Most people have tried to lose weight at some point in their life, whether it's dropping a few pounds or embarking on a more significant weight loss journey. You may try to lose weight to achieve a better quality of life, improved health, a decreased risk of disease, or simply to look better in your clothes.
You may have wondered whether weight loss supplements can help. The short answer is yes — but most likely, you will not see benefits unless you exercise and follow a healthy diet.
The best weight loss supplements work through some combination of reducing appetite, decreasing fat absorption, increasing muscle mass, and burning fat. Unfortunately, companies often flood the market with weight loss supplements that don't live up to the claims.
To choose the best option for you, find out a supplement's active ingredients and whether scientific studies substantiate its claims and efficacy. It's also smart to understand any possible side effects.
Top Weight Loss Supplements
While supplements most likely won't help you achieve your weight loss goals on their own, research shows that certain products may boost metabolism, burn fat, and reduce appetite. We recommend you use only natural options and stay away from unnatural products that may mess with your metabolism and other aspects of your health. Below are some of the top natural weight loss supplements that may work when used in combination with a healthy diet and exercise. Keep in mind that, before using any weight loss supplement, it's a good idea to check with your healthcare provider or nutritionist who is familiar with you and can make a personalized recommendation.
Found naturally in coffee, tea, and dark chocolate, caffeine is one of the most well-known weight loss ingredients. Caffeine works by boosting your metabolism as well as increasing your body's ability to burn fat. Caffeine has been found to improve weight loss and maintenance in overweight patients.
One study showed that consuming caffeine before your workout will lead to a higher calorie burn, and it will also suppress your appetite after exercising.
According to one intriguing study, if you consume caffeine before exercising, not only will it lead to a higher calorie burn during your workout, but it will also suppress your appetite afterward. On top of that, consuming caffeine may lead to greater exercise enjoyment. But be sure to moderate your intake — too much caffeine can lead to jitters, anxiety, nausea, and reduced insulin sensitivity, which can cause weight gain.
Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract is a popular weight loss supplement known for its healthy antioxidants. Specifically, green tea contains catechins, a natural antioxidant in the chemical family called flavonoids. Green tea extract shows particular promise for burning belly fat, often associated with inflammation and disease.
When taken with caffeine, the catechins in green tea extract increase norepinephrine production in the body. Among other functions, norepinephrine sends a signal to the body to break down fat cells. Increased norepinephrine thus lowers fat mass, helps weight loss, and even normalizes triglyceride levels — unhealthy fat that circulates in the blood.
Green tea extract is typically well-tolerated without side effects, except by highly caffeine-sensitive individuals. However, norepinephrine is known as the "fight or flight" hormone associated with stress, so you do not want to increase its production too much. Limit your use of green tea extract to reasonable amounts.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a group of chemicals found in the fatty acid linoleic acid. Taking CLA daily may curb body fat by reducing appetite, boosting metabolism, building muscle, and breaking down fat cells. CLA helps glucose — the body's fuel — get into cells more efficiently, which prevents glucose from being used to make fat instead.
You can find CLA in a few plant-based sources, including white button mushrooms, pomegranate seed oil, and safflower oil (choose cold-pressed, unrefined, organic varieties). You can buy vegan CLA supplements, but be aware that some vegetarian and vegan supplements get CLA by chemically altering vegetable oil. Make sure you select supplements made from natural, high-quality ingredients. Known side effects from taking CLA include digestive issues, such as constipation, soft stools, or diarrhea.
Extracted from elephant yam (konjac) roots, glucomannan is a water-soluble dietary fiber that may be an effective weight loss supplement. Glucomannan works by absorbing large quantities of water. If you place a small amount in a glass of water, the water thickens and turns to gel.
By absorbing water, glucomannan may reduce fat absorption by the body, delay stomach emptying, and play a role in how full you feel after a meal (also known as satiety). Thus, glucomannan decreases hunger — and you eat less. Studies suggest that taking glucomannan for up to four months, in powder, food, or supplement form is safe. Be advised, however, that it may interact with some prescription drugs, especially those for blood sugar conditions.
Research shows that a half teaspoon of spicy hot cayenne pepper can take the edge off appetite, helping you eat fewer calories. It may also reduce your cravings for salty and sweet snacks. What's more, eating foods with capsaicin, an active component in cayenne and other chili peppers, may boost your metabolism by 15 to 20 percent.
Capsaicin — found in cayenne and other chili peppers — can naturally boost your metabolism by 15 to 20 percent!
Research has found that cayenne pepper may activate the energy-burning receptors located on both white and brown fat cells. Just a small amount of capsaicin in a high-fat diet prevented weight gain. However, large amounts of capsaicin may cause gastrointestinal issues in some people.
Green Coffee Bean Extract
Green coffee bean extract comes from raw, unroasted coffee beans. Chock full of antioxidants — among them caffeine and chlorogenic acid (CGA) — this extract can help absorb carbohydrates from the digestive tract. Once someone roasts coffee beans, the antioxidant content declines.
There may be some weight loss benefits to consuming green coffee bean extract; studies suggest that chlorogenic acid may reduce fat stored in the liver and aid in fat burning.. Side effects are few but may include insomnia, anxiety, and headaches.
Although most people think of probiotics as a digestive supplement, the truth is that they show promising weight-loss benefits in certain groups of people. By modulating the composition of gut bacteria, probiotic foods or supplements can influence how effectively you digest your food, how resistant you are to insulin, and how your body regulates blood sugar, among other things. Make sure you take a probiotic supplement that contains a diverse collection of strains for best results.
Natural Weight Loss Supplements to Avoid
While many popular weight loss supplements exist, others may either not work or have unwanted side effects.
Bitter orange (neroli) contains the chemical compound synephrine, which is similar to the compound found in ephedra (a banned weight loss supplement). Although there is some evidence that the combination of guarana and ephedrine (derived from ephedra) helps short-term weight loss, ephedra has unwanted side effects. The FDA banned ephedra in the U.S. because studies linked it to heart attack and high blood pressure. Avoid these compounds as weight loss supplements.
Forskolin is a compound derived from the Indian coleus plant, and studies show it may stimulate cells to release stored fat, but it does not suppress appetite, increase metabolic rate, or help digestion, making it fairly ineffective for overall weight loss.
Studies also indicate that chromium picolinate and raspberry ketone are poor choices for weight loss. Garcinia cambogia is also popular, but studies have linked it to liver failure — be sure to stay away.
Vitamins & Minerals for Weight Loss
In addition to the herbs and compounds listed above, several vitamins may influence metabolism and weight loss, particularly when used with a healthy diet and exercise routine. Here are a few vitamins and minerals with promising results.
B-12 plays a role in boosting energy and metabolism, making red blood cells, helping DNA production, and stimulating bone growth and development. Some clinics offer B-12 injections as part of a weight loss regimen, but little research exists on the effectiveness of this practice.
One study found that taking vitamin B-6 and B12 helped reduce homocysteine levels — an abnormal protein that increases heart attack risk — during weight loss. B12 also helps the body process fat and plays a role in the "energy cycle" in every cell.
Large doses of B-12 aren't likely to harm your health, though it may interfere with certain medications and could cause mild gastrointestinal upset. Talk to your physician if you want to use B12 as a weight loss supplement.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that everyone over the age of 14 take 2.4 mcg (micrograms) of B12 daily for general health. Vegetarians and vegans need to supplement their diet since B12 occurs mostly in animal sources.
People who eat low-calcium diets tend to have higher body weights, prompting some researchers to consider whether supplementation may reduce weight. In one study, overweight women who normally consumed less than 800 mg (milligrams) of calcium daily began taking calcium and vitamin D and lost more weight than those who took a placebo (a pill without calcium or vitamin D).
Another study found that supplementing with calcium led to weight and fat loss, but the results were not statistically significant. While the jury is still out, calcium has relatively few side effects for healthy people. It may interact with certain medications, so check with your healthcare provider.
A known association exists between vitamin D deficiency and obesity. While we still need more research on how taking vitamin D may affect weight loss, there have been promising results. One study found that taking vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) helped with weight loss when accompanied by dieting.
Since almost half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, it can only help your weight loss journey if you start with sufficient levels, so check with your healthcare provider to find out your levels. Side effects from too much vitamin D can include kidney stones, gastrointestinal upset, confusion, and muscle weakness.
Omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy antioxidants that help regulate your blood pressure and normalize cholesterol — and, as a bonus, they have mild weight loss benefits. Popular plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts, flax seeds, and algae oil.
Omega-3s may influence weight loss by causing satiety, or a sense of fullness. Omega-3s are also known mood boosters, and a better mood may lead to less emotional eating.
Avoid Synthetic Diet Pills
A healthy body and optimal body weight require a smart diet and living right, but also fine-tuning your body's internal operations. This is why cleansing of environmental toxins is at the core of our philosophy. All of your organs are important, but your liver is near the top of the list.
Because of the role your liver plays in detoxifying your body, you should stay particularly aware of its health. This is worth mentioning because several weight loss pills disrupt or even damage liver function.
Alli and Hydroxycut are over-the-counter diet pills that claim to aid weight loss but whose side effects include possible liver damage. Obviously, this outweighs any potential weight loss benefits and use is not recommended. Stick to natural options, herbs, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and compounds that are found naturally in foods.
If your goal is to get healthy for the long-term, the plain and simple truth is that you will have the best results by permanently adopting good habits, not quick fixes that compromise your health and don't have lasting effects anyway. I recommend you follow a protein-rich, plant-based diet with organic, whole foods, and healthy oils; avoid processed, sugary foods and items with a long list of chemical preservatives. And regularly cleanse to stay healthy.
Which Weight Loss Supplement Is Right for You?
- Before choosing a natural weight loss supplement, have a thorough understanding of what you'd like to accomplish — decrease hunger or cravings, boost metabolism, or burn fat, or all of the above.
- Each supplement may have side effects or drug interactions, so familiarize yourself with these, given your unique health conditions or concerns. Read reviews and ask your healthcare provider or nutritionist for advice.
- Never be fooled by grandiose claims of weight loss — especially if they say you do not need to eat right and exercise.
- Always look for trustworthy brands and take careful note of ingredients. Select supplements with organic ingredients, and preferably ones that are also gluten-free, vegan, and of the highest purity and quality.
- Not all weight loss supplements are created equal. Natural supplements are made from whole foods, while chemists make synthetic supplements artificially.
- Always choose natural, plant-based supplements, not synthetic ones. To determine whether a supplement is natural or synthetic, check labels and do your research. Natural supplements will typically list the food sources they come from whereas synthetics will list chemical names.
Points to Remember
If you think a weight loss supplement could aid in your journey to better health, decide what kind of help you need. Do you want to suppress your appetite, burn fat, or boost your metabolism?
Some natural weight loss supplements, including caffeine, green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, cayenne pepper (capsaicin), and glucomannan, may make a difference. Certain vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D3, calcium, and B12, may also aid weight loss.
Remember, weight loss supplementation is not a magic solution; any supplements should accompany a healthy diet as well as regular exercise. For more ideas, check out our 17 Most Effective Weight Loss Tips article.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.