Are weight loss supplements effective?

Weight loss supplements Follow Me on Pinterest I came across some research on weight loss supplements recently and thought it would make an interesting post for those of you who have either tried weight loss supplements or are thinking about using them. As I mentioned in my post last week How to spot a diet scam, I have had first hand experience with weight loss supplements because I used to work in a health food shop. The owners very generously allowed us to buy our supplements at just above wholesale prices, so I ended up trying quite a few. None of them worked, not a single one. I tried ones that blocked fat absorption, ones that blocked carbohydrate absorption and ones that were supposed to suppress your appetite. Most of the weight loss supplements that I tried 20 years ago no longer exist, but every year a whole new range of magical supplements from the fruit of the rainforests is introduced.

The truth about weight loss supplements

After reviewing the evidence on hundreds of weight loss supplements, Linda Manore, a professor of nutrition and exercise sciences at the Oregan State University, concluded that none of them lived up to the claims that they made. She concluded that none of the supplements contained the “Magic Pill” formula, and the only way for people to lose weight was through the normal channels: changing the diet and moderate exercise.

It annoys me when I see all the weight loss supplements hype in the full page ads in our state newspaper every Sunday and the photos of the svelte bodies that used to be dozens of pounds overweight. What the adverts don’t mention is that the people who were successful were more than likely on a calorie restricted diet. Well doh, of course the supplements are going to “work”.

Four categories of weight loss supplements

Manore discovered that weight loss supplements fall into four categories:

  • Stimulants such as caffeine that increase your metabolism
  • Products such as chitosan that are supposed to block fat absorption and which is supposed to block carbohydrate absorption
  • Products containing conjugated linoleic acid claiming to help you lose fat and change the composition of your body and
  • Appetite suppressants such as soluble fibres

There were no properly run clinical trials to test any of these products and if there were any weight loss victories, these were most likely achieved through the low calorie diet. As well as being ineffective, the weight loss supplements also had some very unpleasant side effects such as gas, bloating and some serious cardiovascular effects.

So next time that you are browsing the weight loss supplements in your health food shop or chemist, resist, because you are only going to be parted from your hard earned money and will have nothing to show for it.

As a dietician and researcher, Linda came to the conclusion that you do have to make some lifestyle changes to lose weight. You need to cut out the junk food and drinks, eat healthily, do some moderate exercise and ditch the weight loss supplements.


Melinda M. Manore. Dietary Supplements for Improving Body Composition and Reducing Body Weight: Where is the evidence? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2012

What weight loss supplements have you used?

Further reading:

More about weight loss supplements and diet scams

Lose weight with Weight Watchers

Kick start your metabolism with The Diet Solution

The Gabriel Method (no diet, diet)

Quit Sugar

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39 Responses to Are weight loss supplements effective?

  1. Your Health April 2, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I came across this during my hunt for something regarding this.

    • jan April 6, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      I think when it comes to weight loss, most of us are so desperate that we are prepared to try anything at some time or another.

  2. Harriet April 5, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    I don’t think weight loss suppliments are useful at all. I have tried them in the past but the only way I have lost weight is through eating less and doing a lot of extra exercise!

    • jan April 6, 2012 at 10:35 am #

      Yep, that really is the only way to do it. You don’t have to starve yourself but you do need to cut back and mainly cut out the junk stuff.

  3. Brian April 6, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    The best weight loss supplement is a healthy diet and exercise! Nothing new, I know. But it truly is the only sure-fire way to stay fit. Supplements are generally a waste of money. I’m pretty sure they’re not FDA approved so I wouldn’t ever trust them. You should focus on putting good stuff in your body, not stuff that will trick your body into “thinking it’s full.” It’s just not healthy!

    • jan April 6, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Brian
      You are right, healthy eating and moderate exercise is the way to go. I have tried many supplements and they absolutely do not work if you still eat the same diet – first hand experience!

  4. Felicia April 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    I must admit that I was desperate enough to lose weight and I ended up buying some weight loss supplements. I remember it was a brand called Hydroxycut. Healthy lifestyle and discipline on food is what’s lacking in my life right now, and maybe that’s because I work long hours in front of the computer. :(

    • jan April 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi Felicia

      Working long hours makes life extremely tough – it’s hard to fit in the healthy, home cooked meals and a bit of exercise. I think most of us who have struggled with our weight would have tried weight loss supplements at some time or another though. It’s hard not to get sucked in once in a while!

  5. win April 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    hi jan

    glad to meet with you, in my opinion about weight loss supplements are the pills do not always give a good effect, for example, a friend of mine. he’s got a fat body, and to lose weight pill he was taking weight loss pills. He complained that he often suffered from abdominal pain and often went to the bathroom. And now he has excess abdominal skin due to effects from the drugs he was taking.

    • jan April 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

      Hi Win
      I have read about the really bad side effects from many of these supplements, I guess the best advice is just to stay away from them altogether.

  6. Aaron G. Carr April 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Nice post! I learned a lot of information from this post. But before jumping on into some weight loss program, you need to evaluate yourself if you really need to lose few more extra pounds. Remember, a healthy body doesn’t mean you should have a thin body. Never get the wrong impression of being healthy by getting thin or else, you will find yourself face to face with further problems like anorexia and other weight diseases problems.

    • jan April 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Hi Aaron
      Good point there, you don’t have to be super thin to be healthy.

  7. Weight loss supplements April 14, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    From my personal opinion I think weight loss supplements are amazing. I have used them for over 9 months now and i have dropped dramatic weight. It’s safe and a low cost solution for losing weight.

    • jan April 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Which ones did you use?

      • Weight loss supplements April 17, 2012 at 6:46 am #

        The main supplement that i take is HCG Diet drops. They seem to work really well for me.

        • jan April 17, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

          This is exactly the sort of scam I am writing about. Considering a sedentary person requires 2,000-2,500 daily calories, no wonder you lose weight on 500 calories a day! It is nothing more than a starvation diet.

  8. Hypnosis for Weight loss Portland April 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Before choosing any weight loss supplements or any program regarding weight loss, you must have to control on your diet. I know many ladies who choose some weight loss supplements and also some programs as well as also regularly visit some professionals but still they not getting an effective results due to their diets.

    • jan April 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      For sure, you still need to watch what you eat.

  9. hcg pellets April 18, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    And I use hcg drops and I think they are the best in my case I don`t know for other.

    • jan April 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      I think one of the big things for HCG is that you are on a starvation diet of 500 calories a day – a sedentary female would be on about 2,000 a day, no wonder you lose weight!!

  10. Charita 24 April 22, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    The Burn supplement from the Dr Max Powers brand really works. Detoxifies the body and gives you good energy without staining your teeth (it has caffeine, it give you the energy but doesn’t make you feel sluggish and doesn’t stain your teeth like coffee does). The grapefruit powder suppresses your appetite which makes your eating portions smaller. You start craving vegetables, soups and salads. I love it. I am losing weight by the day and I eat five to six little meals during the day. If you combine this stuff with your usual 20 mn workout a day, you will be amazed with the results. The beauty about this is that you MAINTAIN the weight loss! I love it!

    • jan April 22, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      Hi Charita
      It is great that you have had success with your weight loss. There is a study published in PubMed that shows a small weight loss in a group of people taking grapefruit supplements – but only .8 kg more than the control group and only a total of 1.1 kg over 12 weeks which is not a great deal. You will probably find that you have actually cut back significantly on what you were eating and that is why you have had the weight loss.

  11. Cheryl Boswell May 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Talk about the Wild West Jan. After reading this post, I am more convinced then ever that this industry needs to reigned in. While they are at it, they can tighten up food labels on claims like “organic”, “whole” and “low fat”

    I probably cost myself months if not more than a year treading water with fitness buying into the various hypes.

    I know this is a few days old, but I am curious if anyone has read “Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson?


    • jan May 6, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

      Totally agree Cheryl – we need truth in labelling without the language manipulation they indulge in at the moment and hiding what ingredients are behind numbers! I haven’t read The Primal Blueprint: but it looks interesting.

      • Cheryl Boswell May 7, 2012 at 4:01 am #


        What I liked about the book was that it totally simplified eating. It got me thinking about the importance of content v. quantity. Some foods are awesome and you can eat all you want with the concept of “calories” being of minimal importance. Some other foods have a tendency to change the fat burning and storing process in our bodies even just eating a bite or two. Fascinating in that book and a real game changer for me. The website is called Marks Daily Apple if anyone wants to add it to their bookmarks. If nothing else there are some really good nutritious recipes on there.

        Thanks again Jan.


        • jan May 7, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

          Thanks again Cheryl I have subscribed to the newsletter – it looks a bit like the Paleo Diet which is basically trying to eat as we used to in our hunter/gatherer days – the recipes do look yummy!

          • Cheryl Boswell May 8, 2012 at 6:36 am #


            Some of the snacks particularly are interesting. If there is one area I fall down a lot it is snacking. There seems like there is either boring where you get sick of it and on the extreme other end is tasty but bad for you.

            The nut and honey based snack recipes are a little bit of a chore to prepare but worth it. Glad you liked the site. Mr. Sisson is definitely onto something. Changed my nutritional life actually.


  12. Roy May 15, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Had to share my thoughts. Actually I think you have done an awesome job designing as well as sharing valuable information on your site.

    Not many people seem to do so online today.

    All the best to you.

    Health is your greatest wealth,

    • jan May 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Thanks Roy. I certainly agree with you that health is your greatest wealth – and we should never take it for granted!

  13. Crescent May 23, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    I find that any diet plan claiming you can lose weight at a rate greater than a few pounds a month to be a scam. Human bodies are designed to resist starvation, which means we bulk up whenever there’s food around. That also means we don’t lose weight easily. Our bodies aren’t adapted to the stupid weight standards some people have set for “beauty” we’re adapted for survival and continuation of the species.

    • jan May 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

      That’s for sure, we are beautifully adapted for survival, but unfortunately when that was happening we didn’t have such an abundance of food and junk food like we have now!

  14. Aborigho June 21, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    This is great site on weight loss and i will like anyone with weight loss issue to come here.

    • jan June 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Thanks Aborigho :)

  15. Corey July 11, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    I think as far as supplements go, having your body saturated with vitamins and minerals is a good thing. Eating them naturally is better, but if you have a diet lacking in something vitamins can help. I know a lot of us are low in Vitamin D3. we don’t get out in the sun enough and when we do we put sunscreen on.
    Taking vitamin D3 may help those that are low in the vitamin.

    As far as weight loss goes, the best answer is lower amount of calories and exercise, we don’t like the answer and probably never will.

    • jan July 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      I agree with that last bit Corey! With vitamins I take a supplement because I think that our food chain is so depleted nowadays, but I always have one or two days off a week – no routine but just to give the body a break from processing concentrated nutrients.

  16. Cheryl Boswell July 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    On the topic of weight loss, this came out Friday. Really stresses the importance of keeping a journal. I don’t know where I stand on that. I lost weight effectively without it. I truthfully think people will tend not to look back at it anyways.

    However the point about eating out is a good one. I have been a big proponent of making eating out a special occasion thing where once a week, biweekly or once a month, you go out and you don’t worry one bit about calories, fat or anything else. Where eating out tended to get me was when I was doing it regularly at quick food joints.

    I thought you and your readers would enjoy this article and study.

    • jan July 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      That’s a great link Cheryl. Tracking what you eat is a really big thing with Weight Watchers and it really does work. It’s not really meant to ever look back on but just to keep track day to day. It is so easy to “forget” a lolly here, a biscuit there, a bit of this here and there. When you have to write it all down it really makes you mindful and you definitely can’t cheat because it is there in black and white. Also with WW because you add up the points as you go you can really see how you are travelling for the day.

      Having a weekly special occasion is also a great idea, we humans are largely social creatures and you can’t stay at home just because you are on a diet! Thankfully the best diets now recognise that and incorporate treats and special occasions and you can still lose weight.

      You would be amazed at how many people who lose weight with WW still track every day to maintain their weight.

  17. morten August 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Like your article because i really hate all those supplements/diet pills scams you can find everywhere because they are really scammers trying to hit on peoples soft spot – The problem with their weight.

  18. healthydietplanstoloseweight August 27, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Impressive article. I never knew that most of theses supplements are not clinically tested. That’s the reason why people never actually lose weight on supplements. Tssk. What a waste of money and time.

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