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Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss

Fact Sheet for Consumers
Woman shopping for dietary supplements

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What are weight-loss dietary supplements and what do they do?

The proven ways to lose weight are by eating healthful foods, cutting calories, and being physically active. But making these lifestyle changes isn't easy, so you might wonder if taking a dietary supplement that's promoted for weight loss might help.

This fact sheet describes what's known about the safety and effectiveness of many ingredients that are commonly used in weight-loss dietary supplements. Sellers of these 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 are expensive, some can interact or interfere with medications, and a few might be harmful.

If you're thinking about taking a dietary supplement to lose weight, talk with your health care provider. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other medical conditions.

What are the ingredients in weight-loss dietary supplements?

Weight-loss supplements contain many ingredients-like herbs, fiber, and minerals—in different amounts and in many combinations. Sold in forms such as capsules, tablets, liquids, and powders, some products have dozens of ingredients.

Common ingredients in weight-loss supplements are described below in alphabetical order. You'll learn what’s known about whether each ingredient works and is safe. Figuring out whether these ingredients really help you lose weight safely is complicated, though. Most products contain more than one ingredient, and ingredients can work differently when they’re mixed together.

You may be surprised to learn that makers of weight-loss supplements rarely carry out studies in people to find out whether their product really works and is safe. And when studies are done, they usually involve only small numbers of people taking the supplement for just a few weeks or months. To know whether a weight-loss supplement can really help people lose weight safely and keep it off, larger groups of people need to be studied for a longer time.

Common Ingredients in Weight-Loss Dietary Supplements

[BOTTOMLINE]
INGREDIENTDOES IT WORK?IS IT SAFE?
Bitter orange
Caffeine
Calcium
Chitosan
Chromium
Cola (or kola) nut (see the section on Caffeine)
Coleus forskohlii
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
Ephedra
Fucoxanthin
Garcinia cambogia
Glucomannan
Green coffee bean extract
Green tea and green tea extract
Guar gum
Guarana (see the section on Caffeine)
Hoodia
Mate (see the section on Caffeine)
Pyruvate
Raspberry ketone
White kidney bean/bean pod
Yerba mate (see the section on Caffeine)
Yohimbe

How are weight-loss dietary supplements regulated?

The FDA regulates weight-loss supplements differently from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. As with other dietary supplements, the FDA does not test or approve weight-loss supplements before they are sold. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure that their supplements are safe and that the label claims are truthful and not misleading.
 
When the FDA finds an unsafe dietary supplement, it may remove the supplement from the market, or ask the supplement maker to recall it. The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission may also take action against companies that make false weight-loss claims about their supplements; add pharmaceutical drugs to their supplements; or claim that their supplements can diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease.
 
For more information about dietary supplement regulations, see the Office of Dietary Supplements publication, Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know

Can weight-loss dietary supplements be harmful?

Weight-loss supplements, like all dietary supplements, can have harmful side effects and might interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. Almost all weight-loss supplements have several ingredients that have not been tested in combination with one another, and their combined effects are unknown.

Tell your health care providers about any weight-loss supplements or other supplements you take. This information will help them work with you to prevent supplement-drug interactions, harmful side effects, and other risks.

Interactions with medications
Like most dietary supplements, some weight-loss supplements may interact or interfere with other medicines or supplements you take. For example, caffeine's effect may be stronger if you take it with other stimulants (such as bitter orange), and chitosan might increase the blood-thinning effects of warfarin (Coumadin®) to dangerous levels.

If you take dietary supplements and medications on a regular basis, be sure to talk about this with your health care provider.

Fraudulent and adulterated products
Be very cautious when you see weight-loss supplements with tempting claims, such as "magic diet pill," "melt away fat," and "lose weight without diet or exercise." If the claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These products may not help you lose weight-and they could be dangerous.

Weight-loss products, marketed as dietary supplements, are sometimes adulterated with prescription drug ingredients or controlled substances. Because U.S. law doesn't allow these ingredients to be in dietary supplements, they won't be listed on the product label and they could harm you.

Weight-loss supplements can be sold without being tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once a supplement that's suspected of causing serious health problems is on the market, the FDA can recall that product. Visit this websiteexternal link disclaimer to view the FDA's public notifications about tainted weight-loss products.

Choosing a Sensible Approach to Weight Loss

Weight-loss supplements can be expensive, and they might not work. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to follow a healthy eating plan, reduce calories, and exercise regularly under the guidance of your health care provider.

As a bonus, lifestyle changes that help you lose weight might also improve your mood and energy level and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Where can I find out more?

•   For general information on weight-loss dietary supplements: •   For publications about weight control, obesity, physical activity, and nutrition: •   For more advice on buying dietary supplements: •   For information about building a healthy diet:

Disclaimer

This fact sheet by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your healthcare providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health. Any mention in this publication of a specific product or service, or recommendation from an organization or professional society, does not represent an endorsement by ODS of that product, service, or expert advice.

Updated: June 9, 2015