At the other end of the malnutrition scale, one of the most visible yet hard to control public health problems is obesity. Paradoxically coexisting with undernutrition, a mounting global epidemic of overweight and obesity is taking over different countries worldwide. If not given proper attention, people will suffer from an array of serious health conditions.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. As of 2016, nearly 2 billion adults were overweight. What’s even more alarming is that children and adolescents have become heavier too! Approximately 41 million kids under the age of 5 and more than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese (1).
But since weight gain occurs predominantly due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, it is treatable and preventable! Other than doing simple lifestyle modifications, which include diet and exercise, a lot of people are thinking about using supplements to support their regimen. For sure, you have heard about several FDA-approved weight loss medications that require a prescription. But are you familiar with the natural ingredients or homeopathic options too? Read on to know more about these products and sort through the facts to find the best one for you.
How Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
When it comes to slimming down, there is no shortage of pills claiming to help the weight fall off. These supplements work by:
- Suppressing your appetite and cravings
- Increasing feelings of fullness
- Boosting your metabolism
- Slowing down your body’s ability to produce fat
- Keeping your body from absorbing fat from food
Weight loss supplements are available in just about any form that you can take orally, from tablets and capsules to powders and teas. Some products are best taken with a meal while others are being used as a substitute for a meal.
Are There Any Risks Involved?
While many weight loss supplements are effective and safe, others still experience side effects depending on the ingredients their product contains. Among the most common complaints include agitation, diarrhea, increased heart rate, high BP, and sleepiness. In severe cases, liver and kidney problems may occur.
It is very important to know your products very well and check for science-based reviews and FDA approval.
What Are the Most Popular Supplements Available for Weight Loss?
1. Green Tea Extract
Who doesn’t know about green tea these days? Even your favorite milk tea, Frappuccino, and doughnuts are now flavored with green tea! Aside from water, this is commonly assumed to be one of the healthiest drinks in the world. It plays an important role in traditional medicine not only in China but also in other cultures. The health potential of green tea is well attributed to its anti-oxidant and nutrient contents.
Several studies have shown that green can help you lose weight by increasing your metabolic rate and fat burning ability (2, 3). It specifically enhances the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that participates in fat loss (4). Green tea can also target abdominal fat (5), especially when paired with proper exercise.
While these studies have highlighted green tea’s best results for weight loss, remember that effects may still differ on every individual. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have heart problems, high BP, kidney or liver diseases, and stomach ulcers, this might not be the best option for you. Nonetheless, green tea is well-tolerated by most people and has a low risk of side effects.
2. Garcinia Cambogia Extract
This tiny, tropical fruit resembles a cross between pumpkins and tomatoes. It is widely cultivated in Southeast Asia and India and is being exported around the world. Garcinia cambogia extract has become a very popular ingredient in weight loss supplements in the past few years.
With its active ingredient known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA), it can help you lose weight by inhibiting the fat-producing enzyme in your body (6). It likewise increases your serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in appetite, happiness, and well-being (7). With more serotonin, your appetite and cravings will be suppressed.
A review of studies found that, on average, garcinia cambogia can cause weight loss of about 2 pounds over several weeks (8). The fact that it is not known to cause serious side effects other than a few reported cases of mild digestive problems is a big bonus!
3. Spinach Extract
Of course, you know spinach as the leafy green vegetable that is capable of elevating your pasta, dips, and salad to an A-1 health status! It is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. But did you know that its leaves, when turned into powder, can make an effective weight loss supplement? It is best mixed with water or smoothies! It is also available in other forms such as capsules and snack bars.
With its concentrated spinach leaf thylakoids, which mostly consists of proteins, antioxidants, and chlorophyll, it can help promote weight loss by delaying fat digestion, temporarily reducing your appetite, and causing you to eat less. It specifically suppresses the activity of lipase, the enzyme responsible for fat digestion, which in turn, will increase your levels of appetite-reducing hormones like GLP-1 and decrease ghrelin levels, the hunger hormone (9, 10, 11, 12).
Studies have shown that taking thylakoid-rich spinach extract, approximately 3.7-5 grams, can help curb your appetite for several hours, thus reducing your body fat and weight (11, 13, 14, 15, 16). Another study in overweight women found that taking 5 grams of spinach daily as part of a 3-month weight loss regimen resulted in more than 40% greater weight loss than a placebo (12).
Also, thylakoids only delay fat digestion but don’t prevent it completely, thus not causing side effects like stomach cramps and fatty stools, which are commonly observed in lipase-inhibiting drugs (13).
A lot of people could not start a day without a cup of coffee. Many need a caffeine kick to increase their energy levels! Although it has been demonized, caffeine possesses several important health benefits, including weight loss. You have probably seen it listed as one of the ingredients of most diet supplements, and that is not a coincidence.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system to direct the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. These endorphins will help increase your metabolic rate, encouraging thermogenesis (17) and energy expenditure. However, caffeine should not be consumed excessively as it may increase heart rate and BP. The effects are also user and dose-dependent. Weaker responses are observed among individuals who drink coffee daily.
5. Raspberry Ketones
Have you ever wondered why raspberries smell like rum? It’s because of the ketones or phenolic compounds they contain, which are incredibly beneficial for your health, especially in weight reduction and management.
Supplementation with raspberry ketones can help you lose weight by hastening the breakdown of fats and increasing the levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone that is associated with the metabolism of fatty acids (18). As of this time, studies evaluating the effects of raspberry ketones on humans are still lacking, but current evidence from a rat study has shown promising results.
Not a lot of people know about horsetail. It’s actually a non-flowering weed that is widely cultivated in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. It is a natural herbal remedy that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Traditionally, it was used to stop bleeding, heal wounds and ulcers, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems. It also contains silicon, which makes it a perfect adjunct to standard osteoporosis treatment options.
Horsetail also works as a diuretic. For that reason, manufacturers have used it as an ingredient in some weight loss supplements. Evidence showed that horsetail could help you lose weight by eliminating toxins and excess body fluids. This is perfect for those who want to reduce their belly size because it facilitates smooth digestion and prevents gases from accumulating in the digestive tract (19). You can now see this as a common ingredient for most teas!
7. Chromium Picolinate
Chromium picolinate is an alternate form of chromium that is easily absorbed in the body. For this reason, this type is the one commonly used in dietary supplements (20, 21). Aside from effectively improving blood sugar levels, it can help reduce hunger and cravings. Daily supplementation of 1,000 ugs of chromium picolinate for 8 weeks is effective in decreasing food intake, hunger, and cravings in healthy overweight women (22). Experts think that the effects of chromium on the brain may have produced these effects. These supplements are also beneficial for patients diagnosed with binge-eating disorders and depression. Doses of 600 to 1000 ug per day have greatly reduced the frequency of binge eating episodes and symptoms of depression (23, 24).
Although many people still question whether this mineral is truly essential, it does serve other important bodily functions, including fat metabolism and building of muscle mass (19). So, if you want to end your chocolate binge-eating fest, this supplement is right for you!
8. Cayenne Pepper
If you love eating spicy foods, you probably know cayenne pepper! Have you ever noticed how a number of spicy food lovers are thin? Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which is responsible for the distinct flavor and most of its amazing health benefits, including weight loss. It is present in certain food in small amounts.
Capsaicin can help improve your metabolic rate and jumpstart or increase your level of thermogenesis (25). Thermogenesis is the term used to indicate the body’s ability to burn fat. It is known to affect neuronal circuits in the hypothalamus. It increases the sensation of fullness; hence, users experience a decrease in their appetite (26). One small study also found that capsaicin can decrease ghrelin levels, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger. While the numbers are not statistically significant and impressive, the effects of cayenne pepper supplements are believed to improve with long-term use.
9. Conjugated Linoleic Acid
More popularly known as CLA, this weight loss supplement has been around for quite a long time. It contains healthy fats that are found in animal foods that are rich in fat such as butter or cheese. CLA promotes weight loss through various mechanisms (27) such as decreasing energy intake by suppressing appetite, increasing energy expenditure, reducing lipogenesis or adipogenesis, enhancing lipolysis or delipidation, and it can also decrease inflammation and address insulin resistance.
As per the review of different studies, CLA can cause a weight reduction of approximately 0.2 pounds per week for 6 months (28). Another study even mentioned that CLA could help remove as much as 3 pounds of excess fat per week (29).
However, some people experienced a series of digestive problems with long-term use of CLA supplements, but generally, it should be safe and well-tolerated.
Who doesn’t know ginger? It is probably the most popular and one of the healthiest spices on earth! It contains powerful bioactive compounds, which were proven effective in treating inflammation and lowering cholesterol levels. What many people aren’t aware of is that ginger supplements can possibly promote weight loss, and this is backed up by science!
Ginger and its constituents possess beneficial effects (30) against diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity. A meta-analysis of the available evidence found (31) that ginger can help decrease body weight and waist-to-hip ratio. Ginger promotes weight reduction by enhancing your metabolic rate and fat burning ability while reducing appetite and fat absorption at the same time. Ginger, as a common ingredient in meals, is a well-tolerated supplement for weight loss.
You have probably come across the word glucomannan on the ingredient list of several supplements and wondered what it is. It is a type of fiber supplement that works by absorbing water in the gut and reducing the absorption of protein and fat to promote feelings of fullness (32). The most frequently used type of glucomannan today is from konjac, a plant native to Asia.
A study carried out on human subjects found that glucomannan can truly induce weight reduction (33), but there are also randomized control trials that did not show significant weight loss results (34). Also, concerns should be known that this substance can cause choking and bowel obstruction when not consumed with adequate amounts of fluid. It can also cause bloating, diarrhea, and increased triglyceride level hence should be taken cautiously.
12. Bitter Orange
This citrus fruit is making a big name for itself in the health industry, specifically for weight loss. It contains synephrine, a natural stimulant with the same structure as ephedrine. While ephedrine has been banned in the US due to cases of heart-related deaths, synephrine has not been found to yield the same effects and is considered safe to use in dietary supplements (35).
Evidence showed that taking 50 mg of synephrine can help increase your metabolism and burn an extra 65 calories daily, which can greatly help you lose weight over time (36). It can be used alone or in combination with other herbs for 6-12 weeks to be effective for weight loss (37).
13. Hemp Seeds
Although these seeds came from the Cannabis sativa plant, they do not produce mind-altering effects. In fact, they have a very rich nutritional profile and offer a wide range of health benefits, including weight loss. As it is rich in fiber and protein, it can help increase your muscle mass while getting rid of the many toxins inhabiting your body (38). At the same time, taking it will help you feel full and energetic! Considering their efficacy and safety in cutting down weight, hemp seeds are sure to stay in the fitness market.
The word forskolin may seem unfamiliar to you, but you are going to hear or read more about it in the near future. It is made from a root of a plant that belongs to the mint family, which is widely cultivated in India, Nepal, and Thailand.
One animal study found that forskolin-stimulated lipolysis and inhibited body weight increase by improving cAMP levels, a compound that plays an important role in the body’s fat-burning process (39). Forskolin is much more effective when used in combination with rolipram.
Forskolin studies on humans are limited, but they are promising. One study showed that oral ingestion of forskolin for 12 weeks had a favorable influence on body composition. Though not statistically significant, it can decrease fat mass and body fat percentage. It can also increase bone mass and testosterone levels in overweight and obese men (40). Another study on women showed that supplementation with forskolin could mitigate gains in body mass, but it didn’t affect body weight (41). Participants have experienced less fatigue and hunger. Experts then concluded that this supplement is more effective in managing weight rather than boosting weight loss.
Turmeric is certainly one of the most potent plants on earth. You surely have seen it, especially in your chicken curry’s vibrant color! The health benefits of turmeric are just too many, and it is all because of its active ingredient known as curcumin. Curcumin has been proven to be effective in reducing inflammation, relieving pain, improving heart health, and supporting your overall health and well-being, which includes weight loss.
A study involving more than 40 overweight, diabetic patients found that taking supplements with curcumin twice daily for a month can potentially enhance weight loss by as much as 5% (42). Curcumin can help decrease your body weight by blocking the synthesis of fat (43). While additional studies are necessary, current evidence is promising!
This might be another unfamiliar supplement to you. Yohimbine is a chemical derived from the bark of an African tree and is commonly used as a thermogenic supplement. It increases the activity of several hormones such as dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which are known to be fat metabolism boosters theoretically (44, 45).
Evidence showed that athletes who took 20 mg of yohimbine daily for 3 weeks had lost 2% of their body fat (46). Yohimbine may be more effective for weight loss when combined with exercise. It has been shown to increase fat burning during and after aerobic workouts (47).
These 16 weight loss supplements are clear winners, considering they have strong pieces of evidence to back them up. While they can be useful for weight loss, their effects are modest at best. No single supplement will work well without lifestyle changes. They will surely give your metabolism a bit of a nudge and help you lose a few pounds, but cutting carbs, eating more protein, and exercising are still the best ways to slim down and get healthier!