Hit & Run: A work-out in a bottle?

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The Independent Online

Dangerous-diet watchers, for one moment set aside your copy of Fern: My Story. Switch off "Silksy" masticating his jungle grubs. For there is mildly alarming news direct from Los Angeles, global capital of thin: paparazzi shots this week show actress Lindsay Lohan striding out of an LA drugstore clutching three packets of cherry-flavoured sweets, a packet of lemon chews and... a bright blue bottle of grape-flavoured VPX RedLine Fat Incinerator. Lohan, who has previously admitted to bulimia, now appears to a fan of a notorious supercharged caffeine drink favoured by bodybuilders – those hard enough to stomach the Fat Incinerator's whopping 250mg dose, anyway.

According to the blurb, it "shreds fat through the shivering response in the body". And, boy, would you be shaking after glugging one of these: 250mg is the one-hit equivalent to three double espressos. "And that's caffeine citrate, too, a type which is rapidly absorbed by the body," says nutritionist Ian Marber of The Food Doctor. "That amount of caffeine, well, I don't want to say it's dangerous, but it's enough to cause alarm and panic, paranoia and probably give you trouble sleeping. It's getting towards the level of speed."

In the UK, the best-known high-caffeine hits beside cola and coffee – Red Bull, Relentless and the none-too-subtly-marketed Cocaine – are sold as party drinks rather than weight-loss aids. A 250ml can of Red Bull contains far less caffeine than the Fat Incinerator – a mere 80mg – yet a recent study suggested too many of these may cause heart damage. Although Lohan, 22, is unlikely to be joining their ranks, professional bodybuilders do often use a large shot of caffeine as a pre-gym fillip, and Fat Incinerator is marketed specifically as a fitness aid.

"I've got clients who are bodybuilders, and they'll have half a Red Bull before going to the gym," says Marber, "but they have a very fixed and unusual goal, and they'll pay a price to get where they want to. A body builder might take 300mg to speed up their metabolic rate, but they're intent on stripping fat for specific reasons. One client of mine started taking some of the same ingredients [as those in Fat Incinerator], and he was unwell and unable to perform. He said he was off his head."

Fat Incinerator gets rather excitable reviews on the bodybuilding message boards. "It's intense!" enthuses one pec-flexer. "I lost 7lb in two weeks!" But another, writing on Bodybuildingforyou.com, claims "This almost killed me". The product itself carries warnings that nobody under 18 or pregnant should try the tipple, so it can hardly be healthy for a feather-light starlet like Lohan.

Still, you'll legitimately ask – can it help me lose weight? Such a dose of caffeine would certainly speed up the metabolism. But any change on the scales would be short term. A lengthy regime of Fat Incinerator and its attendant shivering would be deeply unpleasant. As Marber says, "It's dramatic stuff. There are easier and safer ways to lose weight that won't leave you shivering in the corner." And, Lindsay – though we're sure you've heard this before – you really, really don't need to. Susie Rushton

The bishop who stole Christmas

Since pagan Christmas was first harnessed to the Christian calendar – to bring some welcome conviviality to the gloom of mid-winter – there's always been someone to complain about its "commercialisation." No sooner was Clement Clarke Moore's poem, "Twas the night before Christmas," published, on 23 December 1823, than bilious clergymen regularly appeared to thunder that we'd all forgotten The True Meaning of Christmas.

This year's spoilsport is the Rt Rev Dr Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Reading, who has published, Do Nothing: Christmas is Coming, wherein he insists that, "there must be another way of celebrating Christmas" than sending cards and buying gifts. Don't send any cards with false promises of "catching up" in the New Year, he says. Instead, "Help save the planet and send an email card, and then a note about which charity the money saved has been sent to." Instead of buying pricey gifts, he recommends we "make everyone a jar of marmalade, or pickle some onions".

Gosh, it must be fun having the Rt Rev Cottrell around. Shall we explain to him that the revenue from Christmas cards is a seasonal boon to the charity market; that the cards from relatives and friends is an exercise in communal esprit de corps of which the Church should, theoretically, approve?

We like Christmas as it is. We regret the tinsel and the lack of piety, but we can still find a potent magic in its ancient and modern mythologies. We should spare a thought, this Yuletide, for the Bishop of Reading's family as they sit in their bleak, card-free, onion-scented, Episcopal home... John Walsh

Get with the programme

In this age of illicit downloads and DVD box sets, a widespread cultural condition afflicts television aficionados. Call it "Second Season Syndrome": damage to the tongue caused by biting it, in order to avoid giving away some crucial plot point from the third season of 'The Wire' (you know which bit I'm talking about). You might love the same shows as your friends, yet none of you can discuss them for fear of letting slip such facts as whether Vince landed the part in 'Aquaman' ('Entourage'), Palmer won a second term in the White House ('24') or Don got caught in flagrante ('Mad Men'). Tim Walker

I'll have whatever he's on

There's more to Viagra than putting a spring in your, er, step. Management consultant Yvonne Finlayson, 36, made headlines after it was revealed she had used the impotency drug to improve her fertility: the little blue pills increased blood flow to her womb – and she had twins. Viagra is truly a panacea for our times. First developed to combat pulmonary hypertension, it can also treat altitude sickness and enhance sports performance. And according to one scientific paper published in 2007, it even staves off jet lag in hamsters. Rob Sharp