A look at some of the best and safest supplements to help you shed pounds and manage a healthy weight
We are a nation obsessed with dieting—and we take our weight loss supplements very seriously. Last year, an estimated 10 million adults started a diet. Of those, almost 34 percent used a supplement, and nearly 45 percent of dieting women tried them.
And while most of us realize that long-term weight loss and maintenance depends on a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of rest and stress reduction, some weight loss aids can help get you started.
What can you expect if you take a weight loss supplement? “Generally, you’ll be more energetic, you’ll quickly lose some water weight, and your metabolism will be kicked up a notch,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of Fat Flush for Life and Zapped! “Those initial positive actions are often enough to get you started on a path to long-term, sustained weight loss.”
What works, for real? Data is slim, but a few have compelling results. Some of the best:
HCG Activator | HCG (or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, as it is medically known) is a hormone that allows the body to burn excess body fat by using that fat as a food source. HCG can be injected, a procedure that must be done at a doctor’s office, but HCG activator can naturally stimulate the production of the hormone. HCG is typically manufactured during pregnancy to help reserve body fat for fuel. In nonpregnant people, HCG helps burn fat and decrease appetite. Combined with a low-calorie diet, HCG activator can help shed pounds.
Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) | Bitter orange has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine under the name zhi shi. It works by increasing thermogenesis, the rate at which the body burns calories, and is used as a safer substitute for ephedra in weight loss formulations. In one study, subjects who took a combination of Citrus aurantium, caffeine, and St. John’s Wort lost a significant amount of body weight and showed more fat loss, compared to a control group.
Chitosan | Derived from chitan, chitosan, a compound found in the exoskeletons of shellfish, works by trapping fats and cholesterol in the stomach and preventing them from being absorbed. Chemically, it’s similar to the plant fiber cellulose, and has many of the same properties as fiber.
In one study, subjects who took chitosan showed a statistically significant increase in the amount of fat they excreted in stool. Another study found that people who took chitosan lost significantly more weight than a placebo group.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) | 5-HTP is a natural substance derived from the seeds of a legume called Griffonia simplicifolia. In the body, it’s converted into serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a crucial role in appetite, mood, and behavior. In some studies, people who took 5-HTP showed a reduced intake of carbohydrates and decreased appetite. Another study showed women who used 5-HTP experienced greater satiety.
Chromium picolinate | This essential mineral enhances the action of insulin and can affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. In 2005, the FDA ruled to allow a qualified health claim for chromium, based on findings that it helps increase insulin sensitivity in diabetics. Improved insulin efficiency may indirectly reduce appetite. One study found that chromium helped prevent weight gain. Additionally, chromium may regulate fat production and promote muscle growth.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) | This unsaturated fatty acid is found in meat and dairy, especially from grass-fed livestock. A number of studies have pointed to its anti-obesity effects. In one study, people who took CLA lost more weight, independent of diet or exercise, and had greater fat loss.
Fiber | Simply, fiber helps promote feelings of satiety, which helps prevent overeating. It also works to flush out cholesterol and excess fat, and helps reduce insulin secretion, which in turn reduces fat deposition.
Hoodia gordonii | Hoodia comes from a spiny succulent plant that’s similar to cactus, and works by suppressing appetite and diminishing the desire to eat. In one study, laboratory animals who were given hoodia showed a significant reduction in food consumption and a decrease in body mass.
Green tea extract | Green tea contains caffeine and catechins, two compounds that are thought to promote weight loss through thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and sparing muscle tissue during weight loss. One type of catechin in particular—epigallocatechin gallate—has been shown to promote thermogenesis.
ISATORI SPORTS NUTRITION HCG ACTIVATOR, combined with a low-calorie diet plan (included), helps your body use stored fat as a fuel source. As a result, you will burn fat more quickly, and from hard-to-reduce areas.
IRWIN NATURALS OOLONG & MATCHA TEA combines concentrated green tea (matcha) with oolong tea. Green tea catechins along with caffeine work to support thermogenesis.
NATURAL FACTORS PGX DAILY soluble fiber helps keep blood sugar levels steady, curbs food cravings, promotes satiety, and helps normalize appetite and metabolism for healthy weight loss.
NATURE’S WAY 5-HTP boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which has been shown to suppress appetite and promote a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, as well as reduce carbohydrate intake.
THE VITAMIN SHOPPE TONALIN CLA 1,000 MG delivers conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in a convenient softgel form. CLA has been shown to encourage fat loss and assist in weight management.
Big, Fat Lies: Weight Loss Myths and Realities
Guzzle water and pop jalapeños to shed pounds—fat fact, or fiction? Here, five of our favorite weight loss myths, and the truth behind them.
1 | Drink more coffee.
Some studies show that drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages can enhance weight loss in the short run—but there’s no compelling evidence linking caffeine consumption with long-term weight loss. Drinking more coffee or tea may suppress your appetite, slightly increase metabolism, and prompt temporary weight loss through fluid loss, a function of caffeine’s diuretic effects. But none of these results will last.
2 | Chug ice water.
Most diets claim that drinking more water—especially ice water—speeds metabolism and increases weight loss. One study found that increasing water consumption boosted metabolic rate by more than 30 percent. Another study showed that people who drink water before a meal eat 75 percent fewer calories, and those people who drank water before meals lost 44 percent more weight over a 3-month period—which sounds impressive, but the overall weight loss totaled an average of only 1 pound.
3 | Graze to lose weight.
The theory is that eating four to six small meals a day, instead of three larger ones, stimulates metabolism and encourages weight loss. The grazing plan became wildly popular for several years, until its followers realized that it may actually have the opposite effect. The problem: grazing plans can quickly turn into all-day snack fests, which rack up calories fast. Additionally, nibbling all day long throws off the body’s satiety cues, and makes it difficult to determine when you’re actually hungry.
4 | Exercise in hot weather.
The theory goes that if you’re jogging in the midday heat, exercising in a rubber suit, or sweating in hot yoga, you’ll shed pounds more quickly. The truth is, you burn roughly the same amount of calories whether it’s hold, cold, or mild. Exercising in hot weather does encourage perspiring, which can result in small, temporary weight loss—but it’s not fat you’re burning, and it’s quickly gained back. The only time temperature affects weight loss is extreme cold.
5 | Don’t eat any carbs.
First it was fat. Now carbohydrates are the bad guys. Avoid them, and eat more protein, and you’ll lose weight. The fact is, it’s important to distinguish between unhealthy carbohydrates—white sugar, flour, pasta, bread, and so forth—and complex carbohydrates—vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains like buckwheat, quinoa, oat groats, and amaranth. “The bottom line is, it’s all about balance,” says Gittleman. If you’re not feeding your body a complete range of nutrients, it won’t operate efficiently, and long-term weight maintenance won’t be possible.