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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
We think of medical spas as a modern invention, but they date back centuries. In the Roman Empire, soldiers would visit spas to heal from their battle wounds. Later, people in 14th-century France and Germany used to go to medical spas, seeking out treatment for kidney disease, seizure disorders, infertility, and even paralysis (Katz, 2008). So, it’s no surprise that people now turn to medispas for weight loss treatment in our modern times.
One popular weight loss medical spa is a chain of clinics called Red Mountain Weight Loss. Does this company have something valuable to offer? Maybe. But the products they sell offer questionable benefits.
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Red Mountain Weight Loss
Red Mountain Weight Loss is a boutique medical spa founded by Dr. Suzanne Bentz in Scottsdale, Arizona. They currently have over a dozen locations in Arizona and Texas, primarily in the Phoenix, Tucson, and Dallas-Fort Worth areas. They advertise guided weight loss programs with expert care, and they sell branded supplements. Some locations offer other services such as body contouring as well.
According to their website, programs may cost between $170 to $554 for the first month. They do not accept insurance.
There are two medical weight loss programs that they offer: the flagship “3-step program” RM3 and the lesser (by one step) RM Lifestyle. Their website doesn’t go into all the differences between the two, though patients on RM3 get Red Mountain patented prescription medication, while patients on RM Lifestyle do not. Otherwise, it appears the programs are similar, offering dieting tips, supplement suggestions, healthy recipes, and general advice on how to live the “Red Mountain Way.”
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Does the Red Mountain weight loss program offer something different than seeing a dietitian, who might take insurance? On the surface, no. Most of their products are supplements that one could purchase at any pharmacy under different brand names.
As they’re a relatively new company, unbiased testimonials are hard to come by. We can’t review Red Mountain’s diet plans. Since they individualize each program, there is no way to analyze them. What we can look into are the supplements and medications they sell.
Red Mountain prescription medication
Trying to identify just what Red Mountain is prescribing (and selling) can be difficult. The RM3 program literature makes many mentions of a “patented prescription medication,” but good luck finding out what’s in it.
For that, you’ll have to search the US Patent Office, and after some digging, you’ll find that they’ve issued two patents to Red Mountain Med Spa, LLC. They’re both for a weight loss medication containing resveratrol and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) (Bentz, 2015). So, why the big secret? What are these drugs?
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring chemical produced by many plants when they’re injured or infected. Grape skins, peanuts, and soy all have high levels. It didn’t garner much interest in the medical world until the 1990s. That’s when some researchers theorized that resveratrol in red wine might be related to low coronary heart disease levels in France (Renaud, 1992).
Later research suggested it might not be quite so simple as that (Bhatt, 2012). Still, it kicked off a wave of interest and study into this heretofore unimportant molecule. Over the years, people have touted resveratrol as a potential medicine for cancer, arthritis, COPD, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and about a dozen other conditions. One plant phenol can’t do all that, though, can it?
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Probably not. But as for weight loss, how does it do? The answer is not bad. If you’re a mouse, that is (Sun, 2018).
Resveratrol is still in early research. Many studies to date involve rats and mice. While they do show some promise, the effects may not all apply to humans. A 2012 study of patients with type 2 diabetes found some mild benefits to resveratrol, including lower systolic blood pressure and higher protein levels, but lower body weight was not among them (Bhatt, 2012). Another study on obese men found similar results, with no significant changes to body mass or body fat (Poulsen, 2013).
That said, other studies have differed. A recent meta-analysis suggested that resveratrol does affect body weight, BMI, and waist circumference. However, that effect may be relatively modest (Tabrizi, 2020).
There isn’t much risk in taking it, as studies have demonstrated no side effects for most people. People with certain rare medical conditions, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), may experience adverse effects (Salehi, 2018).
The jury is still out on resveratrol for weight loss. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that it isn’t a magic pill. You can’t pop one and shed the pounds while binge-watching the latest HBO miniseries and eating pasta alfredo. Diet and exercise are still the most reliable ways to lose weight and keep it off. But resveratrol may offer a modest boost towards one’s weight loss goals.
Resveratrol is available over-the-counter from many sources.
Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)
What of the other ingredient in Red Mountain’s prescription formula, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)? HCG is a hormone produced during pregnancy that stimulates the production of progesterone. It also appears in some cancerous tissues (Betz, 2021). How did it wind up getting used in diet products?
In 1954, a doctor named Albert Simeons theorized that HCG might affect fat loss when combined with an ultra low-calorie diet (Rabe, 1987). He believed it worked as an appetite suppressant and reduced cravings while dieting, among other things. However, decades of studies were never able to confirm any of his theories. The scientific consensus was that HCG did not affect weight. Despite this, Simeon continued to tout his idea and sell programs with HCG injections.
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In 1974, the Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling that stated (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 1974):
“Because of the widespread use of HCG in such weight reduction Programs, the labeling for this drug shall explicitly state that there is no substantial evidence of effectiveness for HCG in weight reduction, appetite suppression, or reduction of the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.”
Simeons tried to sue, but federal courts upheld the rule in 1978. You’d think that would be the end of the HCG-for-weight-loss story.
But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, infomercials for a plethora of products began appearing on American television, sold by a man named Kevin Trudeau. He shilled for everything from baldness cures to real estate schemes to electromagnetic chaos eliminators. Trudeau had a history on the wrong side of the law, including investigations into pyramid schemes and jail time for impersonating a physician (Copel, 2005).
He sold millions of books about magic cures and diets and touted HCG among them. The Federal Trade Commission filed multiple injunctions against him, and courts fined him millions of dollars. Trudeau is currently a guest at Federal Prison Camp Montgomery after defying numerous court orders to stop promoting false claims.
Despite his run-ins with the law, his legacy may be introducing a whole new generation to the false claims of HCG as beneficial to weight loss. The scientific consensus had not changed since the 1970s. In 1995, a new meta-analysis of HCG studies found, once again, there was no evidence for HCG as a treatment for obesity (Lijesen, 1995).
The marketing of HCG has become so widespread that the American Medical Association added a line to its policy statement on weight loss programs. They make clear that “the use of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) for weight loss is inappropriate” (American Medical Association, n.d.). It is the only drug singled out by the AMA in their policy.
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The only FDA-approved use for HCG is for the treatment of female infertility. However, healthcare providers may prescribe approved drugs for other purposes. This practice is known as “off-label prescribing” and is often a perfectly valid use for a particular medication. The position of the FDA on HCG, though, has not changed since their ruling in 1974. The FDA explicitly states that HCG is neither safe nor effective for weight loss. Over-the-counter supplements claiming to include “homeopathic” HCG are illegal in the United States (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2016).
Red Mountain supplements
In addition to their patented prescription drug, Red Mountain sells several multi-vitamins and over-the-counter supplements. Many are products you’ll see elsewhere, often with labels promoting fat-burning properties or enhanced well-being. And Red Mountain repeats many of those claims. Almost every product page features this disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
That’s not to say that some of these supplements might not have some positive effects. Many natural substances are simply never submitted for FDA evaluation. Some claims of efficacy are as unsupported as those for HCG. Others may have a body of evidence behind them. We won’t go into every one of them, as RM sells some two dozen. Keep in mind that many similar products may be available at your local pharmacy for a lower price.
Is the Red Mountain program worth it?
That we can’t say, since there’s no research on their specific programs or products. Any weight loss program should start with your regular healthcare provider, though. See what they recommend, and follow their advice. You may be more comfortable seeing an independent nutritionist who takes insurance and doesn’t have a house brand of products to promote. Regardless, if you are looking to lose weight, it’s important to do so under the safe guidance of a qualified healthcare provider.
- American Medical Association (n.d.) Policy Finder. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://policysearch.ama-assn.org/policyfinder/detail/*?uri=%2FAMADoc%2FHOD.xml-0-663.xml
- Bentz, M., Bentz, S., Roscetti, R., Arenas, M. (2015) Formulations and Methods for Weight Loss and Body Contouring. U.S. Patent No. 9,029,320 B2 Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved from https://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?PageNum=0&docid=09029320
- Betz, D., & Fane, K. (2021). Human chorionic gonadotropin. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30422545/
- Bhatt, J. K., Thomas, S., & Nanjan, M. J. (2012). Resveratrol supplementation improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition Research, 32(7), 537–541. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2012.06.003. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22901562/
- Copel, L. (2005, October 23). Wait, there’s more. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2005/10/23/wait-theres-more/0066fa69-7f33-41f1-b5be-dde983d3a239/
- Katz, B., & McBean, J. (2008). Incorporating a medical spa into a physician-run practice. Dermatologic Clinics, 26(3), 307–v. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2008.03.008. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18555948/
- Lijesen, G. K., Theeuwen, I., Assendelft, W. J., & Van Der Wal, G. (1995). The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (Hcg) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: A criteria-based meta-analysis. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 40(3), 237–243. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.1995.tb05779.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8527285/
- Poulsen, M. M., Vestergaard, P. F., Clasen, B. F., Radko, Y., Christensen, L. P., Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., et al. (2013). High-dose resveratrol supplementation in obese men: An investigator-initiated, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of substrate metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and body composition. Diabetes, 62(4), 1186–1195. doi: 10.2337/db12-0975. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23193181/
- Rabe, T., Richter, S., Kiesel, L., & Runnebaum, B. (1987). [Risk-benefit analysis of a hCG-500 kcal reducing diet (Cura romana) in females]. Geburtshilfe Und Frauenheilkunde, 47(5), 297–307. doi: 10.1055/s-2008-1035826 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3609673/
- Renaud, S., & de Lorgeril, M. (1992). Wine, alcohol, platelets, and the French paradox for coronary heart disease. Lancet, 339(8808), 1523–1526. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(92)91277-f. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1351198/
- Salehi, B., Mishra, A. P., Nigam, M., Sener, B., Kilic, M., Sharifi-Rad, M., et al. (2018). Resveratrol: A double-edged sword in health benefits. Biomedicines, 6(3). doi: 10.3390/biomedicines6030091. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30205595/
- Sun, J., Zhang, C., Kim, M., Su, Y., Qin, L., Dong, J., Zhou, Y., & Ding, S. (2018). Early potential effects of resveratrol supplementation on skeletal muscle adaptation involved in exercise-induced weight loss in obese mice. BMB Reports, 51(4), 200–205. doi: 10.5483/bmbrep.2018.51.4.236. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29519293/
- Tabrizi, R., Tamtaji, O. R., Lankarani, K. B., Akbari, M., Dadgostar, E., Dabbaghmanesh, M. H., et al. (2020). The effects of resveratrol intake on weight loss: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 60(3), 375–390. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1529654. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30421960/
- United States, Food and Drug Administration. (1974). “Chorionic Gonadotropin” 39 Fed. Reg. 42397 (Dec. 5, 1974). Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/fr039235/
- United States, Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Questions and Answers on HCG Products for Weight Loss. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/medication-health-fraud/questions-and-answers-hcg-products-weight-loss