Supplements for Weight Loss
If you're one of the two-thirds of American adults who are either overweight or obese, you may be tempted to try one of the many over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies for weight loss.
But you can't assume that any weight loss supplement is safe and effective simply because it's on the market. Dietary supplements are exempt from FDA regulation. They do not undergo rigorous tests for safety and effectiveness that are required for drugs. And there is no guarantee that what is stated on the label is actually in the product.
The FDA steps in when there is evidence that a weight loss supplement is harmful.
To help safeguard dietary supplements, the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) provides standards and references for determining:
- product and ingredient identity
This helps limit the potential of adulterated and contaminated products. The USP seal provides a quality benchmark in the buying and selling of dietary supplement products.
In recent years, the FDA tested the contents of many supplements touted as "all natural." The agency found that nearly 70 of those supplements contained ingredients such as:
- controlled substances
- seizure medications
- prescription drugs
- drugs not approved in the U.S.
Because of the uncertainty of the ingredients in weight loss supplements, the FDA strongly recommends that you talk to your health care provider before trying them.
You should also check with your health care provider to make sure the supplement you're considering will not interact with other medications you are taking.
Few over-the-counter weight loss supplements have been extensively studied. Research suggests that a few of them may be modestly effective. Evidence shows that the most effective way to lose weight and maintain weight loss involves lifestyle changes such as:
- adopting a nutritious, balanced, and calorie-restricted diet
- regular physical activity
At best, weight loss products should be considered an add-on to lifestyle changes.
Here are some common ingredients found in over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies for weight loss:
Chitosan is a sugar that comes from the hard outer layers of lobsters, crab, and shrimp. It blocks the absorption of fats and cholesterol to prevent their absorption.
Some evidence suggests it helps foster weight loss with or without calorie restriction, while other evidence suggests that it is ineffective.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that chitosan is "probably ineffective."