Americans spend $2.4 billion a year on weight loss supplements. A recent review of weight loss supplement studies suggests those billions have gone to waste. No credible evidence was found that proves weight loss supplements work, and many have hazardous side effects.
Snake oil for sale
Advertising for weight loss supplements that claim to burn fat and suppress cravings should not be believed, according to Melinda Manore, an Oregon State University nutrition and exercise expert. Manore reviewed research on hundreds of weight loss supplements and concluded that no scientific evidence exists proving they are effective. What’s more, many of the supplements had unpleasant side effects such as bloating and gas and even worse, some were linked to serious health threats such as strokes and heart disease.
Chitosan, ephedra and other magic bullets
Manore looked at four supplement categories: products such as chitosan that block absorption of fat or carbohydrates, stimulants such as caffeine or ephedra that increase metabolism, compounds such as conjugated linoleic acid that claim to reduce body fat content and appetite suppressants such as soluble fibers. Many products were put on the market without randomized clinical trials to confirm their effectiveness and most of the studies did not factor in exercise.
What about exercise?
Most of the product research showed less than a two-pound weight loss benefit compared to a placebo. Manore found that only a few products, including green tea, fiber and low-fat dairy supplements showed a minor weight loss benefit of three to four pounds when tested as part of a reduced calorie diet. “Adding fiber, calcium, protein and drinking green tea can help,” she said. “But none of these will have much effect unless you exercise and eat fruits and vegetables.”
Lifestyle change, not supplements
Manore’s review, published online in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,” confirms what most nutrition experts have been saying for years: the only way to really lose weight and keep it off is to make a lifestyle change with healthy eating and exercise, not supplements.
The proper approach to weight loss outlined in Manore’s review includes planning meals to avoid spontaneous eating, eating fruits and vegetables on the go and eating whole fruits and vegetables, instead of drinking juice. She also recommends increasing fiber intake, avoiding processed foods and finding ways to keep moving. Take the stairs, use the speakerphone so you can walk around the office and meet your friends at the gym after work, instead of happy hour.