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Weight loss supplements to avoid

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Diet pills can be risky to health

The coming of spring inspires many women to step up their workout programs and clean up their eating habits so they can slip on their warmer-weather attire with confidence.
Woman holding diet pill

Some women may even be tempted to super-charge their weight loss with supplements or diet pills. Are you one of them? If you're on the fence about how to achieve your slim-down-for-spring goals, don't run to the nearest pharmacy for the miracle solution to your weight loss woes until you read what Carey Rossi, health and fitness editor for ConsumerSearch.com, has to say about the health risks and side effects of today's most popular diet and weight loss aids.

SheKnows: What are the newest weight loss products and what are their claims?

Carey Rossi: Thanks to a national "I need to be thinner" mindset, there are new weight loss products released every year. The key for consumers is to read the labels because all ingredients have pros and cons, which is why ConsumerSearch.com produced the Diet Pill Research Study, so consumers can look at the ingredient labels and be informed.

SheKnows: What supplements or pills should women avoid?

Carey Rossi: As a rule, someone would want to stay away from products that contain 5-HTP and glucomannan, both of which are used as appetite suppressants, because there are many warnings about their safety. Bitter orange and synephrine are ingredients that replaced the now-banned ephedra and are found mostly in fat-burning or thermogenic supplements. They also have many risks associated with them and can be particularly dangerous for people with heart conditions, since they tend to raise blood pressure.

SheKnows: What about weight loss products that don't clearly list ingredients?

Carey Rossi: Sometimes, no matter how much homework you do, there can be a product that eludes you. For instance, one of the newest additions to the weight loss category, which also has an aggressive marketing campaign, is Sensa. The claim is if you sprinkle "tastant" crystals on your food, the smell and taste experience will help you eat less. It is very difficult to find out what the ingredients for this product are. After a lot of digging, I found that one of the company's websites lists the ingredients as maltodextrin (which is a carbohydrate made from corn starch), soy-lecithin, tricalcium phosphate (a form of calcium), silica and natural and artificial flavors — none of which are known to help weight loss. I don't know whether it is dangerous or not. However, there isn't anything in the ingredients that would make me think so -- nor make me think that it would work. A quick search on PubMed for Sensa and Dr. Hirsch (the doctor who developed it) retrieves nothing — including the "clinical trial" with over 1,400 participants that is touted on the website.

SheKnows: Do products that claim to burn fat actually work?

Carey Rossi: The short answer is: They might. However, they won't melt off pounds if used without diet and exercise. You need to eat well and exercise, and then these products — whether they are fat-burners or carb-blockers or any other class of diet pill — may help speed up your efforts, minimally. Those before-and-after photos are true; however, their secret is that all of those models know how to lose weight without the product they are touting. For the ad, they take the supplement, but whether it produced the results touted is questionable.

SheKnows: Do fat-burners have side effects?

Carey Rossi: There are numerous side effects. For example, in the case of bitter orange and synephrine, their manipulation of our bodies' nervous system can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, stroke and sudden death. So you need to decide whether the risk is worth a couple of extra pounds, because, ultimately, to lose the weight you will still need to watch what you're eating and move.

SheKnows: Can supplements truly affect insulin or blood sugar balance considering they are not "drugs" and don't constitute a meal?

Carey Rossi: Research has been done on cinnamon and chromium and their effects on blood glucose levels and insulin, especially in diabetics. We did not directly look in-depth at their roles from a health standpoint (except for side effects), only as they pertain to the weight loss equation. In this case, these products tend to claim to regulate blood sugar so there are no crashes and, as a result, suppress appetite. We didn't find any conclusive evidence of either ingredient doing so.

SheKnows: Do carb-blockers really prevent carbohydrates from being absorbed?

Carey Rossi: The most common and most researched carb blocker is white bean extract (aka Phase 2 or Phaseolus vulgaris). Most research has found that taking it produces a moderate weight loss — approximately 4 to 8 pounds over a six-week period. Any long-term adverse health effects are not known but side effects can occur, especially when more than 10 grams are consumed. As you might suspect, those side effects are digestive system-related -- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas and stomach pain -- and they usually subside once you stop taking the product.

SheKnows: What is your bottom line on weight loss products?

Carey Rossi: I see weight loss supplements as complementary to a clean eating and exercise plan. Meaning if you're doing those things and you want to supplement your efforts, then if you feel it is right for you — in terms of health, emotion and economy — some might be worth a try. I tend to recommend plain green tea extract, because, besides the slight ability to help you burn more calories at rest, its active ingredient, EGCG, an antioxidant, provides other healthful benefits. So even though you may or may not experience weight loss, you're not totally throwing your money away because you are providing your body with an antioxidant that might protect it against DNA damage and fatty deposits in the liver as well as the heart.

More on weight loss

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