Most Diet Supplements are Ineffective for Weight Loss, and Some May Even Be Dangerous

Handful of Diet Supplements

Losing weight is no easy feat. For those working full time or taking care of families, it can be challenging to find time to go to the gym and cook a nutritious meal. Since making diet and lifestyle changes can be so difficult, many Americans turn to dietary weight loss supplements to achieve their weight loss goals. But despite decades of research and development, diet pills are still largely considered to be ineffective. Today we explain the latest research into why they don’t work.

Most diet pills don’t cause weight loss

In a new report, researchers from Australia reviewed over 120 randomized placebo-controlled trials investigating herbal medicines or dietary supplements. According to their article, published in the International Journal of Obesity, “very few [of these products] were found to produce clinically meaningful weight loss.”

A 2019 review published in the same journal examined studies performed over the last 20 years, investigating the safety and efficacy of the most popular ingredients found in diet pills. Its researchers concluded that “there is little evidence that weight-loss supplements offer effective aids to reduce weight and meet criteria for recommended use.” 

According to an International Journal of Obesity article, very few weight loss supplements were found to produce clinically meaningful weight loss.

The review pointed out that while some ingredients did promote weight loss, their effects tended to be negligible given the amount of time it took participants to shed pounds. For example, one study found that supplementation with chitosan, a carb found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans and insects, was shown to help participants lose roughly 3.9 pounds over a 25-week period compared to a placebo. While it technically succeeded, losing less than 4 pounds over the course of 6 months would not satisfy most weight loss patients’ goals.

Diet pills may contain harmful ingredients

You may think, ‘What’s the harm in trying a diet pill?,’ but diet supplements have been known to cause issues ranging from death to severe liver damage to seizures. Two extremely popular weight loss products—Metabolife and Hodroxycut—were both withdrawn from the market in the mid-2000s; Metabolife was linked to heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and deaths, while Hodroxycut was attributed to dozens of cases of organ damage.

While some weight loss supplements contain generally healthy ingredients such as green tea, cayenne pepper, and ginger, others may contain potentially harmful ones. A 2006 article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that some dietary supplements contain up to 90 different ingredients. After analyzing these, researchers concluded that “there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of the top 10 ingredients identified and [there are] many potential adverse reactions.”

Here are a few weight loss ingredients that have been banned by the FDA:

  • Má huáng is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb derived from the Ephedra sinica plant. In the 90s and early 2000s, Má huáng was used in many weight loss supplements for its naturally-occurring ephedrine content. While ephedrine did boost patients’ metabolisms and increase fat loss, patients who took it in a series of clinical trials performed by the Department of Health and Human Services were 2 to 3 times more likely to experience nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and palpitations. After a number of deaths were associated with má huáng, the FDA banned it from being used in diet supplements.
  • Bitter orange, also called citrus aurantium, has been associated with cardiovascular complications such as strokes and heart attacks. It contains the chemical synephrine, which is chemically similar to ephedrine. The FDA banned ephedra in 2004 due to serious effects on the heart. 

Additionally, diet pills may interfere with other medications such as antidepressants, beta blockers, and statins.

Dietary supplements are unregulated

Here’s yet another reason to be skeptical of weight loss supplements: the U.S. herbal supplement industry is not properly regulated. Because the FDA doesn’t consider diet pills to be “drugs,” they don’t require premarket review or approval by the FDA. In fact, it’s the supplement manufacturers that are responsible for verifying the safety, efficacy, and claims of their products. 

As a result, it can be very difficult to verify the quality and quantity of ingredients in your pills. And, because there are so many ingredients crammed into diet pills, it’s a) hard for researchers to isolate them when conducting studies, and b) possible that these ingredients may adversely interact with one another. 

Weight loss surgery has the greatest success rate

If you are 50 to 100 pounds overweight and aren’t seeing substantial weight loss with diet and exercise, it may be time to consider weight loss surgery. For individuals with a BMI of 40 or greater, weight loss surgery generally results in greater and more sustained weight loss than diet, exercise, or medications. It can also lead to improvements in quality of life, and ameliorate diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, and high cholesterol.

The most popular weight loss surgery—gastric bypass surgery—can effectively reduce the size of your stomach by 90% or more, and is one of the most successful treatments for type 2 diabetes. In fact, gastric bypass surgery has long-term diabetes remission rates of up to 83%, which tend to last indefinitely as long as patients sustain a healthy body weight. (You can learn more about weight loss surgery and diabetes in our past blog post).

Trust the Inland Empire weight loss surgery experts

At Surgical Arts of the Inland Empire, our surgeons are trained in advanced weight loss surgery techniques and offer compassionate, patient-centered care. They can help you devise a plan to lose your excess weight and keep it off with a combination of surgery, diet, exercise, and support groups. Contact us online or call (909) 579-3111 to find out if you’re a candidate for weight loss surgery in Rancho Cucamonga.

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