27 Weight Loss Supplements: Do They Work?

The number of weight loss supplements available on the market grows at an astonishing rate, with new formulations and combinations and brand names appearing and disappearing constantly. Everyone wants to lose weight, and they want to do it with the minimum amount of work possible. Unfortunately, the number of weight loss supplements are just too great to be able to review their effectiveness individually, as manufacturers create various combinatinos of herbs and other supplements and slap new catchy names on them. The good news is, we can give you information about the individual supplements and their effectiveness, and with that knowledge in mind you can evaluate any supplement before you buy it.

To take one example, a popular supplement is OxyElite Pro. This weight loss supplement contains several ingredients, including Bauhinia Purpurea, Bacopa Monniera, Geranium. Press CTR-F on your keyboard to activate your browser's "Find" function, and do a search for these keywords within this article. You can now read about the effectiveness of these ingredients, and decide if OxyElite Pro has any reality behind it's claims.

So this article serves as a one-stop shop for all these endless blends and combinations of herbs and supplements. Learn the ingredients, and you can pick out a useful supplement and avoid the useless ones.

 

Acai Berry
Apple Cider Vinegar
Barley
Bitter Melon
Bitter Orange
Blue Green Algae
Caffeine
Coconut Oil
Ephedra
Gambooge
Geranium Oil
Goji Berries
Glutamine
Green Tea
Guarana
Guar Gum
HCG Diet
Hibiscus Tea
Hoodia
Hong Kong Orchid
Mangosteen
Maqui Berry
Orlistat (Alli)
Water Hysop
Wheatgrass
White Tea
Yerba Mate


Acai Berry


The acai palm is native to Central and South America, and its berry has become very popular in recent years due to a number of health claims, in part due to the success of the multi-level marketing company MonaVie. Several supplement manufacturers followed suit, claiming acai berry as a cure for almost everything, from old age to diabetes to weight loss.

It’s true that acai berry contians polyphenols, a compound that acts as an antioxidant which can help clean up free radicals in the body, which are molecules that can cause damage. However, the amount is not any higher than similar fruits (such as blackberry and strawberry), and there is some evidence that only about 5% of the antioxidants are still remaining in the bloodstream after only a few hours.

While antioxidants do play a role in general health, they are not likely to be effective in causing weight loss. Acai berry especially has no backing evidence that it can do anything of the kind, much less the other alleged cures that are hyped. There has recently been a push to prosecute false advertising in acai berry supplements, and it is more and more being associated with a scam.

So acai berry almost certainly will not help you lose weight, and the antioxidants it provides is not anything more powerful that you can’t get from other fruit.

Apple Cider Vinegar


There have been a number of scientific studies that have suggested a possible link between apple cider vinegar and the ability of the body to lose weight. One 2009 study found not only lower weight in those taking vinegar, but also lower triglycerides. Triglycerides are chemicals that are responsible for causing hardening of the arteries, which leads secondarily to heart disease, so getting them to a lower level is a wise choice.

In another study performed on rats, there was also an indication that apple cider vinegar can increase the effectiveness of the genes responsible for burning fat.

And in Japan, a study performed on obese individuals who were given 30 milliliters of vinegar per day lost considerably more weight than those in the control group taking a placebo.

So it does appear that there is some promising evidence of a weight loss effect, but the evidence is still in the early stages and so it is not yet recommended as a treatment. But is it safe to take, if you want to try it yourself?

Generally, apple cider vinegar does not carry any serious health risks other than a few caveats. It is one of the most acidic vinegars and so should be diluted with water or your favorite drink. It can also lead to weak bones and low potassium levels over time, and supplementation with calcium and potassium might be advisable. Also, it can slightly change your metabolism and so if you are diabetic you should check with your doctor before beginning supplementation.

All of the above information may apply to other types of vinegar as well, although ACV is one of the strongest and thus may have the strongest effect.

Barley


Hulled barley has been looked at as a weight loss supplement. It can make you feel fuller, and since it is very low on the glycemic index scale it can help you feel satisfied for a longer amount of time. It may also help with digestion.

Bitter Melon


Momordica charantia is a tree grown for its edible fruit throughout the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. The fruit itself is bitter, and widely used in the culinary world of Asia, generally cooked and not eaten raw.

It is well known for having potentially useful anti-diabetic effects, according to some promising studies.

As for weight loss, there have been a few studies on rats published in the literature. A 2008 study published in Cehmistry & Biology found that substances from bitter melon may be a promising treatment for both diabetes and obesity, but the research is new and preliminary.

So the jury is still out on what bitter melon can and can’t do. It is probably a safe supplement to take, as it’s a common edible fruit in Asia, although pregnant women should stay away.

Bitter Orange

Citrus aurantium, or the bitter orange tree, is a type of citrus fruit that is grown in many parts of the world including Asia and the Mediterranean. The peel is used as an herbal supplement for its stimulant properties, containing two chemicals similar to ephedra. And it is for this reason that bitter orange replaced ephedra when it was banned, and also why it might have just as many dagners as ephedra.

Ephedra was a stimulant used in many over the counter weight loss supplements until the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century, when it was banned by the US FDA. As a stimulant, it could increase the body’s metabolism and decrease appetite, leading to at least short term, possibly superficial, weight loss. Scientific studies on it did provide some evidence of its effectiveness. However, because it raised blood pressure and heart rate, it also had the potential to cause cardiovascular events, even in young people. Heart attacks and strokes were a real potential. As a result, it was banned, and supplement makers replaced it with other stimulants.

Bitter orange is a stimulant similar to ephedra, and might cause some short term and possibly superficial weight loss as well. It raises the body’s metabolism, but unlike safer methods of doing this (like green tea), it also raises the heart rate and blood pressure and thus may have some of the same serious side effects of ephedra.

As a result, it is probably best to stay away from bitter orange.

Blue Green Algae


Blue green algae is a broad category of related organisms, and is popular as a weight loss and detoxification supplement. However, there is no evidence to support these effects. It does however increase the immune system, so if you have an auto-immune disorder you will want to stay away from it.

Caffeine

At one time, the golden standard of weight loss supplements was ephedra, a stimulant that worked by increasing the body’s metabolism. It was banned when it was suspected in playing a role in increasing the risk of sudden stroke and heart attack, even in young and healthy people. As a result, many supplement manufacturers have turned to other stimulants for their products.

Caffeine is one obvious choice, as it may help lead to weight loss in several ways.

As a stimulant, it increases the body’s metabolism and thermogenesis, the overall calorie burning potential. Obviously, this might help to burn fat just a bit. Caffeine also may decrease appetite in some people, at least in the short term, although it might not be a long term solution to decreased caloric intake. Finally, caffeine also acts as a diuretic, which increases urination and decreases the amount of water in the body, which leads to a superficial form of weight loss.

So these three factors may combine to have a small effect on weight loss, but it certainly is not a miraculous or permanent solution. Caffeine is probably fairly safe to take, but people with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems should exercise caution.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a saturated fat that is well known for being one of the fattiest, and hence, possibly, unhealthiest oils you can eat on a regular basis. It has a higher fat and caloric content than butter and lard, and it is often used in junk food. Regular intake of such saturated fat could lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders.

However, the picture is not always that simple. There are some who suggest that coconut oil can actually help people lose weight by making them feel more full.

A few studies have been done, and have found some possible positive weight-loss effects. A 2007 study was done on 40 women who were given either soybean or coconut oil, and the coconut group had lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and a smaller waistline at the end of the study.

But this is only one study, and caution must be warranted. Taking coconut oil on a daily basis for long periods of time could have detrimental effects on your health, or perhaps not. Either way, be careful if you decide to use it.

Ephedra

Ephedra is an herb native to China, and has long been used to treat asthma and congestion. A stimulant and thermogenic, it helps you lose weight by increasing your metabolism and burning more calories. Ephedra diet pills were the mainstay of weight loss supplements for years before they were banned in the US and severely restricted elsewhere. This was due to the potential for deadly side effects such as stroke and other cardiovascular events.

Several studies have shown that ephedra is at least somewhat effective for weight loss in the short term, up to about 2 pounds extra per month along with a weight loss dieting plan. However, it has not been shown to be effective in the long term and to keep weight off; many people just gain the weight right back again after they stop taking it.

Ephedra constricts blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and increases heart rate. As a result, people who already have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease are putting themselves at risk of cardiovascular events like stroke or heart attack if they take ephedra. And there is evidence that even young healthy people can be affected. The push to ban ephedra in the US came shortly after Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died partilally due to complications from ephedra.

Since ephedra diet pills are banned in the US and heavily restricted elsewhere, they are very difficult to get. Coupled with the possibility of serious side effects and even death, they are probably not a good supplement to take for weight loss. Look into apple cider vinegar or Alli instead.
Gambooge

Garcinia cambogia, or gambooge, is a plant native to Indonesia that is purported to have appetite suppressant properties, but there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim.

It may lead to liver poisoning, and so caution should be exercised.

Geranium Oil

Geranium oil, or 1,3 dimethylpentylamine, is an extract of the geranium plant, and has stimulant properties similar to caffeine and ephedra. Often added to several different weight loss products, stimulants of this sort are known to have some effect on weight loss by decreasing appetite and increasing metabolism. Ephedra, before it was banned, was the mainstay of weight loss supplements, and since it is no longer available most supplement manufacturers have indeed sought to replace it with similar stimulants.

There have not been any major studies on geranium oil’s effectiveness or safety. Cautions that apply to ephedra apply here as well. In rare cases, a strong stimulant like this can couple with a previous high blood pressure condition and lead to stroke or cardiac events.

Caution is thus strongly warranted for stimulants like geranium oil.

Goji Berries

Goji berries, also known as wolf berries, are the fruit of the Lycium plant native to both Asia and Europe. Goji berries are low on the glycemic index scale, and thus contain slow-acting sugars that will not cause an insulin overreaction and hence a sugar crash. They also contain an abundance of vitamins and other nutrients, and as a result are sometimes added to supplements.

It has become popular as a weight loss supplement in recent years, but scientific evidence does not support this effect. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine did not find any connection between goji berry juice and weight loss, although it did find a possible correlation between goji and subjective feelings of well-being.

Goji berry juice is likely safe to consume, but it may have the effect of thinning the blood and so should be avoided by those vulnerable to this condition, such as people taking blood thinners.

Glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid and thus one of the basic building blocks of the genetic code. It is also used as a supplement, possibly to aid in digestion. A few studies have concluded that it may have some effect on hyperglycemia, and possibly on fat loss, although most studies have been only on rodents. So evidence is thin that it can help anyone lose actual weight.

Side effects are unknown, but it is probably safe for most people to take. If you are sensitive to MSG, stay away from it as it could trigger symptoms.

Green Tea

Popular not only as a tea, but as a pill for weight loss purposes, green tea does have some properties that are clearly associated with metabolism regulation.

The bet evidence to date is for green tea’s effectiveness at reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, which will combine to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular illness. But...what about actually losing weight?

While it does have the effect of increasing the body’s metabolism, the effect is probably too small to make a noticeable difference in your ability to lose weight. There is caffeine in green tea, and so this maybe part of the effect. Unlike stronger stimulants like ephedra, green tea can raise the metabolic rate without also dangerously increasing heart rate.

Green tea is most likely safe for generaly consumption.

Guarana

A Brazilian climbing plant in the maple family, guarana grows seeds similar in size to coffee beans. And, similar to coffee beans, they contain high amounts of caffeine. Twice as much as coffee, actually. Since stimulants like caffeine often act both as an appetite suppressant and as a way to increase the body’s metabolism, guarana is a popular ingredient in some weight loss supplements.

You can read the section on caffeine as well, but the upshot is this: while it may in fact decrease appetite, increase metabolism, and even shed water leading to superficial weight loss, the number of studies on caffeine and weight loss are rare, and hence the effectiveness is unknown.
Caffeine is relatively safe to take, but people with cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure might want to stay away from it. It can also cause sleeplessness.

One study on guarana specifically found that a mixture of guarana with yerba mate (a subtropical holly) and damiana (a shrub native to the U.S.) led to a weight loss 11 pounds greater compared to subjects not taking the supplement. In fact, this triple combination is the current formulation of Hydroxycut, a popular weight loss drug.

However, other studies on guarana have been conflicting. Safety is probably similar to that of caffeine.

Guar Gum
Guar gum is a thickener made from guar beans that is commonly used in many foods to give them body and thickness. Examples would be yogurt, sauces like ketchup and salad dressing, as well as pastries and some meats. It has also been looked at as a possible weight loss supplement.

As a thickener, it may have the effect of making you feel full and hence lowering the feeling of hunger before you take in too many calories. In the 1980s, it was in fact used extensively for this purpose as an over the counter weight loss aid. However, there were several illnesses and at least one death associated with its use, partly due to lack of proper hydration while using it. Guar gum can block the intestines and esophagus if you don’t drink enough water along with it.

As a result, it was banned by the US FDA as a weight loss supplement in the early 90s.

In addition, a 2001 meta-study (a study that looks and summarizes evidence from other studies) was not able to find any weight loss advantage in those taking guar gum over those taking a placebo.

Side effects may include abdominal problems, as well as the aforementioned blockages if not enough water is taken.

hCG Diet

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a human hormone involved in pregnancy in women, and is popular as a weight loss supplement. In the 1950s, a doctor in India noticed that people who were on very low calorie diets who were also given injections of hCG seemed to lose mainly fat body weight and not lean (muscle) body weight, in addition to being less hungry as those were not being given the hormone.

As a result, hCG injections became popular at many weight loss clinics almost overnight. It faded somewhat in the second half of the 20th Century, but regained momentum again in the past few years.

Does it work?

There were some early studies that suggested a possible connection, but most studies have not been able to find any positive benefits from using hCG, either with fat loss or with appetite supression. As a result most doctors will no longer prescribe hCG injections for purposes of losing weight. Coupled with the fact that this supplement requires a heavy restriction in calories (down to 500 per day), this type of diet is not practical and is unlikely to be effective in the long term. While the extreme low calories will no doubt result in weight loss, the hCG itself probably will not play a large role in this.

In addition, since it’s a hormone it can lead to short term side effects like irritability, headaches, and male breast enlargement, and long term effects are unknown.

Hibiscus Tea

The hibiscus flower is a plant native to tropical areas of the world, and has a variety of uses, including food coloring, tea, landscaping, and various other medicinal uses. There is also some interest in it as a weight loss supplement.

Evidence for its effectiveness is not strong. It is certainly a diuretic, and so it can have the effect of making your body shed excess water and losing some superficial weight. It also contains anti-oxidants, which can help improve cardiovascular health, but won’t directly contribute to actual weight loss.

There was a 2007 study on mice in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that did find a significant effect on obesity, but then a 2009 study on rats published in the Paksitan Journal of Nutrition that found the opposite.

Hibiscus is probably safe to take for most people, but should be avoided by pregnant women as there is some evidence it can lead to miscarriage.

Hoodia

A plant from South Africa, hoodia has long been known as an appetite suppressant. In the late 90s, Pfizer tried to synthesize the active chemical, called P57, in order to use it as a weight loss supplement. They later realized that it was extremely difficult to synthesize, without also having undesirable side products, which may cause liver problems. A research study involving rodents on hoodia's effectiveness demonstrated that quite a bit is required for any effect, and it is doubtful that supplement manufacturers put enough into their pills.

Hong Kong Orchid

Hong Kong Orchid, or Bauhinia purpurea, is a flowering tree native primarily to China that has been used for all kinds of medicinal purposes over the centuries. It is also sometimes used as a weight loss herbal supplement. There have been very few studies on any possible anti-obesity effects, but one from India found that when it was given to rats, they had a similar anti-obesity reaction as that of sibutramine, an appetite suppressant given by prescription.

Bauhinia purpurea also reduced the cholesterol and triglyceride levels of the rats, which won’t directly lead to weight loss but is nonetheless healthy for the cardiovascular system.

This is one of the only studies done on this herb and weight loss. Human studies have not been done and possible side effects are unknown.

Mangosteen

Nutrition Journal 2009 study found some evidence that may help antiinflammatory with heart diseawe and diabetes in obese people; drinking half liter per day had reduced inflammation a precursor to metabolic syndrom and a major goal of obese people

A tropical fruit from Indonesia, mangosteen is sometimes added to weight-loss supplements. This fruit contains anti-oxidants, and like acai berry juice, it is often hyped as a cure for almost everything.

However, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm or deny any of these effects. There was a 2009 study published in the Nutrition Journal that found some evidence of an anti-inflammatory effect in obese people, which may help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. But no evidence of actual weight loss itself.

Safety of taking mangosteen supplements is unknown.

Maqui Berry

Maqui is a shrub from South America that is known for its berries, which are high in antioxidants. It is also popular as a weight loss supplement, however, there is no evidence of effectiveness for this purpose.

Orlistat (Alli)

This is an over-the-counter diet pill that works by suppressing an enzyme in the body that is involved in the absorption of fat. It actually has a moderate effect, in controlled studies it was found to cause a weight loss of 5 pounds more than those not using it.

This is one of the few actual weight loss drugs that is available over the counter in some countries, and one that actually seems to be at least somewhat effective, and not overhyped.

The main side effect is greasy loose stool, which can subside with time. Also, the FDA is currently investigating reports of rare liver damage seen in some using this medication, but it remains to be seen if there is any strong connection.

Water Hyssop

Water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri), a creeping perennial herb native to Asia, is an herbal supplement often used as a weight loss aid in some diet pills. While it does contain anti-oxidants, which can help keep your nutritional levels high while losing weight as well as reduce harmful chemicals in your body, they won’t contribute directly to weight loss. So Bacopa monnieri is probably not effective as a weight loss pill.

Wheatgrass

Wheatgrass juice is a popular nutritional supplement made from the common wheat plant, and has a host of health claims associated with it, including weight loss. Very few scientific studies have been done on it for many claims, and so it is unknown if it is effective or not in helping people lose weight.

White Tea
White tea is made from the buds and younger leaves of the same plant that is used to make green tea. It is the least processed of the teas. It also may have some anti-obesity properties, although there are not many studies on it.

One 2009 study applied white tea to human fat cells cultured in the lab, and their reproduction and expansion was inhibited. Promising,  but a long way from anything conclusive.

Yerba Maté

A subtropical member of the holly family, native to South America, yerba maté has some evidential backing as a weight loss aid when mixed with guarana and damiana. Indeed, this triple combination is the new formulation of Hydroxycut, a popular weight loss supplement that once included ephedra, before it was banned.

By itself, yerba maté may have some anti-obesity tendencies as well. A 2009 study published in the journal Obesity found that mice treated with 1 g per kg of body weight of yerba maté tea had lower concentrations of blood cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as lower abdominal fat levels. This was seen in mice with a high fat diet. A different study published the same year in Nature found similar results.

So there is some promise in yerba maté as a potential obesity treatment, but more research needs to be done.

As for safety, there has been some concern about a possible increase in various types of cancer risk with long term use of yerba maté, but this effect is not conclusive and it is probably safe for lower and short term usage.