Many people experiment with weight loss supplements along their weight loss journey. For some, these little pills offer a feeling of security for their weight management efforts, while others see them as absolutely essential for curbing cravings and boosting their metabolism.
As many Americans today struggle to keep their BMI (body mass index) low and prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, dietary supplements’ popularity has risen exponentially.
But do weight loss supplements actually work? And are they worth the money?
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most popular over-the-counter weight loss supplements and discuss what they do in your body.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are becoming a very popular weight-loss aid as research continues to uncover ways in which these fatty acids support fat loss.
Due to their unique absorption pathway, MCTs can provide an almost immediate source of energy for your brain and body, and it also appears that they stimulate the liberation of stored fat to be burned for energy[*].
What’s more, many people report that when they consume MCTs, they experience a reduction in hunger, translating into decreased calorie intake for the day[*].
MCTs can be added to your meals in either a pill, liquid, or powder form. Most people prefer the powder because you can get a larger dose than a pill, and it mixes more seamlessly than an oil.
Perfect Keto MCT Oil Powder is made from real coconuts and will help keep you full and satisfied during intermittent fasting, or anytime you feel hungry. Simply mix a scoop with your favorite beverage for an easy, satisfying treat. Our MCT Oil Powder can make your coffee creamy, turn almond milk into keto chocolate milk, or add clean, delicious sweetness to your morning smoothie.
2. Exogenous Ketones
Exogenous ketones work by increasing the ketones in your bloodstream, which provides you with a carbohydrate-free energy source. If you’re on a low-carb or keto diet, exogenous ketones can help you keep your energy steady, especially in the diet’s beginning stages.
Some research also shows that taking exogenous ketones can support weight loss via calorie-restriction[*].
When it comes to exogenous ketones, quality is absolutely essential. Some ketone supplements have a pretty rough taste, and others are made with low-quality fillers or less potent ketones.
If you’re following a ketogenic or low-carb diet, exogenous ketones may help you to cut your calories by providing more satiety with less food, plus boosting your energy for better and longer workouts. It’s especially helpful for cutting cravings whether you’re skipping meals or just trying to eat fewer calories.
3. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a type of saturated fat that’s found naturally in dairy foods and beef. Supplement companies have isolated CLA to sell as a weight loss aid due to research supporting its role in metabolism and appetite reduction.
Research in humans and animals shows that CLA increases energy expenditure in white adipose tissue (fat cells), muscles, and liver tissue. This thermic effect gives rise to an increased calorie burn which results in fat loss.
It also appears that supplementation with CLA can suppress appetite and lead to reduced energy intake[*][*]. Although the research is compelling, it should be noted that the most profound results of CLA have only been seen in animal studies and in modest amounts in human trials.
It’s possible that CLA can support fat-burning, but more research needs to be conducted in humans to confirm.
4. Gymnema Sylvestre
Gymnema is a plant that’s been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to help control blood sugar. In fact, its Hindi name translates into “destroyer of sugar.”
The acids in this plant, called gymnemic acids, have a similar structure to glucose and can dock on glucose receptors and therefore block their absorption. This not only helps to control blood sugar (and avoid a blood sugar rollercoaster that can contribute to snacking and weight gain), but it also helps to curb carbohydrate cravings.
What’s more, when these acids dock on your taste receptors, it blocks the sweet taste in your mouth, further inhibiting your drive for sugar-sweetened foods[*].
If you consume carbs or struggle with sugar cravings, gymnema may support your ability to cut down on high-carb foods, which could translate into weight loss. However, if you follow a low-carb or keto diet, gymnema may not have as much of an impact since the diet itself takes care of carb-cravings and blood sugar.
5. White Kidney Bean Extract
White kidney bean extract is the most well-known natural carb blocker. Research shows that white kidney bean extract can help with weight loss for people who regularly consume carbs. Unlike gymnema, which docks on glucose receptors, white kidney bean extract blocks carbs by inhibiting their breakdown via the enzyme amylase.
If you consume carbs regularly, white kidney bean extract may help you reduce the number of carbs your body absorbs. This can result in a reduced caloric intake along with steadier blood sugar. However, if you don’t consume carbs regularly, white kidney bean extract may not do much good towards your weight loss efforts.
6. Green Tea Extract
Green tea contains caffeine which can give you a nice boost in energy and has a thermic effect on its own. What makes green tea particularly interesting for weight loss, however, is that it’s also rich in antioxidant compounds called epigallocatechin which compounds caffeine’s thermic effect in your body.
While any caffeine-containing food or beverage can give your metabolism a little jump, the antioxidant compounds in green tea seem to prolong that effect, providing a longer-lasting thermic effect which research shows can support weight loss[*][*].
When combined with a healthy diet and movement, it appears that green tea extract may support weight loss efforts by stimulating your metabolism.
7. Bitter Orange
Bitter orange contains a compound called synephrine, which has a similar structure to the weight-loss drug ephedra. Ephedra, which has been banned in the United States, stimulates the heart, brain, and nervous system and produces a thermogenic effect. The problem is, this drug was found to be overstimulating for some people and resulted in sudden death due to heart attack.
Synephrine, on the other hand, has shown to be milder than ephedra. While this compound still exerts a thermogenic effect, increasing energy and controlling appetite, it does not induce the cardiovascular effects that ephedra does[*].
Although bitter orange does indeed have a thermogenic effect, the amount of extra calories burned on average with this supplement is close to 70 per day. This may result in mild weight loss over time, but it would have to be a part of a larger weight loss program that involved exercise and dietary changes to have a more significant effect[*].
8. Green Coffee Bean Extract
Green coffee bean extract comes from coffee beans that haven’t been roasted. The unroasted beans contain a compound called chlorogenic acid, known for its antioxidant effect, and has been studied as a potential weight loss aid.
Research on green coffee bean extract has been somewhat mixed. Although some research shows significant reductions in weight in obese people, the research in people who have moderate amounts of weight to lose lacks significance[*].
Taking green coffee bean extract may help if you have significant amounts of weight to lose. However, if you’re only looking to drop five to ten pounds, there likely won’t be many benefits from taking green coffee beans.
Glucomannan is a dietary fiber that comes from the konjac plant. As a soluble fiber, glucomannan is said to support weight loss by slowing stomach emptying and increasing your feeling of fullness and satiety[*].
Research shows that compared to other forms of fiber, glucomannan supplementation has a significant impact on weight loss[*]. One study showed that when taken before meals for eight weeks, participants lost an average of 5.5 pounds[*].
Glucomannan appears to be a safe supplement to take if you’re looking for a way to curb cravings and increase satiety. And since most Americans don’t get enough fiber, this can be a great supplement to your diet and exercise regimen.
Weight loss supplements can work in a variety of ways to achieve their goals. Although many supplements have more than one benefit, in general, weight loss supplements can be categorized into four groups:
Thermogenic Fat Burners
Thermogenic fat burners work by heating up your body, boosting your metabolism, and increasing fat burning. When your body burns calories, it generates heat; therefore, when you stimulate your metabolism, you not only increase fat-burning, but there is also a thermic effect.
The idea is, by increasing your metabolism while at rest, thermogenic fat burns may steadily help you shed extra pounds over time[*].
Carb blockers don’t necessarily increase your metabolism; rather, they inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates in your body. This means that you not only cut calories (because not all your calories will be absorbed), but you also avoid blood sugar swings when you eat carbs.
Carb blockers work by inhibiting an enzyme called amylase, which is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates. When amylase is inhibited, it can’t do its job, and therefore carbohydrates don’t won’t get broken down into smaller units that can be absorbed by your digestive tract[*].
Appetite suppressants are popular diet pills because they can help control overeating and cravings. They work by making you feel more full or satisfied than you would be given the same amount of food without the suppressant.
By reducing cravings, you naturally become less preoccupied with thoughts of food, and when you do eat, you feel full faster. These types of supplements are especially popular among those wishing to cut their calories drastically to prevent gnawing hunger.
Supplements for Energy
Supplements for energy can have a thermic effect on your body (increase energy usage) while also giving your workout a boost. Caffeine is the most popular energy supplement, but there are some more subtle herbs and nutrients that can support your energy pathways as well[*][*].
While most weight loss supplements claim to provide rapid results, the truth is that if the weight you’re losing is sustainable, it will likely take a few weeks before you notice any significant changes.
However, the exception to this is the rapid loss of water weight that many dieters experience in the first week. If you hop on the scale after a week of dieting and notice a large drop in pounds, you can be sure that most of that weight is coming from water. This is especially true if you’re following a low-carb diet as stored carbohydrates carry about four grams of water for each gram of carb stored.
How fast an individual supplement will work to support your weight loss efforts really comes down to your entire weight loss protocol. If you’re just popping pills and hoping for the best without changing anything else about your lifestyle or activity, you’ll likely not see much of a change.
If, however, you stick to a healthy eating plan and make sure you’re getting an appropriate amount of movement, you will likely see a steady weight reduction. But this would be true with, or without, weight loss supplements.
Can You Buy Weight Loss Supplements Over-The-Counter?
The weight loss supplements described in this article can all be purchased over the counter without a prescription. However, other diet pills that are pharmaceutical grade would need to be prescribed by a healthcare provider. These weight loss medications fall under the medication category and are much more strong, but also come with more serious side effects.
Some examples of weight-loss drugs that a doctor might prescribe include:
- Qsymia or Topiramate (phentermine)
- Belviq (Lorcaserin)
You may see one weight loss pill, known as Alli or Orlistat, sold over the counter. This drug has been approved by the FDA (food and drug administration) and works by decreasing the amount of dietary fat your body absorbs. Much like carb-blockers inhibit the action of the enzyme amylase, Orlistat works by inhibiting the enzyme lipase that breaks down fat.
Although it may seem like a harmless way to cut calories, this mode of weight loss is a bit short-sighted as fat is so crucial for the makeup of your cells, the health of your brain, and the function of your nervous system, and much more[*].
Side Effects of Weight Loss Supplements
Along with all the potential benefits of weight loss supplements, there are some possible side effects that may present.
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Changes in stress hormones
Weight loss supplements may be okay for short-term use, and they are certainly more natural than prescription medications, but in general, your body likely doesn’t need (or want) the extra pills to find its balance.
Healthy weight loss should be done in a way that primes your body to burn excess fat without pushing it out of its comfort zone. Left to its own devices, your body will naturally want to get back into balance. Your job is to give it the right fuel (through diet) and the right activity (through movement) to assist its efforts.
Of course, if you have a serious metabolic condition, then the help of a healthcare professional may be needed.