Weight loss supplements are defined as herbal or nutrient-based products intended to produce weight loss, typically by suppressing appetite, increasing metabolism, or affecting fat absorption.
Caffeine is often used in marketing these supplements but is not considered an ingredient; it has no effect on weight beyond its mild diuretic action (referring to the kidneys’ ability to expel water).
There exists little evidence to support their effectiveness and safety. Most dietary supplements for weight loss remain unregulated and unevaluated by government agencies.
Most over-the-counter slimming aids work at best very modestly or have potentially harmful side effects. Many “health food store” employees suggest St John’s Wort may be effective for some individuals without mentioning potential dangers or side effects.
Researches have been done with weight loss supplements.
The consequences of these trends are dire, placing both physical and psychological strain on those affected. Obesity can lead to elevated blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer, increasing the likelihood of early death by one-third or more. Psychological consequences include depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Sufferers of obesity may seek out weight loss supplements in their quest to shed some excess weight; however, very few supplements have significant scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. There is also potential for harm if consumers choose the wrong supplement or do not follow dosage instructions correctly (e.g., an increased risk of cardiovascular disease). A new study has found that users of weight supplements are twice as likely to suffer from depression as those who do not use them.
This study, published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, analyzed data from 807 adults (aged 19-64 years). These participants were surveyed regarding their supplement intake and had to report whether they suffered from clinical depression at any time during the previous 12 months. Participants’ body mass index levels were calculated using self-reported information on height and weight; obesity was defined as a BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m².
Approximately one-third of the sample (31%) reported taking supplements over the previous 28 days. There was an increased risk of having suffered from clinical depression among these users compared with non-users (odds ratio 2.09).
The risk was even more significant when the researchers analyzed only those who were obese. The increased risk of depression associated with supplement usage reached statistical significance (odds ratio 1.97). There is no link between supplement usage and depression among those with a healthy weight or overweight BMI.
7 tips before you buy weight loss supplements
Dropping pounds is tough, but you may have heard about weight loss supplements that can help make it easier. These products are sold online and at stores as pills, powders, drinks, and bars. But do they work? And are they safe to use? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Ask yourself if the product sounds too good to be true.
Some of these supplements promise to end cravings or speed up your metabolism. This might sound like a dream come true, but there’s no evidence that any supplement can replace real food or completely block hunger—and even if one could, it wouldn’t be healthy over the long term (see #6). “You should treat supplements with the same level of respect you give prescribed medications,” says Kristina Lewis, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
2. Be aware of product contamination.
Some weight loss supplements may be contaminated with dangerous substances such as furazolidone, diethylpropion, and sibutramine—and others sold online may not even contain what’s on the label. For example, research has found that some acai berry products did not have any. You can check whether a product has been recalled by visiting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.
3. There is no definitive scientific evidence to support their use for weight loss.
Although there is some evidence that forskolin, chitosan, conjugated linoleic acid, and a few other weight loss supplements may have modest benefits, none has proven effective. In studies to date, most of these ingredients are not anymore helpful than a placebo (for example, a “sugar pill” with no active medicine). As a result, the American College of Sports Medicine urges people to use caution when choosing weight loss supplements and to speak with their health care providers first.
4. Some supplements can cause dangerous interactions.
In addition to being ineffective at helping you lose weight or maintain your current weight, some supplements may cause dangerous interactions with prescribed medications you’re already taking—particularly those for diabetes or high blood pressure.
5. You should try lifestyle changes first.
Research shows that the best way to lose weight and keep it off for good is by following a well-balanced eating plan and exercising at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week ( see tips on maintaining your weight ). If you think one or more supplements might help, talk with your health care provider about whether they’re right for you.
6. Mind and body practices such as yoga and meditation may be helpful.
These complementary treatments involve physical activity, but in a different form than what’s done in traditional exercise routines—it’s sometimes described as moving meditation because it emphasizes awareness of the mind and body connection. For instance, yoga involves stretching and holding poses designed to focus your attention inward. Studies suggest that these practices may enhance weight loss, but more research is needed before reaching a firm conclusion.
7. Make healthy changes that work for you.
Although there’s no quick fix when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, there are easy ways to take stock of your habits and find small things that will add up over time—like eating breakfast or choosing water instead of soda each day—to help shed pounds and maintain your goal weight. Write down how you’re feeling about sticking with your new routine so you can look back on it later if you get off track. “Keeping a food and activity log is one of the best tools,” says Lewis. “It helps identify areas for improvement and gives you specific things to work on.”
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