The low down on this white hot weight-loss product

By Cynthia Sass
September 13, 2012

Throughout my career, I've seen dozens of "hot" weight-loss supplements come and go, including bitter orange, chromium picolinate, CLA, hoodia, yerba mate, raspberry ketones, and now green coffee bean extract. Each has been touted as an effortless way to shed pounds, by either boosting metabolism, mobilizing body fat, or suppressing appetite. But as a health professional, it's my job to be skeptical and ask the tough questions, such as does it really work, where's the proof, and, above all, is it safe?

You may have seen green coffee extract at Starbucks, promoted as a natural energy source with no coffee flavor. It was also featured recently on The Dr. Oz Show. On his program, the doc revealed the results of his own investigation, which involved recruiting 100 women who either received a placebo or a 400 mg green coffee bean supplement. The ladies were instructed to make no changes to their diets, and after two weeks, those who had popped the green coffee bean extract lost an average of two pounds, compared to one pound for the placebo group. Interesting, but I'm not ready to recommend it yet. Here's the nitty-gritty:

What is green coffee extract?

Coffee beans are actually green seeds inside a bright red berry. Roasting them turns the seeds brown and creates the characteristic aroma and flavor coffee lovers crave. To create green coffee bean extract, the seeds are left unroasted. Instead they're soaked and then concentrated to create the extract.

RELATED: Did you know that coffee naturally suppresses appetite? Discover 25 healthy foods that fight hunger.

Why not just drink coffee?

When coffee seeds or "beans" are roasted, their antioxidant levels increase, but one natural substance called chlorogenic acid decreases. This chemical is thought to block fat accumulation, boost weight loss, curb carb absorption, and help regulate post-meal blood sugar levels. In addition, green coffee extract does not taste or smell like coffee, a supposed benefit for those who don't enjoy java.

Does it work?

Honestly, the evidence is pretty scant. One 2012 study made a big splash when it found that subjects who consumed 1,050-mg and 700-mg doses lost about 16 pounds in six weeks compared to a placebo group. However, the study was criticized because it involved such a small number of subjects-only 16-and it was funded by a green coffee bean extract manufacturer. An independent analysis of three randomized clinical trials that included a total of 142 participants concluded that the effect of green coffee extract is only moderate at best, and the studies were poorly conducted.

Is it safe?

For me this is the million-dollar question because even if something "works" for weight loss, it's not worthwhile if it creates other unwanted side effects. In this case the answer is: It depends.

RELATED: If you want to slimd down in a hurry, try one of these expert-approved quick weight-loss strategies.

Unfortunately there is no standardization when it comes to supplements. In other words, manufacturers don't have to follow a specific formula, so one green coffee extract product could be made completely differently than another, and one brand could contain significantly more caffeine than the bottle next to it. That concerns me because concentrated doses of caffeine can cause headaches, GI upset, nervousness, insomnia, anxiety, ringing in the ears, and irregular heart beat, or even more serious problems in some people. In addition, using caffeine-based weight-loss supplements and then stopping them has also been associated with withdrawal symptoms including headache, fatigue, depression, trouble concentrating, nervousness, muscle tension, and a flushed face.

Finally, caffeine-based supplements can react with other supplements. For example, taking one with another stimulant (like guarana or mate) can trigger a synergistic effect that could increase blood pressure to dangerous levels. A high caffeine intake can also trigger the loss of calcium and magnesium. And there's a long list of prescription medications that interact with caffeine, from diabetes and blood pressure drugs to meds used for depression.

RELATED: There's nothing like a good workout to burn off fat! Follow along with this high-intensity tabata workout video and blast mega calories in 4 minutes!

Bottom line

After reviewing the research as well as the risks, it seems like the cons outweigh the pros here, at least for now. And at about $20 per 30-day supply, you could invest in other weight-loss strategies that get my thumbs up, such as taking a fun fitness class or buying more fresh fruits and veggies!

What's your take on this topic? Have you thought about trying this supplement, or have you already? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

Comments (17)

November 21, 2019
Yeah Green coffee Bean extract reduce the weight I had Grecobe Green coffee that reduces weight loss
August 17, 2019
Hi Cnythia, It seems to me with the little knowledge I have that the real benefit and potential game changer is not the weight loss benefit from green coffee extract but what the science is showing around lowering blood sugar and the potential of helping millions who are diabetic and pre-diabetic. Have you looked into any of these studies?
March 21, 2019
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June 19, 2018
Though I agree that the best way to lose weight is a change in lifestyle - like healthy food and exercise - I think natural supplements like green coffee are worth a try compared to the chemical drugs that lots of people buy to lose weight. My wife used Qafe green coffee for two months and lost 8 kgs. She did this with moderate exercise and eating healthy food [no dieting]. I have also sold it to a few people and got mixed reviews. One lady lost 5.5kgs in one month. Another lady did not lose much over 2 months but said she felt active and lost inches. Another man had GI tract issues and decided to discontinue in 3 days - it was clear the coffee did not suit his body. I believe in the concept of "bio-individuality" where every body behaves differently to food based on several factors. I am conscious of this fact and advise my customers the same before they buy Qafe green coffee from me. I recommend trying it for a month and a half and continue if you like it. Qafe green coffee is available in ready-to-use pour-and-mix powder sachets to be mixed with hot water and enjoyed like a regular cup of coffee with breakfast and dinner. It's available in many countries worldwide. Please connect with me on if you'd like to know more.
August 14, 2017
Reading the article above, I noticed you didn't discuss the decaf version of green coffee beans. This article discusses a supplement in pill form. I sell unroasted, decaf green coffee beans, fully ground or whole. I only sell the decaf for the very reasons you put forward about caffeine-based supplements. Instead of a pill, mine is made like tea. 100 percent natural and pure. Questions can be directed to me at: