In the last twenty years health plans and diets have become big business. Those who want to shed those extra pounds can choose between a multitude of different diets: Weightwatchers, the Slimfast plan, the cabbage soup diet, the Atkins diet – the list goes on. But for one in five people, choosing the wrong type of diet could do more harm than good, as Kate Barker found out.

A recent study carried out by researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University found that one in five of us may have the type of body that is less able to cope with the average high sugar, high processed-carbohydrate diet typical in the Western world. Exposure to this type of diet in these cases can lead to a type of glucose poisoning known as insulin resistance.

A high level of glucose in the blood triggers the pancreas to start producing insulin, a hormone that tells certain cells to start absorbing glucose for storage. Muscle and liver cells absorb all they can, and once it is absorbed into these cells the glucose is converted into glycogen for quick release energy. The surplus glucose is absorbed by fat cells for longer-term storage.

When a body becomes insulin resistant, the fat cells become so full that they cannot respond when insulin prompts them to store more glucose. The cells become bloated and enlarged, blood glucose levels start to rise, and more insulin is released to try to control the problem, leading to a dangerous metabolic imbalance capable of causing serious health problems such as hypertension, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.

In addition the body can even start to make new fat cells, mainly around the waist and in the neck and face. Syndrome-X is the name given to the set of symptoms that indicate when a person may be suffering from insulin resistance. Symptoms include weight gain around the stomach, giving the individual a so-called “apple shape”, a full moon-shaped face, chronic tiredness, mental fuzziness, creases in the earlobes and a craving for sweet food and drinks.

Cutting fat and calories may not be the answer

For sufferers of Syndrome-X, low-fat, low-cal diets may not be the answer. Certain carbohydrates that are recommended in many diets have a high glycemic index, which means they are rapidly broken down in the intestine, causing blood sugar levels to surge, which in turn raises insulin levels and stimulates fat storage. Low glycemic carbohydrates, however, give longer, slower releases of sugar and therefore less insulin is produced.

Considering that one in five people are susceptible to Syndrome-X (12 million people in the UK alone) public awareness of it is minimal. However, an Oxford-based nutritional supplement company, Biovite, is doing its best to change that. Established in November 2001, Biovite sells a small range of nutritional supplements such as alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine, which are positioned as anti-aging products. It was while researching alpha-lipoic acid that Biovite came across information on Syndrome-X. Following extensive research, the company came up with a nutritional supplement called X-Vite, which came on the market in May 2002, aimed at helping people with Syndrome-X to lose weight. X-Vite is advertised as an advanced weight-loss programme combining nutrients and a low glycemic diet, and it comes with a booklet that explains what Syndrome-X is and how it may be reversed.

Sandra Lees, managing director of Biovite, says that all too often essential nutrients are missed out when people embark on a diet, which can lead to poor health. Lees herself is a Syndrome-X sufferer and says her knowledge about it helped her to lose weight through a low glycemic diet and X-Vite nutrients.

Not a miracle diet pill

“It’s not a magic slimming pill,” she says of X-Vite, “It’s a lifestyle change.” She says that people need to be taught about high and low glycemic foods. A small booklet tucked inside a box of X-Vite gives examples of “fat-storing” carbohydrates to be avoided: White rice, sweetcorn, baked potatoes, Ryvita, pitta bread, bananas and rice cakes, to mention but a few. There is also a list of low glycemic carbohydrates that are permitted in the X-Vite plan: Oatmeal biscuits, wholemeal pasta, chick peas, low-fat yoghurt, unsalted peanuts, All Bran, fish fingers and the list goes on. General knowledge of high and low glycemic products is so low that Biovite receives numerous calls to its helpline from people wanting to find out more.

Lees says that due to the modern diet many people, especially dieters, miss out on essential nutrients, which is where the X-Vite supplement comes in. Apart from helping with weight loss and general health and energy levels, many of the nutrients contained in X-Vite help repair cell damage caused by insulin resistance, as well as being integral for normal insulin function. Biovite recommends four X-Vite capsules be taken each day, two in the morning and two in the evening. The vitamins and minerals contained in four X-Vite capsules are shown below.




Vitamin A



Mild antioxidant, helps with glucose disposal

Vitamin B1



Essential for energy

Vitamin B2



Helps to maintain healthy hair, skin and nails

Vitamin B3



Helps with energy supply, helps fight infection

Vitamin B5



Assists metabolism

Vitamin B6



Recommended for relieving stress

Vitamin B12



Helps control appetite

Vitamin C



Antioxidant, boosts immune system, helps maintain normal insulin function

Vitamin E



Antioxidant, helps improve glucose control, helps regulate insulin levels

Folic Acid



Breaks down protein, may help reduce risk of heart disease




Vital for maintaining insulin response, helps improve glucose handling




Helps with glucose regulation, insulin function, and weight control




Works alongside vitamin E as part of antioxidant system




Needed for various enzymes to work, needed for normal insulin function




Vital for metabolism function, deficiency can lead to insulin resistance and high cholesterol, also reduces sugar cravings

Alpha Lipoic Acid



Antioxidant, lowers blood glucose levels, improves insulin sensitivity, anti-aging properties

Since its emergence onto the market, X-Vite has become Biovite’s flagship product. At £29.95 (US$47.68) for one month’s supply, it may seem expensive, but Lees says the product contains the best ingredients. For example, X-Vite contains natural vitamin E which is more expensive than its synthetic version but is more easily absorbed by the body. Lees considers £1 a day to be a fair price for what she regards as “health insurance”. A new seven-day starter pack is also available and Lees is confident that after a week people will notice the difference in their health and energy levels.

Apart from being available online, X-Vite is also sold at several health food shops, including NutriCentre, but is not yet available in the big supermarkets or pharmacies, except branches of Tesco that have NutriCentre stores within.

Duty of education

While she hopes to one day have X-Vite sold at supermarkets, Lees thinks changes are needed in the way nutritional supplements are displayed in supermarkets and pharmacies: “These companies have a duty of care to their customers, but there is rarely anyone on hand to provide information about what supplements a customer might need. When a person decides to take a supplement, they are self-medicating and therefore there needs to be a supply of information available to them.”

This is especially true where something as little known as Syndrome-X is concerned. Lees hopes to educate people about Syndrome-X by organising a Syndrome-X awareness day to take place on 28 March 2003. On that day, Biovite will have a stand at the Vitality Show – a health and beauty exhibition at Olympia in London – but is still looking for a sponsor.

To Lees it’s not just about getting Biovite’s product noticed, it is also about educating people about Syndrome-X and the link between insulin resistance, weight gain and the food we eat. “It’s hard being at the forefront,” Lees says. “It’s especially hard when people have been given the wrong message for such a long time. To lose weight, it’s not just will power you need, it’s information.”