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The Scoop - July 2015

The Scoop: A Newsletter for Consumers from the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health Department of Health and Human Services seal  Office of Dietary Supplements logo

July 2015

In the News

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View ODS Videos on YouTube

Have you seen our new dietary supplement videos? The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) has a new webpage with links to several short YouTube videos, including an engaging, animated video titled “Thinking About Taking a Dietary Supplement?external link disclaimer” This video, which is also available in Spanishexternal link disclaimer, introduces the ODS website, the place to find reliable, science-based answers to questions about dietary supplements.

Still from ODS video

We also have a 2-minute video titled “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Knowexternal link disclaimer,” which features ODS experts who discuss important things to know about the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements.

What’s the Scoop? Questions and Answers
About Dietary Supplements

tape measure with diet supplement pills

Thinking about trying a dietary supplement to help you lose weight?

You probably know that eating healthful foods, cutting calories, and being physically active are the proven ways to lose weight. But like many others, you might also wonder if taking a dietary supplement that’s promoted for weight loss could help.

Below are answers to some questions you might have about weight-loss dietary supplements. You can find out more about these products in our fact sheet on dietary supplements for weight loss (also available in Spanish).

In addition, our Dietary Supplement Label Databaseexternal link disclaimer has the full label contents for thousands of dietary supplements on the market, including many weight-loss supplements.

1. Over the last few years, I’ve heard a lot about new ingredients like raspberry ketone, green coffee bean extract, and forskolin. Do they really work?

Almost every year, another new ingredient is touted as the latest miracle pill. Makers of weight-loss dietary supplements might claim that their products help you lose weight by blocking the absorption of fat or carbohydrates, curbing your appetite, or speeding up your metabolism. But there’s little scientific evidence that weight-loss supplements actually work. Many ingredients in these products have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and most of the studies that have been conducted show that they have little, if any, effect on body weight.

Unlike over-the-counter and prescription drugs that have to undergo approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are sold, weight-loss dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure that their supplements are safe and that the label claims are truthful and not misleading, but they don’t have to provide that evidence to the FDA before they sell their products.

2. What about hoodia? It was big a few years ago, but I haven’t heard much about it lately.

Hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) is a cactus-like plant that grows in southern Africa where it has traditionally been used as an appetite suppressant. Even though hoodia products became very popular in the United States several years ago, scientists actually know very little about this ingredient. Only one clinical trial on hoodia has been conducted, and it found that, compared with a placebo, hoodia did not affect the amount of calories people ate or their body weight.

Also, in the past, analyses showed that some hoodia supplements contained very little hoodia or none at all. It’s not known if this is still a problem for hoodia supplements sold today.

3. I drink coffee but try to avoid getting too much caffeine. If a dietary supplement has caffeine, will it be listed on the product label?

Not always. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a dietary supplement has caffeine and, if it does, how much. Several herbs, including guarana, kola nut, and yerbe mate (or maté), naturally contain caffeine. Green tea and green coffee beans also have caffeine. Product labels will list the ingredients contained in the supplement, but if an herbal ingredient is a natural source of caffeine, the amount is not always mentioned. According to the FDA, it’s safe for most adults to get up to about 400 mg of caffeine (about 4–5 cups of coffee) in a day. More than that can cause nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and seizures.

Many weight-loss dietary supplements contain other stimulants, such as bitter orange or synephrine. Combining these with sources of caffeine can multiply the side effects.

4. Even if weight-loss dietary supplements won’t necessarily help me lose weight, is there any harm in trying them?

Yes, there could be. Most weight-loss dietary supplements don’t have major safety concerns when used as directed, but some might. Beware of messages like “lose weight without diet or exercise,” “magic diet pill,” and “melt your fat away.” At best, products with claims like these do not live up to them, and even worse, they could be dangerous.

Many weight-loss dietary supplements contain caffeine and other stimulants that can cause problems at high doses. Others could interact with certain medications like warfarin and diabetes drugs. Occasionally, weight-loss supplements are tainted with prescription drug ingredients or controlled substances, making them unapproved—and unsafe—drugs.

Before you try weight-loss dietary supplements, talk to your health care provider to understand what is known—and not known—about these products. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other medical conditions.

The Scoop provides information from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplement ingredients. The Scoop is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. If you copy or distribute its content, please credit the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health and include the publication title and date. Do not use our information in any way that suggests we endorse any commercial product or service.

We welcome your comments and suggestions for future issues of The Scoop. To contact ODS, go to the Contact Us page of the ODS website. Please note that we cannot answer specific medical questions, make referrals, or provide guidance on the use of dietary supplements. Those questions are best answered by a physician or other qualified health care provider who can tell you if dietary supplements are right for you and what effects they could have on your health.

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About ODS

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)external link disclaimer is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency----supporting scientific studies that turn discovery into health.

Contact Us

Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health
6100 Executive Blvd., Room 3B01
Bethesda, MD 20892-7517

Email: ods@nih.gov
website: http://ods.od.nih.gov