Weight Loss Diet Supplements: Do They Work?


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Diet supplements for weight loss are not approved by the FDA. d3sign / Getty Images
  • Most herbal and dietary supplements do not result in weight loss, a review of existing studies found.
  • The researchers examined data for green tea extract, guar gum and acupuncture, among other things.
  • Only 16 studies showed a weight difference between participants taking supplements and a placebo.
  • Researchers found that weight loss was less than 1 pound in some people and was not consistent with any of the supplements studied.

Diet supplements for weight loss come in a variety of forms including pills, gums, powders, and liquids like teas.

They often advertise quick and easy weight loss with the promise that you can lose inches without relying solely on a balanced diet or regular exercise.

And they are extremely popular. The weight loss supplement industry was worth $ 6.5 billion in 2020.

But do these supplements actually work?

A new comprehensive study published in the journal obesity on June 23rd found out that dietary supplements do not lead to the dramatic weight loss they claim.

In fact, it’s rare for people taking these supplements to lose weight, research shows.

There is an ongoing debate about whether weight loss supplements work and whether they keep their promises.

In this study, researchers reviewed 315 existing clinical trials of diet supplements for weight loss and alternative therapies. They found that most of the studies were biased.

Only 16 studies found weight loss in participants ranging from less than 1 pound to 11 pounds. Weight loss was also not uniform among the study participants.

The researchers checked the following 12 ingredients:

  • Calcium and vitamin D.
  • chitosan
  • Chocolate / cocoa
  • chrome
  • Ephedra or caffeine
  • Garcinia and / or Hydroxy Citrate
  • Green tea
  • Guar gum
  • conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Phaseolus
  • Phenylpropylamine
  • Pyruvate

Other non-complementary therapies that were studied included acupuncture and mind-body interventions such as mindfulness and meditation.

“One of the main reasons we wanted to do this review was to determine the quality of the evidence to guide membership [of The Obesity Society]. The results suggest that more high quality evidence is needed before specific recommendations should be made, ”said corresponding author Dr. John Batsis, Associate Professor in the Department of Geriatric Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and in the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Sharon Zarabi, RD, program director at Northwell Health’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health in New York City and Westchester, said the study result was not surprising “because obesity is a very complex disease and there will never be a magic pill to use it heal”.

“Even if there was a dietary supplement, ingredient, herb, tincture, etc. that would work, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. It will be impossible to understand the manufacturing practices, the level of active ingredients versus fillers, the dose, the quality and the effectiveness, ”she told Healthline.

Zarabi pointed out that changing your lifestyle is probably the only way you can manage your weight.

“Taking a cocoa pill or ginseng supplement will never work unless you change your lifestyle because your body will always protect you from weight loss and you must actively participate in a healthy life to prevent it – even with surgery (bariatric Surgery), ”she said.

This study joins other studies that question the effectiveness and safety of these supplements.

Australian researchers also conducted a global review of herbal and dietary supplements, examining 121 studies involving nearly 10,000 participants.

They found that taking these pills did not result in any clinically meaningful weight loss, or in other words, more than 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds).

The authors of the Australian review also noted that more research is needed on the long-term safety of nutritional supplements.

Aside from the fact that there is no evidence to back up these pills’ claims of easy weight loss, some of these supplements have been linked to significant health risks.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that between 2004 and 2015, approximately 1,000 people ages 25 and younger experienced health supplement-related issues.

Of that number, 166 people were hospitalized and 22 died.

The market for vitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the absence of an overview, it can be difficult to tell which brands and products are high quality and which ones could potentially harm your health.

The FDA describes dietary supplements as foods, not drugs. Therefore, it does not evaluate their effectiveness, safety, or quality.

Diet supplements do not fall into the same category as prescription, FDA-approved obesity drugs, including:

  • orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
  • Naltrexone Bupropion (Contrave)
  • Phentermine Topiramate (Qsymia)
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • Semaglutid (Wegovy)

Not everyone who is overweight or obese wants to lose weight. But getting medical care can be difficult for people who do.

Experts say this new study shows why people need better access to tried and tested weight management approaches like behavior therapy, diet changes, and surgery.

And more data is needed to understand how obesity affects a person’s overall health and how various therapies affect long-term weight loss.

“The next steps really are for partners and stakeholders – researchers, funders, industry, etc. – to work together to develop high-quality studies that will minimize bias and assess effectiveness,” Batsis told Healthline.

While there is a proven treatment that can work for many people, it is not always covered by health insurance, which can make it difficult for people to access.

And as with all medical treatments, they won’t work for everyone.

Some people who try medically approved weight loss therapies may not actually lose weight. That can lead them to look for alternatives like supplements.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief physician of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that many people might think that medical experts just want to advance expensive drugs, but the truth is that most health professionals just want to follow science.

“While your background always leads to some bias, the truth is that we just want to read data, not anecdotal stories,” said Roslin.

Roslin said the food and supplement industry is “full of unsubstantiated claims” and when it comes to weight loss, “no procedures or drugs compensate for poor diet.”

He said long-term weight loss was a difficult challenge and stressed that there are no quick fixes.

“Whichever method you choose must be done forever, right? [weight] Recovery is inevitable, ”he said.

A new study published in Obesity magazine found that dietary supplements do not lead to the dramatic weight loss they claim.

In fact, it’s rare for people who take these supplements to lose significant weight, research found.

In the United States, dietary supplements are classified as food rather than medicine, so they are not regulated by the FDA.

Previous studies have shown that weight loss supplements can actually cause health problems for the people who take them, and that they are not a substitute for other proven weight loss strategies, including diet, exercise, and FDA-approved medication or weight loss surgery.

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