The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about one-third of all adults in the United States and around 17 percent of children and teens are obese. If your goal is to lose weight, you may be tempted to turn to diet supplements to help you drop the pounds. But many diet supplements don’t live up to their claims, and some are even harmful to your health.
Diet supplements for weight loss are available in grocery stores, health food stores, drug stores, and online. They are sold as pills, capsules, liquids, and bars. But just because a product is available in stores or online does not mean it is safe or effective.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that using diet supplements can be harmful to your health. The FDA does not approve dietary supplements. This means what the label claims and what is actually inside the bottle may be very different.
Here are some warning signs the FDA has suggested to watch for that probably mean the product can’t live up to its claims:
• Too much too fast: products that claim you can lose “10 pounds in a week” are probably not safe.
• Key words: “guaranteed” or “scientific breakthrough” should set off mental warnings.
• Foreign language used in marketing or on the label
• Mass emails as a marketing tool
• Claiming to be an herbal alternative to an FDA-approved drug
• Claiming similar results as a prescription drug
Weight loss supplements sold over-the-counter (OTC) often claim to help control hunger to help you eat less. Hoodia is an herbal product that is sold as a hunger suppressant despite lack of scientific evidence that it works, or that it is safe. Chromium or chromium picolinate is generally considered to be safe, but also has not been shown to help decrease appetite. (about.com)
One diet supplement available over-the-counter that has received FDA approval is orlistat (brand name Alli). This product blocks the body’s ability to absorb fat. But the potential side effects may be uncomfortable or even embarrassing.
Dieters using the supplement must strictly limit the amount of fat in their diets. If you eat too much fat while taking Alli you may end up with loose or liquid stools and may even lose control of bowel movements.
Even weight loss supplements available only by prescription cannot guarantee weight loss success. Responding to a systematic review of dietary supplements, the American Dietetic Association (ADA), which is now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, stated that there is “no evidence that any specific dietary supplement is effective in reducing body weight.”
As with all supplements, the decision whether or not to use supplements for weight loss is a personal choice. If you are considering diet supplements, read labels carefully and do your research to be sure the product is safe. Talk to your healthcare provider for advice and to make sure there are no interactions between the supplement and any prescription medications you may be taking.
American Dietetic Association. Ethics Opinion: Weight Loss Products and Medications. Web. January 15, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity: US Obesity Trends. Web. January 15, 2012.
US Food and Drug Administration. FDA 202: Dietary Supplements. Web. January 15, 2012.
US Food and Drug Administration. Weight Loss Fraud. Web. January 15, 2012.
US Food and Drug Administration. Beware of Fraudulent Weight-Loss ‘Dietary Supplements’. Web. January 15, 2012.
About.com: Weight Loss. Weight Loss Pills and Supplements. Malia Frey. Web. January 15, 2012.
Mayo Clinic. Weight loss. Web. January 15, 2012.
Reviewed January 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith