Dr. Melinda Manore, professor of nutrition at Oregon State University, has been doing energy-balance research for 25 years in active and sedentary individuals. The one questions she always gets? “What supplements can I buy for weight loss?” So, like any good researcher she dived into the research, reviewing the evidence surrounding hundreds of weight-loss supplements.
"Most weight-loss supplements are not worth the money spent on them, and some can be harmful," Manore says. "If weight loss does occur, the amount is typically around 2 to 3 kilograms (4 to 7 pounds), which is not the type of weight loss most people want."
The major problem is consumer education and expectation, she says.
"Consumers don’t realize that most weight-loss supplements are tested in the context of a hypocaloric diet, which means people need to reduce the number of calories they are consuming," Manore says. "They don’t want to do that. They just want to take a pill and have the weight melt off without changing diet, physical activity, lifestyle and environment."
Despite the lackluster results, there were some supplements that seemed to show promise for helping with weight maintenance or aiding small weight loss.
"All that said, there are some products like fiber, increased calcium to recommended levels, and getting adequate protein that may help with maintenance of weight or small improvements of weight loss in the context of a healthy lifestyle," she says.
, vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, says that no one should expect a magic pill when it comes to weight loss and reversing the obesity epidemic.
"Supplements are meant to complement a healthy lifestyle and contribute to weight loss or prevent weight gain over time," McKay says. "They are not meant to do the job on their own. Obesity and weight gain are multifactorial issues that are related to diet, exercise, and emotional well-being."
While some weight-loss supplements can help balance blood sugar to avoid cravings, provide a sense of fullness to prevent overeating, or provide additional energy for an exercise session, if a weight-loss supplement makes a claim that seems too good to be true, it should be avoided, McKay says.
"Women should first talk with their dietician or healthcare provider to determine if a weight-loss supplements is right for them," McKay says. "When it comes to effectiveness, it’s important that consumers moderate their expectations."
Bottom line? Only healthy eating and exercise have been proven to result in weight loss. That's why Manore recommends focusing on eating low-calorie foods that have bulk like whole fruits, veggies, in addition to grains and low-fat dairy and meat. Also, start a fitness program and begin to move more—whether it's standing more often, taking the stairs, or walking. Be sure to change your environment, too, so that it's supportive of a healthy lifestyle—keep fruit in your office, plan meals, and take your lunch.
"If weight-loss supplements really worked, we wouldn’t have an obesity problem," Manore says. "We are spending billions of dollars on products that don’t work, may be harmful, and could have side effects."
Have you ever taken a weight-loss supplement? Did it work? Tell us!
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.