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Whether browsing the Internet, surfing through 500 channels, or flipping through your favorite magazine (or tabloid), you’ll find them everywhere: weight loss supplements that offer quick and easy solutions to shedding unwanted pounds. Simply pop a pill, put on a patch, or tone up with the touch of a cream. Do these "cures" work, or are they more hype than help?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular weight loss products, their claims, their risks…and why they’re NOT such a great idea.
Weight Loss Supplements
Bitter Orange, Citrus Aurantium, and Sour Orange:
These products are concentrated extracts from the orange peel. They are often used in “ephedra-free” products, claiming that they increase metabolism, but tests involving people haven’t even been conducted! They contain the stimulant synephrine, which can cause hypertension and cardiovascular toxicity. Orange supplements can also interact with medication. Their risks are even greater when used with other stimulant-containing ingredients such as caffeine and decongestants. Individuals with heart disease, hypertension, and glaucoma should avoid these at all costs.
Chromium (Examples: Puritan’s Pride Chromium Picolinate, Vitamin World Naturally Inspired Yeast Free Chromium Picolinate, Nutrilite Trim Advantage):
Claims that chromium increases weight loss and improves body composition have only been backed by one study, while all other studies failed to find any supporting evidence. There are two types of chromium: Trivalent (which the body requires and is considered safe in doses of 200 micrograms or less daily) and Hexavalent (which may cause stomach upsets, ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver diseases, and death). Hexavalent chromium can be toxic and shouldn’t be used in supplements, but some do contain this dangerous form!
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) (Examples: Vitamin World CLA, Nature Made CLA, Now Foods CLA):
This product claims to promote leanness, but very few studies support this claim. While more research is needed, CLA is generally safe.
Ephedra may aid weight loss by suppressing appetite, and research has proven its effectiveness when used with caffeine. However, ephedra causes high blood pressure, stroke, and serious heart problems, which is why the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra was prohibited in April 2004.
7-Keto Dehydroepiandrosterone (7-keto DHEA):
Preliminary research indicates that this product may decrease body weight and fat composition by increasing metabolism, but larger research studies are needed (see Ephedra to learn why testing is important).
Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA) and Garcinia Cambogia:
These products claim to suppress appetite and improve fat metabolism. While studies have shown mixed results, they are generally safe.
L-Carnitine claims to inhibit obesity, but there is very little evidence of its effectiveness.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), Pyruvate, and Dihydroxyacetone and Pyruvate (DHAP):
A few small studies suggest that these supplements may have modest effects on weight loss, but research is needed. Presently, no serious side effects have been reported.
Alli: For a detailed discussion of Alli, the first FDA approved weight loss pill available over the counter, click here.
Lecithin, Guar Gum, Psyllium Hulls, Chickweed, and Chitosan (Examples: Chito-Trim, Exercise in a Bottle, Fat Blocker—Chitosan Complex, Fat Grabbers, Fat Trapper, Fat Trapper Plus, Metabo Fat Blocker, Miracletab, Now Chitosan with Chromium):
These products claim to help break down fat so that it can be absorbed, emulsified, trapped, and eliminated by the body. There is currently no competent and reliable scientific research to support such claims.