named Thao, also from HCMC, is going to need a surgery to remove fat clots under her belly skin, which doctors said were formed between the body fat and the injections' ingredients which the body refused to absorb.

The saloon that treated her has been suspended after being caught providing the service without permit.

Duc said injections are usually advertised by beauty saloons as containing vitamin B12 and phosphatidylcholin, or lecithin, which is a phospholipid found in cell membranes and also helps with fat metabolism, but none of the ingredients have the proven ability to get rid of body fat.

"No serious studies have proved that injecting lecithin can eliminate body fat," the doctor said.

He said the advertisements were also wrong in saying that vitamin B12 can boost the burning of calories. "Vitamins in general only act as catalysts, they cannot reduce any calories."

He said injections of vitamin B12 are only recommended for patients with severe and malicious anemia. Otherwise, the injections can cause allergies or even fatal shocks.

The doctors said people wanting to lose weight would know better to consult qualified doctors or nutritionists, and take the longer, healthier route to better health.

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