Weight Loss Supplements: Are they recommended?
by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE
People have long been searching for a magic bullet that works for weight loss… a pill to take. A potion to drink. Nearly 50% of women on weight loss diets have tried some kind of supplement. While most are heavily advertised and widely available, there is very little research that any are effective. Many are expensive, and some have side effects.
Our goal is to help you be an informed consumer— so you know the benefits and risks – and to help you make smart choices. The important thing to understand here though is that no supplement or vitamin has strong data that shows that it works. If you still want to take a supplement though, ask yourself the questions below.
- Is my focus still on my healthy eating and exercise plan?
- Does this fit my budget?
- Can I find neutral, non-biased information about it on the web?
- Am I aware of possible side effects?
- Have I told my doctor?
- Do I feel better taking it?
- Does it have a money-back guarantee?
As you think about the answers, be sure to read our review below of the most popular supplements available.
The table below summarizes popular supplements in two different categories:
- Pills – or tablets that you can buy without a prescription
- Foods – or ingredients in common foods that are linked with weight loss
Note: This article does not address “Meal Replacements” sometimes referred to as “supplements”. These specially formulated shakes or bars packed with protein and fiber to be eaten instead of a meal, have been used in several large research studies involving weight loss and are linked with better outcomes for weight loss and weight maintenance. (Examples include: SlimFast®, ThinkThin® or Glucerna HungerSmart®)
|What is it?||What’s it supposed to do?||Anything else I should know?||Bottom line:|
|Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
A fatty acid found naturally in beef and dairy products. The supplement is made by chemically altering the linoleic acid from sunflower or safflower oils.
|While some research shows links with weight loss (by decreasing food intake and increasing fat break-down), studies are not consistent. Many studies show no effect.||High doses are linked with increased levels of fat in the liver, inflammation, increased insulin resistance, diarrhea and stomach upset.||Skip it.
Get a variety of healthy fats (which can help you feel full) from plant oils, lean beef and dairy foods.
Extract from the fruit, Malabar Tamarind
|May help decrease hunger and block and enzyme linked with making fat.||One study showed those who took it lost 2 pounds more than those who didn’t. (Not a big deal!)
And, it is costly: $50 for a one-month supply.
|Put that money into buying more fresh fruits and veggies!|
A water soluble dietary fiber.
|As with other dietary fibers, this is linked with increased feelings of fullness and slower stomach emptying.||Important to take with plenty of water (1-2 glasses) shortly before eating. Can increase feelings of bloating, gas, diarrhea.||Eat more food sources of soluble fiber instead! Oats, barley, dried beans and apples are all good sources.|
A synthetic substance modeled after the aromatic flavor in raspberries.
|Stimulates the break-down of fat; increases levels of adiponectin, a hormone that regulates metabolism.||While early studies show some promise in rats, there have been no good studies in humans showing that this is effective.||Enjoy raspberries as a fresh fruit, but there seems to be no benefit to this supplement for weight loss.|
An over-the-counter medicine (Alli) or a prescription medicine (Orlistat). To be used along with a low-calorie meal plan
|This medicine works by inhibiting the breakdown of fat in the stomach so that it passes through, undigested, thus limiting the calories absorbed.||Must be taken shortly before a meal containing fat. (If you’re not eating any fat, then don’t take it). Can lead to some unpleasant side effects including oily stools and increased urgency of bowel movements or diarrhea. Take a multi-vitamin with fat-soluble vitamins.||If you try it, follow instructions carefully. Be sure to talk to your doctor about it, and don’t go wild eating all the fat you want thinking this will just block it.|
|Common food items/ingredients|
|Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
The kind you find along with other vinegars in the supermarket.
|The mild acetic acid found in this vinegar is associated with increased feelings of fullness, delayed stomach emptying, increased fat burning and improved blood glucose and insulin response.||This has been highly touted as the new wonder food. It seems that everyone is making a mock-tail using a few teaspoons of ACV before meals. However, evidence is weak that this actually decreases weight. And large amounts of vinegar could hurt (acid can erode teeth and cause more stomach upset).||No harm for a few tablespoons a day. If you want to try it, add more ACV to salads, veggies or even as a beverage mixed with water. It has no calories and is cheap.|
Coffee, tea; caffeine pills.
|While caffeine is known to decrease appetite and increase metabolism, it does not appear to be useful as a supplement for weight loss.||Too much (more than about 400 mg/day) can cause lots of side effects (accelerated heart rate, tremors, excessive urination, insomnia) as well as a dependence.||Enjoy your morning cup of coffee (or tea) along with a healthy lower calorie meal. Avoid excessive caffeine because of the side effects listed above.|
Any variety – from common store brands to exotic.
|While there is some caffeine in green tea, the benefits reportedly come from the high levels of antioxidants – linked with increased burning of fat and boosting metabolism.||Research shows the benefits of green tea for weight loss are even greater when combined with exercise.||If you like it, enjoy a cup or two of green tea each day. It won’t add any calories, it may make you feel more full and there may be added benefits.|
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