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Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss?

Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss?

Obesity is an ongoing problem in developed nations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States over the past 20 years.  From their research, there are only two States that have a prevalence of obesity less than 20% (Colorado and the District of Columbia–if you were curious).

Overall the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. is 32.2% among adult men and 35.5% among adult women.  Considering that works out to roughly 1 out of 3 Americans, those numbers are staggeringly high.  Remember, we’re talking about the clinical definition of ‘obesity’ here as opposed to talking about people who’re simply just overweight.

Muffin top

Obesity vs. Overweight Definitions:

To provide some background, obesity is defined by calculating your body mass index or BMI.  There is a simple calculation to determine this which is determined by your height in meters divided by your weight in kilograms squared.  If math isn’t your strong suit or you don’t have a clue about the metric system, you can also just follow this link for an online body mass index calculator–provided free by the U.S Heart and Lung Institute.  By definition, overweight is defined as having a BMI in the range of 25-29.9 while obesity is defined as a BMI >30.

Let’s take a look at a few examples just to get an idea of what those numbers would look like in the real world.

If we use an example of an adult male who’s 5’10” tall, how much would he weight at various different BMI’s?

  • Adult male, 5’10” tall, BMI=25 would weigh 174 lbs.
  • Adult male, 5’10” tall, BMI= 28 would weigh 195 lbs.
  • Adult male, 5’10 tall, BMI=30 would weigh 209 lbs.’

***One limitation of BMI is that it does not account for musculature.  If you’re 5’10, 195 lbs, and have 10% body fat, you’re not overweight in the clinical sense.

  • Adult female, 5’5″ tall, BMI=25 would weigh 150 lbs
  • Adult female, 5’5″ tall, BMI=28 would weigh 168 lbs
  • Adult female, 5’5″ tall, BMI=30 would weigh 180 lbs

Okay, now that we’ve clarified the distinction between being obese and overweight by a clinical definition, it’s important to not that obesity is related to a number of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, as well as certain types of cancer.

Every night on television, there’s another product catering to the desire of people to lose weight.  In some cases, it might be the latest piece of home gym equipment, home meal delivery, or in others a new weight loss supplement.  From a marketing perspective, all forms often use the ubiquitous ‘before and after’ photos.

Why?  Because this form of advertising doesn’t rely on science or logic, but appeals to us on an emotional level.  Do you ever notice the fine print at the bottom of the screen that reads something like, “individual results may vary… results not typical…”  When it comes to actually making the purchase, logic and science often get thrown out the window in the face of emotion.  On that note, let’s take a look at the science behind some common supplements used for weight loss.

Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss

Overall, there isn’t a tremendous amount of evidence to support the use of dietary supplements for fat loss or weight loss.  Diet and exercise are always important to losing weight and avoiding weight loss plateaus.  If you’re already maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise program, it’s possible that some of these supplements may help.

1.  Leucine 

Leucine’s value as a weight loss supplement is more based on studies which suggest that it helps you prevent muscle loss while you lose weight.  Maintaining muscle mass has obvious implications for optimizing your metabolism during weight loss.  Consuming 2.5 grams of leucine per meal has been shown to trigger a postmeal anabolic response that protects muscle tissue during weight loss.

2. Probiotics

Yes, certain strains of probiotics which contain Lactobacillus gasseri may help to promote weight loss and decrease abdominal adiposity without exercise.  The research for the weight loss potential for fermented milk containing this probiotic was not spectacular, but it was statistically significant.

3. Celsius -???

Celsius is an energy drink which markets its product is aggressively marketed as promoting weight loss.  According to the manufacturer, it contains a combination of Calcium, Chromium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Biotin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Guarana Seed, Green Tea Leaf Extract, and Ginger.  The research supporting this product for promoting weight loss is questionable at best. The research only indicated a statistical trend for a decrease in body fat percentage with a very small but statistically significant decrease in fat mass when the drink was consumed for a 28 day period.

4. High Fiber Diet, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, Green Tea Extract, and Calcium

A recent review article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, concluded that the aforementioned supplements were “possibly effective” at promoting weight loss.  Calcium, when taken as a supplement without vitamin D, has recently been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.

5. Alpha-Lipoic Acid

One recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that 20-week supplementation with 1800 mg/day of alpha-lipoic acid resulted in a modest (2%) improvement in weight loss compared to placebo (in obese subjects).

Dietary supplements for weight loss:  too early to tell:

1.  Gymnema Sylvestre

is a herb native to India which has been used as a naturopathic remedy for diabetes.  It is purported to reduce cravings for sweets as well as play a role in weight and blood sugar regulation.  Though supplementation is potentially effective for fat loss, there are no clinical trials in humans to support these claims.

2. Phosphatidyl Choline (Lecithin)

Choline, an essential nutrient, is necessary for cell membrane integrity.

3. Betaine 

Betaine supplementation may play a role in heart health by lowering homocysteine levels ( a marker for cardiovascular risk) as well fat metabolism.  There is little evidence to support its use for weight loss in humans. 

4. Coleus Forskohlii (Forskolin) 

Forskohlin has been used for centuries in India in traditional ayurvedic medicine primarily for skin disorders.  Despite some inconsistent results, there have been clinical studies which suggest that supplementation with Forskolin (250 mg of 10% Forskolin extract taken twice per day) did help improve body composition without any clinically significant side effects.

5. Raspberry Ketones

Raspberry ketone is a natural phenolic compound found in red raspberries.  In both in vivo models involving rodents as well as some in vitro studies, raspberry ketone supplements show promise for potentially helping improve fat loss.  However, clinical trial data in humans is still lacking.

6. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

is an abundant adrenal steroid that can be converted into stronger androgens.  Studies of DHEA supplementation for weight loss have shown mixed results.

7. Green Coffee Bean Extract CBA

One of the more promising supplements for promoting weight loss would include Green Coffee Bean Extract.  A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Scranton found that green coffee bean extract helped overweight test subjects lose roughly 10% of their body weight over a 22 week period (based on a cross-over design protocol).

There are other supplements for weight loss or fat loss that also have either very little scientific evidence or none at all to support their use. If you’re trying to finally get rid of that muffin top, there’s no substitute for a proper diet and exercise plan. There are also now options like Belkyra.


  • Sam Bayus

    Thanks for the info. However, Natural weight loss program is safer and to lose weight require strong determination and wiliness to follow procedures to weight loss program.

    • Jarret Morrow, M.D.

      Sam, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Diet and exercise combined with an enormous amount of determination are always the best long-term plan to losing weight. People often look for fad diets or quick, easy solutions which don't exist. I do provide my readers with information about dietary supplements for weight loss, so that they have objective, scientific information about this topic to help them make informed decisions. cheers,

  • Karen

    Dr. Morrow, it sounds like for all of the hype about dietary supplements, weight loss is not an area that there's a tremendous amount of evidence for their effectiveness? What about supplements such as Green Tea extract?

  • Jarret

    Karen, greet tea extract is included in the article and I've written several posts here about it! Just try the search feature at the top right or bottom of this blog.

  • Jake

    I think diet supplements are the best for people who don't have time for exercises or for those who think that diets don't work! Diet supplements can help you weight and it is proven, however, I would recommend to use only those supplements which are clinically and FDA proven to be safe and effective.

  • Alan

    I am surprised that fiber is ranked so low on the list. Many people don't understand how imporatant fiber is when it comes to weight loss. How else does the body get rid of fats? Through the colon. Eating the daily percentage of fiber (35%) will help aid with weight loss. Its very important to eat fiber enriched grains, vegetables, and fruits. Taking a tablespoon of Metamucil daily is also a great contributor to reaching your fiber goal.

  • Sean

    I can vouch for probiotics. I've been taking a great probiotic supplement and it has been a GREAT help! But you're 100% correct on a healthy diet and exercise being key. The supplements help but they can't do it alone! Thanks and great article :)

  • Irina Carter

    I am a 50 yr female. Stuggling with weight loss for over 3 years. 205lbs 5'1''... I have just started Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy- had hysterectomy few years ago. Feeling very desperate. Need to loose at least 50lbs to feel better. I need to see results. Been on HCG and other plans..lose a few gain a few.. get discouraged really need to see results. What advise do you offer?

  • Jr Jeremy

    My best friend and I have tried alot (too many to count) of other diets and to no avail. If we lost we always gained it back. So we decided to try one more time using the Dr Max Powers 15 Day Cleanse Pills. We are both so excited. We would call each other every day and see how things were going as far as the eating habits!! In 4 weeks time I have lost 12lbs and she lost 10lbs. Super excited with the product because we can still eat and not feel like we were starving to death or eating stuff that we totally hated. The first 4 weeks we have done it with little to know exercise just to see if it would work. The next 4 weeks we are adding in exercise and see how that works for us!!!

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