Dietary Supplements

Most dietary supplements sold for rapid weight loss, such as acai and hoodia, aren’t effective at keeping weight off in the long term.

Many people who want to lose weight turn to unproven dietary supplements. These are sometimes called "fat burners" or appetite suppressants. But before you try them, remember two things:

⇒ These products make all sorts of claims for which they are not accountable.

⇒ ‘Natural’ doesn’t mean ‘safe.’

These products are not tested for safety by the FDA or anyone else. And they can have harmful side effects. If you’re thinking about starting a weight-loss program, talk with your healthcare provider. They can:

⇒ Assess your weight and health risks.

⇒ Determine whether you need to lose weight.

⇒ Help you set realistic and safe goals.

⇒ Provide information that will help you make informed decisions about an effective weight-loss program.

Most dietary supplements sold for rapid weight loss, such as acai and hoodia, aren’t effective at keeping weight off in the long term. Weight loss followed by weight gain is not healthy.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers have studied the weight-loss potential of a variety of dietary supplements, including:

  • omega-3s and fish oil
  • chitosan, a dietary fiber from shellfish
  • green tea extracts
  • Chinese herbs
  • bitter orange extract

None were effective for weight loss, and each has side effects.


  • The FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra, which was marketed for weight loss, because of serious health risks, including cardiovascular complications. Ephedra is also called ma huang.
  • When ephedra was removed, many ‘ephedra-free’ supplements came to market, but side effects of some of their ingredients are similar to the banned products. Ephedra-free supplements often have a lot of caffeine— or herbs, such as guarana, that contain caffeine. Products containing those additives can cause increased heart rate and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • There is no guarantee that what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle. It is not uncommon for analyses of dietary supplements, including herbal supplements, to find differences between labeled and actual ingredients.


There’s evidence that mind and body approaches, such as yoga and meditation, particularly "mindful eating," may complement other weight-loss interventions. Meditation and yoga are generally considered safe for healthy people. If you have any underlying health conditions, talk with your healthcare provider about any complementary approach you may be interested in using.

SOURCE: Adapted from The National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.

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