Wondernut: If this diet aid is dangerous, why is it still on the market?

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Posted 04 May 2018

By Katharine Child Times Select

Activist puts the blame on SA’s new drugs regulator, which in turn claims it is under-resourced

Desperate to lose weight, a Joburg woman was eager to try a weight-loss pill readily available online – one that promised to be a herbal remedy. But then things took a turn for the worse for her health.

Four days after starting to use Wondernut, she started shaking all over. The woman has severe bipolar disorder but has been stable for years on a range of psychiatric medications.

“We thought she was having a ‘depressive’ episode as she was a wreck and couldn’t talk properly. This was accompanied by gastritis with nausea, vomiting, inability to eat and severe pain. She was in bed for 10 days. She stopped using the product, and is only just getting better now, physically and emotionally,” her daughter explained.

Enter Harris Steinman, a doctor and activist, and a man on a mission against unregulated medicines.  Central to this is a delay in registering complementary medicine by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

Formerly the Medicines Control Council, Sahpra’s job is to regulate both actual medicines and complementary medicines that include weight-loss tablets, herbal remedies and vitamins on pharmacy shelves.

In his spare time Steinman has started collecting complaints from people who reportedly fell ill after using the weight-loss remedy.

For months, he has been writing on his website about Wondernut, which goes by various names.

Two weeks ago a person wrote to Steinman saying his niece was in ICU after using it.

“She had had three dialysis treatments for failing kidneys, she is having multiple blood transfusions as we speak and is on morphine for pain.”

This followed use of the herbal product.

Another woman wrote that she started having excruciating stomach pain.

“I literally felt as if I had been poisoned … I was devastated as I had hoped this would help me, but I would rather be healthy and alive at a higher weight than do damage to my body internally.”

She has now joined a gym and started to meditate, and is slowly shedding the weight.

Steinman makes it a mission to warn people against products that are untested for safety or efficacy.

In November 2017, South Africa’s then  Medicines Control Council also issued a strong warning that the nuts of Aleurites moluccanus (L.) Willd. – also known as Indian Walnut‚ and marketed in South Africa as the Wondernut – had reportedly toxic effects in humans‚ ranging from severe gastrointestinal irritation to death, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler reported.

That was because it contains compounds that have irritant properties and are very strong purgatives‚ the regulator said.

“They may also act as potent tumour promoters and be very irritating to the skin and eyes. Ingestion of the nuts has been reported to cause vomiting‚ gastrointestinal pain and diarrhoea.

“Health agencies in countries such as Spain‚ Argentina‚ Chile and Brazil have prohibited the use of the seeds due to deaths reportedly caused by their ingestion for weight-loss purposes.”

In November 2013, the then Medicines Control Council issued new regulations for herbal medicines that promise to cure everything from high blood sugar and high cholesterol to sexual problems, insomnia and anxiety, and to improve sporting performance.

The manufacturers of these herbal remedies needed to provide scientific evidence that the product was safe and effective in doing what it claimed to do.

Sahpra didn’t approve a single application last year, former Registrar Joey Gouws confirmed (she left at the end of last year). She said the dossiers provided and scientific research were not of the required standard.

Sahpra acting CEO Portia Nkambule did not respond to questions sent about this issue three weeks ago, despite giving an undertaking to do so.

Herbal medicine advocate Anthony Rees says many herbal companies who have submitted applications are, fou-and-half years later, yet to get a receipt from Sahpra.

“Many of the companies I spoke to haven’t even received acknowledgement of receipt for their submitted applications, nor receipts for their application fees.”

“This can only mean the applications are either not being assessed, have been lost, or Sahpra has bitten off more than they can chew by imposing requirements for these products.”

“Frankly, the whole complementary medicines regulatory system has become quite a farce and it’s evident why a large segment of the industry are not willing to comply, and have recently launched a legal review of the basis of the complementary medicines in the High Court.”

Judging from a parliamentary presentation Sahpra still has some way to go before it becomes functional.

Sahpra was formed last year out the Medicine Control Council that used to regulate both ordinary pharmaceutical medicines and herbal vitamins and remedies. 

Sahpra has a new board, new staff and is structured legally to get less funding from government than the Medicines Control Council did and become largely self-sufficient.

But it recently told parliament it had yet to fill CEO and CFO posts due to strict regulations around hiring government staff.  A new IT system is also expected to be ready by the beginning of 2019. 

Nkambule explained that, if it is to achieve its goals, financial resources, IT infrastructure, resource capacity and a skilled human capital are critical. 

But she told Times Select they are severely understaffed. “The Sahpra business model will require a staffing complement of around 450 full-time employees to carry out all required regulatory functions and will be phased in over a period of five years.  Sahpra currently has 178 full-time employees and a similar number of external evaluators supporting regulatory activities currently.” 

Of its R215-million budget, almost R149-million will go to salaries, they told parliament.

The Wondernut website states: “This organic weight loss seeds (sic) has not been evaluated by the MCC. [It] is not intended to diagnose‚ treat‚ cure or prevent any disease.”

The website features a series of video interviews with sales agents‚ conducted by director and co-founder Maureen Botes‚ who makes health statements‚ including: “It has worked on cancer patients‚” and: “It can make your blood pressure drop.”

She repeatedly says those taking the product have seen a dramatic reduction in their cholesterol levels.

Contacted for comment‚ Botes  told Knowler: “Our legal team has asked us not to talk to you people.”

[note note_color="#f6fdde" radius="4"]CamCheck posts related to Wondernut
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15 Responses to Wondernut: If this diet aid is dangerous, why is it still on the market?

  1. Adri Du Plessis 20 May, 2019 at 9:38 am #

    Good Day
    Just want to ask if u have chronic constipation, spastic colon , this is good cause at least u go at least once a day and not once a month.
    Is the WonderNut really so dangerous?
    People say Secret Fat burner can cause your death but yet people are buying.

    Why is the product on the market if it causes your death.
    I think u must just lower the dosage.

    • Harris 20 May, 2019 at 9:43 am #

      @Adri
      Both Wondernut AND Secret Fat Burner are high risk products. They remain on the market simply because the authorities are not taking action, that is, they are not acting against anything. These products are not exceptions, it has to do with paralysis of the regulatory authorities to act and protect consumers.

  2. Nadia Strydom 29 August, 2019 at 7:19 am #

    Hi Harris,

    I am currently investigating what the real effects are of Wondernut. Is that the same as the Indian Whole Nut? Is there any tests done internationally to show the effects of the Nut? The people who experienced the adverse effects, was it not caused by overdose?

    Most nuts taken in large amounts causes bloating, can it be that if you take more than the prescribed dosage that it caused issues with the people who reported negative effects.

    I will appreciate some feedback.

    • Harris 29 August, 2019 at 9:33 pm #

      @Nadia
      According to my information, the Wondernut is the same nut as Indian Whole nut.
      These nuts have toxic constituents not present in other tree and ground nuts and hence their toxicity. Some of the symptoms will be very obvious. Others are ‘hidden’ and long term – according to the medical literature.

      • anish 5 November, 2019 at 3:18 pm #

        i have been on the wondernut for a month now… id like to know if they did tests to prove if it was the nut that caused them to get sick

        please email me
        [email protected]

        • Harris 7 November, 2019 at 2:22 pm #

          Yes, they did

    • Anne Vuuron 21 February, 2020 at 9:13 pm #

      I have a under active thyroid (hypothyroidism). Been on the capsules for a month, and had to go for a checkup on my thyroid. Blood test now show i
      have hyperthyroidism (overactive)!! How long does these pills stay in your system as i need to redo my blood tests

      • Harris 28 February, 2020 at 11:05 am #

        @Anne
        I cannot find any research to indicate how long they stay in one’s system. Some drugs only stay for a very short time, others like long-acting antihistamines can stay for longer than 24 hours. Therefore we know the toxins in this product can last, but for how long I do not know. Of course, if the toxin damages an organ, then the toxin may be gone but the damage not.

  3. Cindy Leigh 26 November, 2019 at 9:55 am #

    My question why would a plant or nut be dangerous. It comes from the earth just like plants and fruit nd veg. I thinking people are not following instructions.Increasing the actual amount. Why was this report of this lady who suffered from this not on the news. And why is it still being sold? I have a friend who used the nut for a week and it help not only with weight loss but also her health. And Harris why dont you go public with this seeing that it is dangerous. What indegrients in the nut makes it dangerous.

    • Harris 11 December, 2019 at 7:50 am #

      Arsenic, cyanide, toxic mushrooms and many other risky and dangerous stuff come from the earth. Still being sold because the authorities have not been acting at all – not because the consider it to be safe.

  4. Susan 20 December, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

    People need to use common sense. This product lowers your potassium, if you are on bipolar meds, off course you are going to run into issues. If you manage your potassium levels you should have minimal side effects. Look at the alternative for Obesity, it’s your Duromine, anti epileptic meds, ADHD meds and now diabetic injections that is used to suppress appetite, and quite frankly, those meds are far far worse. Stop with the witch hunt, rather educate people to make better choices and look at the positive reviews too to get a balanced perspective.

  5. Amanda 15 April, 2020 at 10:52 pm #

    I take wondernut ..cramps and nausea…they said its 100% organic and the best product..

  6. Lenise 16 June, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    Dear Harris, do you have any proof or lab reports that show that the wondernut contains Arsenic, cyanide or any other toxic substance or agents and also proof that it can or does cause cancer? Can you please post this on the website so that everyone can see it? If there is any medical literature from more than one source please would you mind sharing it. There are different packages on the Internet and I see you can even order this almost from anywhere or anyone. I know of one lady who bought the nut and i asked her how she used it she said that she broke it to the prescribed size and just drank it. When I explained to her how I used it, she said that the method on how I was using it, was not explained to her in that way. So it could be incorrect use of the product that could make a person ill.

    • Harris 19 June, 2020 at 7:09 am #

      @Lenise
      I have previously posted the links to the documented and published literature: seek and you shall find

  7. Amanda Luckay 5 March, 2021 at 4:09 pm #

    Hello..
    I also took this wonder nut hoping to lose weight. Within days my joints became so sore and i was so tired i could barely lift my arms or hold my steering wheel while driving. When my GP took blood tests she found my potassium levels were so low thats what was causing this and i was having dizzy and fainting spells. When i told her about the nut she ordered me to stop taking it immediately as it was that that was causing my problems.
    A few days after treatment and leaving the nut i was feeling much better and like myself again.
    People please DO NOT TAKE THIS NUT IT IS VERY DANGEROUS.

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