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Weight Loss Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Medically reviewed by Priti Parekh, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 10, 2023

Weight gain or being overweight is something many people have to contend with. Especially now with the world still in the throes of Covid-19, people are living even more sedentary lifestyles, with many of them turning to food as a source of comfort. 


Besides a brutal regimen of counting and restricting your calorie intake at the same time as doing Olympics-worthy exercise, there are many weight loss supplements on the market such as Hydroxycut, CLA, Glucomannan, caffeine, and green tea extract. Can these supplements make your weight loss journey easier? They should all be viewed with caution and with the reminder that there is no “magic pill” that will help you lose weight.


Supplement Studies


Hydroxycut is one of the most popular weight loss supplements in the world. It contains several ingredients that claim to help with weight loss, including caffeine and a few plant extracts. As with anything that contains caffeine, possible side effects include anxiety, irritability, nausea, and diarrhea. 


Although a human study has not been performed on Hydroxycut, one 12-week study tested its four main herbal ingredients, without the caffeine, in a group of 34 overweight or obese people. The group taking the herbal blend lost 21 pounds, compared to 1.8 pounds in the placebo group. The BMI of the herbal blend group went from from obese to overweight, with little to no changes in the placebo group. The study reported no adverse effects.


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Obesity - Body Fat

Obesity - Body Fat

Consumer Warnings


In 2009, the FDA warned consumers to stop using Hydroxycut immediately and to destroy any product in their possession as a result of 23 reports of serious health problems and at least one death associated with its use. Tragic and very scary. 


Post 2009 though, Hydroxycut was reformulated, with the FDA confirming that the only ingredient left from its prior formulation was caffeine. It is now back on the market, and besides caffeine, is now composed of lady’s mantle extract, wild olive extract, Komijn extract, wild mint extract, calcium, vitamin C and some other minor ingredients. However, even with its new formulation, searching for “Hydroxycut” on websites like PubMed will bring up many different reports of its dangerous side effects. When it comes to Hydroxycut, proceed with caution!


Conjugated linoleic acid (“CLA”) is a fatty acid found in cheese and butter. Because it can reduce appetite, boost metabolism, and stimulate the breakdown of fat, it is a very popular weight-loss supplement. As with any other supplement, CLA has potential side effects including digestive side effects, and if used over a long period, it may have harmful effects, potentially contributing to fatty liver, insulin resistance, and increased inflammation.


Glucomannan comes from the konjac plant which grows in parts of Asia. It is rich in soluble dietary fiber. Glucomannan absorbs water and makes you feel full, so you end up eating less. Glucomannan can also lower blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and triglycerides and is very effective against constipation. When combined with a healthy diet, research shows that glucomannan helps people lose weight. However, because of its high-fiber content, it can cause unpleasant intestinal reactions like bloating, flatulence, and soft stools. Glucomannan supplements must be taken with at least 8 ounces of water. Swallowing the supplement “dry” can lead to choking or the blockage of the esophagus or intestines because it can absorb 50 times its weight in water. Glucomannan supplements are only intended for short-term use and are not regulated by the FDA.


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Obesity - Medications

Obesity - Medications

Caffeine is often added to weight loss supplements because it can boost metabolism by up to 11%, and increase fat burning by up to 29%. A plus for all coffee lovers, caffeine occurs naturally in coffee. It is also found in green tea and dark chocolate. However, caffeine can make you feel anxious and irritable and reduce the quality of your sleep. It’s also addictive. If you really feel the need to try caffeine as a weight-loss supplement, you don’t need to resort to caffeine-enriched supplements. A nice cup of decent coffee or green tea will give you all the caffeine you need.


Speaking of green tea, green tea extract is often used in weight loss supplements, because it increases the activity levels of norepinephrine, a hormone which helps to burn fat, especially belly fat. 


While these supplements certainly look enticing, they come with potential unpleasant or downright dangerous side effects. If you have struggled to lose weight on the diet and exercise path, it might be worth looking into them, but only after doing some research on them and consulting with your healthcare provider.


Written by Gila Isaacson

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