My new favorite place for picking up household and beauty basics is an online storefront called As I was perusing the site for the first time, between the nail polish and body wash aisles, I somehow ended up in the Diet & Fitness section. There, I landed on a sale for Zantrex-3, touted as “America's #1 Selling Super Pill,” that provides faster weight loss and energy to burn. Enticed by an offer of free shipping and a deeply reduced sale price, I tossed the mysterious drink mix into my virtual cart. I didn’t expect it to perform miracles in my struggle to shed five stubborn pounds before my wedding, but my storehouse of energy could definitely use a lift. I figured worst case scenario was that I just ate $4.99 to drink worthless flavored water. How wrong I was.

I’ve never placed much confidence in weight loss aids. Most of them either have zero effect on your waistline or accompany unspeakable side effects. For example, Alli, an OTC diet pill that reportedly works by blocking the absorption of excess fats, has been known to “leak” your weight-loss secret. Essentially, if you don’t curb your fat intake to 15 grams per meal, you might poop your pants. Some weight-loss aids have much more serious consequences than the occasional “Alli-oops”. Like Zantrex-3, Hydroxycut is marketed as a diet aid and energy enhancer, but in 2009 its products were recalled after the FDA received 23 reports of liver injuries ranging from jaundice to death. Even so-called “natural” dietary supplements can be not only ineffective, but risky. Bitter orange extract, a substance that replaced ephedra (which was banned in 2004) as the key active in many weight-loss medications, has been linked to increased heart rate and blood pressure.

I am not a pill popper by nature, and my vain desire to slim down has never warranted a prescription drug. However, I have fallen prey to a few trendy weight-loss solutions in the past. Sensa, also known as “The Sprinkle Diet,” is meant to enhance the flavor of your food and trick your senses into thinking you’re full. After dusting these food flakes on my meals over several weeks, I didn’t notice any difference in my appetite. And then there were the times that I tried supplementing my regular meals with a protein shake, such as Special K and “Tight Curves,” both targeted specifically for women. Perhaps I have the digestive mechanisms of a man, but somehow my appetite seemed to grow with the help of these drinks.

Reminiscent of Crystal Light Drink Mix, Zantrex-3 Power Crystals seemed harmless enough. Instead of forcing you to swap out a meal, Zantrex-3 is supposed to be consumed about 15 minutes before eating your main meal. It promises to curb your appetite and deliver results in a couple of weeks. To quote its own hyped-up jargon: “546% more weight loss than the leading ephedra-based diet pill... Zantrex-3 is a new category of bifurcated weight loss compounds providing both rapid weight loss and incredible energy combined into a single power-packed Super Pill.” The Power Crystals that I purchased supposedly contain the same formula as the original Zantrex-3 pills.

Before mixing up a tall glass of mystery orange goop, I did my due diligence and inspected the ingredients list. It is populated with botanical extracts both foreign and familiar. The first is yerba mate, an antioxidant heavy-hitter potentially capable of controlling appetite, among other virtues such as boosting immunity, battling insomnia, detoxifying the blood, and stimulating the mind. Next on the list is guarana seed extract, which comes from South America and is often classified as a stimulant. This powerful herb acts as a general tonic for the body, boosting energy and preventing fatigue. It contains a compound similar to caffeine called tetra methylxathine. But instead of mimicking caffeine’s short-term energy boost, guarana is absorbed by the body gradually, helping the metabolism work at a high rate over a prolonged time.

The bulk of Zantrex-3’s formula reads like an encyclopedia of medicinal herbs around the world. Asian ginseng has many interesting properties, such as improving memory, increasing energy, reducing stress, and maintaining health. Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca root is believed to significantly boost physical stamina and strengthen the body under stress. Schizonepeta is a traditional Chinese herb used to reduce inflammation and treat sore throats (which is why it also makes an appearance in Airborne tablets). The damiana plant, native to South America, behaves like a stimulant for the nervous system. It has been used as a treatment for depression, as a sexual aphrodisiac, and as a diuretic (probably most useful for Zantrex-3’s audience). Both green tea and kola nut contribute stimulant effects similar to caffeine. The powers of antioxidant-rich green tea don’t stop at fighting free radicals. Supporting weight loss, the polyphenols and caffeine in green tea extract have shown promising results in increasing energy expenditure. So far, Zantrex-3 sounds nothing but beneficial.

Though a few of these extracts are well-known, Zantrex-3’s most recognized ingredient is caffeine. Caffeine is universally popular for its ability to ward off drowsiness and restore alertness, but its drawbacks are rarely discussed. Immediate side effects can include dizziness, irritability, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, heart palpitations, sleep disorders, and depression; however, these symptoms typically only manifest in individuals who consume extremely high doses of caffeine. There is a common misconception that caffeine is a silver bullet for weight loss, when in fact, many medical authorities (including the Mayo Clinic) espouse the opposite view. According to a 2008 study in Canada, moderate coffee consumption triggered a dramatic spike in participants’ blood sugar. Caffeine has also shown to elevate the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, leading to cravings, stimulated appetite, and buildup of fat in the abdominal area. Apart from its links to weight gain, caffeine is highly addictive.

Notwithstanding the risks of excessive caffeine, I was impressed with the potent tonics and herbal aids housed within Zantrex-3. Thus I began what was supposed to be a two-week trial. The taste of Zantrex-3 was surprisingly refreshing and delicious, even more so than the fibrous drink Citrucel, which shares the same bright orange hue. But as I sipped the mixture, my heart started to speed up and the jitters kicked in. I could not sit still. Instead of reining in my thoughts and delivering a dose of focused concentration - as a cup of coffee sometimes does - Zantrex-3 made my mind bounce off the walls. I felt like I had ADD. The side effects became progressively worse, and without going into too much detail, let’s just say I made an inordinate number of trips to the bathroom. Several hours later my stomach was sore from cramping. I may have eaten less than usual thanks to the intense nausea, but was this how I wanted to shed a few pounds? After four grim days suffering through this process, I threw in the towel and chucked my remaining packets in the trash.

It should have been no surprise that my body did not react well to Zantrex-3, considering the high levels of caffeine and stimulants, as well as the additive sorbitol, which has a laxative action. The side effects of Zantrex-3 have much in common with 5-Hour Energy, that ubiquitous energy shot product peddled in supermarkets, gas stations, drugstores, and now commercials. After reading about the roller coaster ride of elevated blood sugar and stress hormones that can be set in motion by caffeine, I have an inkling why I’ve experienced so much difficulty sticking to a healthy eating regimen. If I am going to get serious about losing a few extra pounds, I need to give up twisted weight-loss gimmicks like Zantrex-3, along with my morning mug of joe.

[As a side note, is an excellent outlet for everyday cleaning and grooming essentials. It has saved me money and trips to the drugstore. Thanks to this happy discovery, my Zantrex-3 trial wasn’t a complete wash!]

Active Ingredients:
Yerba mate extract, guarana seed extract, caffeine, damiana extract, green tea extract, kola nut extract, schizonepeta flower extract, black pepper fruit extract, rhodiola crenulata root extract, asian ginseng extract, maca root extract, cocoa seed extract, black tea extract.
Other ingredients:
Sorbitol, citric acid, natural flavors, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5, FD&C Yellow 6.