Zabre Udo was almost satisfied with her small waist, large chest and wide hips, but her attempt to “fill out” more ended her in the emergency room.
A month after trying a supplement recommended by a popular YouTube personality, she found herself on the floor after she passed out in her home. The dual diagnosis was dehydration and irritable bowel syndrome, which her doctor traced to Apetamin, a vitamin syrup that increases hunger.
Apetamin is a syrup or tablet that claims it helps with a wide range of problems, from runny noses and itchy eyes to signs of herpes infections to high cholesterol. It also is used as a vitamin-B3 supplement — but its most recent use is for appetite stimulation.
Endorsed by users on social media, Apetamin has entered the U.S. market by way of India. It has been touted as a way to “get thick,” or curvier, in over 20,000 YouTube videos, despite the fact that there’s little information about potentially dangerous side effects.
Udo was drawn to it because she thought her figure would improve. “It is hard to find clothing to fit, when you’re extremely skinny but you have a bit of a shape,” she said.
Udo is 5’11” and weighed about 165 pounds in May 2017. The 24-year-old considered herself slim, although she was at the high end of an acceptable weight range for her height. According to Rush University Medical Center, she should weigh between 136 and 178 pounds ,but her dense muscle mass made her appear smaller.
She was one of over 700,000 people who watched Aaliyah Jay, a makeup artist with over 1 million subscribers, rave about how the product helped her gain weight. Aaliyah was originally 4’11” and 98 pounds, but in less than a year she was up to 115 pounds.
Her transformation was completed by plastic surgery to enlarge her breasts and derriere, which she confessed after public speculation about her new shape. Aaliyah videoed her life daily, showing countless trips to In-and-Out, and frequent stops at Chinese food stores. She credited Apetamin for her new hourglass shape.
“I ate anything on my mind,” said Crystal Ezeoke, a 25-year-old YouTube user and marketing manager who went from 140 pounds to 160 in two weeks.
“Fast food, junk food, healthy food, anything at all. I would eat throughout the day several times throughout the day,” she said. “Even past the point of feeling full, I would still snack here and there.”
Although Crystal said she was mindful of her fat, sugar and salt intake, her weight increase is drastically higher than the norm. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said that the average adult can safely gain .5 to two pounds a week.
“Consuming higher amounts of calories than needed is a symptom of binge eating, which damages a person physically and psychologically,” said Janet Negreene, a diet specialist at the Renfrew Center, the eating disorder rehabilitation center where Negreene has worked for over eight years.
She said binge eating can cause depression, anger, and anxiety and can lead to medical conditions associated with obesity like high cholesterol and diabetes.
But Ezoke doesn’t recall any negative symptoms other than tiredness. She and another YouTube user posted positive reviews of Apetamin that have a combined 304,000 views.
Apetamin consists of a various ingredients, with highest concentrations in Dexpanthenal, L-Lysine, Nicotinamide and Cyproheptadine.
Used as directed, Cypropheptadine is an effective way to jumpstart a child’s appetite, though it can cause sleepiness and irritability, according to Victoria Powell, a registered nurse in the Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic at UNC Children’s hospital.
Candace A., a pharmacist at Walgreen’s who declined to give her last name, said there are no serious long term effects /to the syrup or to Cyprop?/ other than tiredness, dry mouth, and constipation.
L-Lysine is an amino acid that helps treat and prevent cold sores and repair muscles after workouts. Nicotinamide supplies B-12 to the body and Dexpanthenal can help move waste through the digestive tract faster.
All the ingredients in Apetamin, are legal in the U.S., separately. The mixture in Apetamin is not.
In 2017, a company based in India that is the only maker of Apetamin, Til Healthcare PVT, was denied FDA approval, but that doesn’t stop sales in the U.S. A google search provides 10 pages of sites that sell the product.
The FDA allows unregulated supplements to be bought in the U.S. because they fall under the “special foods” category. All dietary supplements are considered safe, in the US, until proven unsafe. There have been no studies on Apetamin since it first appeared in 2001 on a New Jerey-based site called ShopEptic.
John Kwon has sold the supplement part-time since 2016 on MyApeti.com, and the high demand has led to frequent shortages and fluctuating prices. Kwon said he has access to thousands of bottles because he works directly with Til Healthcare PVT, which keeps his business relatively stable.
“We normally process 50-70 orders average daily and as high as 100-150 depending on market conditions,” he said. But Kwon doesn’t recommend long term use of Apetamin because he is not sure what is in it.
“I believe taking something to either gain or lose weight is not a good at all, but short term to get you move forward or jump start the diet should be ok,” he said.
Since the supplement causes overall weight gain, some YouTube users advise viewers to wear waist trainers while taking Apetamin.
Udo, after deliberating for months, made her video exposing her truth about Apetamin, but there are few negative videos.