Lots of people would like to lose weight and haven’t had success with techniques like changing their diet. If you’re one of them, you might be tempted to try weight loss supplements or appetite suppressants. Manufacturers claim that by taking supplements, you can lose fat quickly, rev up your metabolism, cut cravings and boost your energy. Sounds tempting, right?
We talked to MacKenzie Landin, MD, a weight loss (bariatric) surgeon with Banner – University Medicine, to uncover the truth about these supplements. She said, “There’s no high-level evidence, such as a randomized controlled trial, that has shown that supplements or herbal remedies are a successful long-term option for weight loss and weight management.”
Here are a few other reasons you might want to think twice before trying a weight loss supplement.
1. You might not know what your supplement actually contains
Unlike prescription medications, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have established standards for supplements. “This means that even if a supplement says it contains a certain ingredient, you have no way of knowing if that is true,” Dr. Landin said. And you could buy two seemingly identical supplements from two different brands, and they could be wildly different. “Since you don’t know what these weight loss products contain, it is difficult for medical professionals to give guidance about taking them,” she said.
2. Supplements aren’t tested by government regulators
The FDA doesn’t test supplements before they’re sold. The manufacturers determine if their products are safe and effective. The FDA only gets involved if someone files a complaint. And supplements don’t have to be tested in clinical trials.
You might think supplements sold in a pharmacy are probably safe. “That is not true,” Dr. Landin said. “With supplements, there’s no regulation or quality control.”
3. Natural doesn’t mean safe
Some supplements claim that because all their ingredients are natural, they are safe. But just because an ingredient is found in nature doesn't mean it’s safe. Nature produces plenty of toxins. And “natural” doesn’t have a standardized definition when it comes to weight loss supplements, so it’s not clear what the term means, exactly.
4. Supplements could cause side effects
If you take weight loss supplements, you might notice some unpleasant side effects. According to Dr. Landin, people have reported:
- Increased (high) blood pressure
- A rapid heart rate
Supplements could also interact with the medications you take. And because supplements aren’t well-studied, they could interact with medications in ways we don’t know yet.
5. Supplements could cause long-term harm
We know that some weight loss supplements can be dangerous. Dr. Landin said that Hydroxycut and garcinia cambogia are linked with liver disease, and bitter orange may play a role in heart disease and . Chromium may cause kidney damage. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) could make you more prone to developing type 2 diabetes.
Plus, there isn’t long-term data available for all types of supplements. So, there could be additional risks we don’t yet know about.
Supplements you might want to try
Protein and fiber can help promote weight loss—both can help you feel full for longer. You can get the protein and fiber you need through the foods you eat. But if you aren’t eating enough of those foods, you might want to consider related supplements.
How your doctor can help with sustainable weight loss
If you want to lose weight, share your concerns with your doctor. “If you have a BMI (body mass index) of 27 or more and you have a comorbidity (more than one medical condition at the same time) that you feel is related to your weight, you should talk to your doctor about weight loss strategies,” Dr. Landin said.
Your doctor can help you come up with ways you can modify your food culture or increase your physical activity. They may suggest a prescription anti-obesity medication. Or they may refer you to an obesity medicine specialist.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about weight loss solutions. There are a lot of different products on the market, and it is hard to know which ones are effective and which ones you qualify for. There also may be programs available through your insurance company,” Dr. Landin said.
It’s crucial to take steps to get your weight under control if you’re obese. “Weight management is critical to preventing obesity-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea and reducing your risk of cancer,” Dr. Landis said.
Learn if bariatric surgery could be right for you.
The bottom line
If you want to lose weight, it can be tempting to turn to weight loss supplements. But these products aren’t regulated like prescription drugs and may cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Plus, there’s not much evidence to indicate that they work.
Need help with losing weight?
To come up with a weight loss plan that is safe and effective: