Weight loss tips

Can weight loss supplements help you lose weight?

Weight loss supplements and pills, do they work? With thousands of people, all over the world, interested to lose weight the market has just about everything to offer. With compliance to conventional weight loss programs being poor, a vast array of weight loss supplements have been developed and marketed claiming to be effective. Undoubtedly ‘weight loss’ is an ever growing lucrative business and weight loss supplements account for a large part of it. The role of medication in weight loss is quite a controversial subject and often the results are limited.

See Also: Quick weight loss diets

With so many available how can someone choose which supplement to take and most importantly do they actually work? This article will look at weight loss supplements and their effectiveness in weight loss management.

Weight loss supplements general information

Dietary and weight loss supplements in the USA are regulated by the FDA which places dietary supplements under the general category of ‘foods’. The FDA states that it is the manufacturers’ responsibility to make sure a product is safe however, the manufacturers do not have to show what evidence they have for their claims about a specific supplement.

Types of weight loss supplements and their effects

Considering the vast amount of supplements in the market, it is beyond the scope of this article to look at each brand, or product separately. Dietary supplements can be divided into categories according to their effects. These categories include:

  • Stimulants, energy / metabolism boosters, thermogenic agents.

The general (and simplified) theory behind these compounds is that they mimic or affect hormonal / neurological pathways which in return are involved in breaking down fat. Example of such pathways is the stimulation of adrenaline and noradrenaline (also called epinephrine). Eg. Ephedrine, ephedra, caffeine bitter orange, theophylline or theobromine (from cola nut, guarama or mate).

Effects: Ephedrine and ephedra were banned from the US market in 2004 due to adverse effects and increased risk of psychiatric, neural and cardiovascular complaints. In general there is little evidence that stimulants have considerable effects in weight loss.

  • Appetite suppressants

In theory appetite suppressant supplements work directly or indirectly on pathways (hormonal, neural etc) which are involved in regulating appetite. In simple words if people are less hungry they will eat less. Some of the most common ingredients in appetite suppressants are: Phentermine, Benzphetamine, Phendimetrazine, Sibutramine Topiramate and Rimonabant.

Effects: Topiramate and Rimonabant have been associated with weight loss but are not yet approved by the FDA. There is little evidence to support that appetite suppressants have significant results in weight loss.

  • Fat and/or carbohydrate modulators and absorption blockers.

In theory they stop (inhibit) the absorption of a portion of the ingested fat or carbohydrate. Most commonly known is Orlistat.

Effects: Most studies have shown that people who were taking orlistat lost more weight than those who didn’t. However, the mean weight lost was not very high, and also when people stopped taking the orlistat they gained most of the weight back, although they were in weight maintenance diets. Some beneficial effects to cholesterol and glucose tolerance have been observed. Moreover, adverse effects include diarrhoea and oily stool are common (especially if the diet is high in fat), decrease in fat soluble vitamins, risk of essential fatty acid deficiency and in theory increased risk of colon cancer. See also: Carbohydrates and weight loss

  • Laxatives

Laxatives are primarily foods or drugs which stimulate evacuation of the bowel.

Effects: There is no substantial evidence that laxatives increase weight loss. Stools, in the colon, are usually waste products and undigested food, nutrients and calories have been absorbed in prior stages. Also laxatives and subsequent diarrhoea caused by laxatives, can lead to losing substantial amounts of fluids from the body. One part of weight loss can be attributed to simply fluid loss and in addition, it can lead to dehydration.

Tips for using weight loss supplements

1. For majority of the weight loss supplements in the marker, there is NO sufficient scientific evidence to support their claims.

2. There are a number of adverse effects which have been associated with a number of the weight loss supplements. Some of these can be dangerous especially if pre-existing health conditions are present. An example is side effects of increase in blood pressure and palpitations in combination with cardiovascular conditions.

3. Luck of research in the weight loss results of supplements also means luck of research in the health risks. A lot of the supplements do not have sufficient information about their long term effects to health.

4. If you have any health conditions or concerns always consult a medical professional before taking any weight loss supplements.

5. Just because they are approved by the FDA does not mean they work or that they are always safe.

6. Avoid buying supplements from dubious websites that promise the earth and moon in results.

7. Try researching about the ingredients. Simple searches on the internet in sites such as the FDA can provide you with some basic information about the ingredients. Alternative ask your pharmacist.

8. Calcium and green tea have been shown to aid with weight loss. This is true for dietary calcium and not for supplements. Calcium and green tea have also been shown to help with weight maintenance as well.

9. Lifestyle changes (i.e. increase physical activity) and diet can have better long term effects.

10. People usually put the weight back on after they stopped taking weight loss supplements. They have often been described as a short term solution to a long term problem. Even if weight loss is achieved without long term diet and life style changes the results will be short lived. There is a reason why you may have put on that extra weight. Start from removing the reason.

11. Some people will claim that they use weight loss supplements to kick start weight loss and motivate themselves in sticking with a program. If that is the case make sure that you do it safe. Choose those supplements which have the least adverse effects, give the most and detailed information about their effects and ideally name the studies which support them.

12. Take them safely. Do not increase the dosages to increase results and always follow the instructions provided.        

13. Last but not least, avoid them all together if you can. Do not forget that healthy weight loss is the best way to get slimmer.

About the author

Hara Hagikalfa

Hara Hagikalfa completed her BSc(Hons) in Health and Exercise Science, Sports Science and Medicine. She is a certified Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor. You can learn more about Hara and connect with her on Facebook

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