The Skinny on Weight Loss Supplements

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 15 percent of all American adults have tried a weight loss dietary supplement during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, most of these supplements are ineffective at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Some interact with prescribed medications, while others are dangerous all on their own.

The NIH has a list of common supplements that describes their supposed effects and whether studies confirm them. Here’s what the agency has to say about 10 of the most common supplements:

Caffeine: Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system. Research shows it may have minor success in decreasing weight gain over time. It’s generally safe for adults as long as you take no more than 400/mg per day.

Green Coffee Bean: Green coffee bean is a fad supplement that was touted by Dr. Oz based on a study that was later retracted. It’s supposed to help with glucose metabolism and inhibit fat accumulation, but legitimate studies only show a modest effect. This supplement is generally safe, although it does contain caffeine.

Green Tea: Green tea has some legitimate health benefits, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, like helping to prevent coronary disease and certain types of cancer. However, studies show that it only has a minimal effect on weight loss. It’s safe to drink, but green tea extract has some safety concerns.

Garcinia Cambogia: Garcinia Cambogia is supposed to inhibit lipogenesis and decrease your appetite, but studies show that it’s not effective. Possible side effects include headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms, but it’s safe overall.

Chromium: Chromium is said to increase lean muscle mass, reduce hunger, and promote weight loss. Clinical trials show it has very little positive effect in any of those areas. While it might cause side effects like headaches, weakness, constipation, or watery stools, it’s safe in doses of up to 45/mcg per day.

Glucomannan: Glucomannan is supposed to make you feel full and slow down the time it takes for your stomach to empty. Clinic trials show that it has little, if any, effect in weight loss, and tablet forms pose a risk for blocking your esophagus.

Chitosan: Chitosan is supposed to help you excrete more dietary fat. It has only been studied in small, poorly designed trials. They show it only has a minimal effect on weight loss. It may cause indigestion, bloating and flatulence, but it’s generally safe unless you’re allergic to seafood.

Hoodia: Hoodia is said to make you eat less by reducing your appetite. It hasn’t been studied much in humans, but one study showed it had no effect on body weight. It has some risks, as it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure.

Raspberry Ketone: Raspberry ketone is said to alter your lipid metabolism, but it hasn’t been studied widely on its own. It doesn’t pose any known safety risks, but there isn’t enough data to say whether it’s effective.

Ephedra: Ephedra is a central nervous system stimulant that showed some effectiveness in clinical trials. However, it was banned due to safety concerns. Never order supplements containing ephedra, as they’re illegal in the United States and potentially dangerous.

Even if a supplement is listed as safe, it could still interact with your current medication. Always talk to your doctor before taking any weight loss dietary supplement.

Rather than relying on pills, powders, and other potions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these two healthy, effective strategies:

  • Eat a healthy diet that’s adapted so you expend more calories than you take in each day.
  • Do 60 to 90 minutes of moderate physical activity as many days as possible each week.

By moving more and eating less, you’ll accomplish more effective weight loss with no supplements required.