Supplements for Weight Loss

Looking for supplements and herbal remedies for weight loss? There isn’t a lot of science backing up the claims, and some have health risks. So, talk with your doctor if you’re thinking about trying any of them. 

Also, you should know that the FDA has cracked down on some weight loss supplements that had prescription drugs in them that weren’t noted on the label. You can’t always tell what you’re getting.


The FDA does regulate dietary supplements, but it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.


Here are some common ingredients found in over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies for weight loss.




This is a sugar that comes from the hard outer layers of lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. It’s said to block the absorption of fats and cholesterol.


The research on whether it works for weight loss is mixed. Doses from 1 to 5 grams have been studied.


The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says there is “insufficient reliable evidence to rate” chitosan for weight loss. Some studies show it may help, and others show it doesn’t. And many of the studies aren’t very good.


Chitosan usually causes no side effects, but some people get an upset stomach. 

Chromium Picolinate

Chromium is a mineral that enhances the action of insulin, a hormone critical to metabolism. Your body also needs it to store carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

There are claims that chromium supplements can:

  • lower appetite
  • help burn more calories
  • cut body fat
  • boost muscle mass

But one review of 24 studies examining the effects of 200 to 1,000 micrograms (mcg) of chromium a day found no significant benefits. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that chromium is “possibly ineffective” for weight loss.

Rarely, chromium supplements can cause side effects such as:

  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • headache

Also, at least three people have developed kidney and liver damage when taking chromium. People with either kidney or liver problems should not take it.

CLA is a popular supplement containing chemicals found in the fatty acid linoleic acid. There are claims that it may help curb body fat and help you stay full.The research on CLA for weight loss is mixed. Some suggests that for some people, 0.7-4.5 grams of CLA per day may:

  • curb body fat
  • boost muscle

But other research shows no benefit.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that CLA is “possibly effective” for weight loss.

Some researchers have warned that long-term use of CLA, especially in people who areobese, may raise insulin resistance, which makes type 2 diabetes more likely.

In some people, CLA may cause side effects such as:

  • upset stomach
  • nausea
  • loose stools


This is made from the konjac plant. Like other dietary fibers, it is supposed to help people lose weight by blocking the absorption of dietary fat.

Very early evidence suggests it might be helpful for weight loss. But other evidence shows no effect.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says there is “insufficient evidence” to rate the effectiveness of glucomannan for weight loss.

Glucomannan must be taken with at least 8 ounces of water. Taking it without water, especially in tablet form, could lead to choking or blockage of the:

  • throat
  • esophagus
  • intestine

Taking it in powder form appears to be safer.

Glucomannan also may make it harder for your body to absorb medications. So people should take medications either 1 hour before or 4 hours after taking glucomannan or other fibrous products.

Green Tea Extract

It supposedly works by:

  • curbing appetite
  • raising calorie and fat metabolism

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says there is not enough evidence to rate the effectiveness of green tea for weight loss.

Side effects of green tea extract, especially when consumed in high amounts, include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • insomnia
  • agitation

Green Coffee Extract

Green coffee is thought to lower body fat and help weight loss.

Early research suggests it may lead to modest weight loss. More research is needed to better determine the effects, but the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates it as “possibly effective” for weight loss.

Few people have side effects, but because of the caffeine in green coffee it may cause:

  • headaches
  • stomach upset
  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • abnormal heart rhythms

Guar Gum

This comes from the seed of the guar plant. Like other dietary fibers, it is said to work by preventing the absorption of fats and helping you feel full.

Guar gum has been studied more extensively than other fibers for weight loss. Most researchers have concluded that it is ineffective.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that guar gum is “possibly ineffective.”

Side effects may include:

  • gas
  • diarrhea


This is a plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert in Africa. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the stem of the root was traditionally used by Bushmen to reduce hunger and thirst during long hunts. It’s marketed for weight loss as an appetite suppressant.

Hoodia contains P57, an ingredient said to suppress appetite by helping you feel full. But there is no credible evidence that it’s safe or effective.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says it has insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of hoodia.


This is found naturally in the body and comes from the metabolism of the hormoneDHEA in the body. Unlike DHEA, 7-keto-DHEA does not increase levels of testosterone or estrogen in the body. It may help weight loss by boosting metabolism, so you burn more calories throughout the day.

In a couple of studies, people taking 7-keto-DHEA — along with moderate exercise and a reduced-calorie diet — lost significantly more weight than those taking placebo. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says there is still insufficient reliable evidence to rate the effectiveness of 7-keto-DHEA.

It appears to be safe. Researchers have not seen any significant side effects when taken for up to 28 days.


It’s also known as ma huang. It is an herb that contains the stimulants:

  • ephedrine
  • pseudoephedrine
  • phenylpropanolamine

The FDA banned supplements with ephedra after the herb was linked to serious side effects, including:

  • heart attack
  • arrhythmia
  • stroke
  • psychosis
  • seizures
  • death

The FDA’s ban does not apply to traditional Chinese herbal remedies or to products such as herbal teas.

According to the FDA, there is little evidence for the herb’s effectiveness except for short-term weight loss. The agency says the health risks outweigh any benefits.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says ephedra is “likely unsafe.”

Bitter Orange

The bitter orange tree is native to Africa and tropical Asia. It’s also grown in the Mediterranean, California, and Florida.

Bitter orange contains synephrine, a stimulant related to ephedrine. It supposedly works by raising the number of calories burned.

After the FDA banned weight loss products containing ephedra, many makers switched to bitter orange. But it’s unclear if bitter orange is safer.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that bitter orange is “possibly unsafe” and there is insufficient evidence to rate it for weight loss.

Some studies have shown bitter orange supplements can increase blood pressure and heart rate. There have been reports that bitter orange may have had dangerous side effects in people who took bitter orange alone or in combination with other stimulants such as caffeine. These effects include:

  • stroke
  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart attack
  • death

According to the FDA, bitter orange may not be safe to use as a dietary supplement. You should especially avoid taking bitter orange supplements if you have:

  • a heart condition
  • high blood pressure

You should also avoid bitter orange supplements if you are taking caffeine, medications (such as MAO inhibitors), or herbs or other supplements that speed up the heart rate.





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