group of women doing yoga

Eating healthy and working out regularly can be tedious. The hardest part about staying committed? When you can’t see any progress in the mirror. Looking for some extra help to shed the pounds? Weight loss pills are advertised as wonder pills that can help you lose weight quickly and with minimal effort. Who wouldn’t want that extra boost? However, weight loss supplements have a notorious reputation for being extremely dangerous to health.

More than two thirds of adults in the United States are overweight. The difficulty of maintaining and implementing lifestyle and diet changes has led them to try weight loss supplements to aid their fat loss. It is recorded that Americans spend up to 2.1 billion USD a year on weight loss dietary supplements. The forms of supplements include pills, capsule, soft gels, tablets, liquid and powder which consists of up to 90 ingredients including herbs, caffeine, and minerals. Here are the two most common types of weight loss supplements.

Fat Trappers

raw meat on black metal grill

Fat trapping products generally contain chitosan which is a substance that makes up the shells of shrimps, crabs and other shellfish.

How it works: It supposedly binds to fat, and keeps the food you eat from being digested. There are some claims that chitosan is merely a source of fiber, which aids weight loss, hence there are many cheaper alternatives to getting fiber into your diet, such as increasing the volume of vegetables you eat in a meal.

Health risk: Chitosan may affect the way your body absorbs fat soluble nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and other phytochemicals which is crucial to help your body ward of diseases. Authorities warn to not consume the product for more than about three months a time.

Verdict: Although a few small studies have shown that people on calorie restricted diets lose slightly more weight if they’re taking chitosan, the sample size of studies are too small to be conclusive. Besides that, there are cheaper alternatives for fiber out there without the health risks of chitosan.

Fat Burners

person's left arm on green leaves

How it works: Fat burners are a mix of herbs, essential fatty acids, chromium picolinate, pyruvate, and/or hydroxycitric acid. Herb derived stimulants include caffeine, ephedrine, guarana and ma huang are supposed to increase metabolism and stimulate fat burning. There is positive clinical evidence that essential fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and flax seed oil can function to increase muscle mass and burn fat. However, it is important to look for either Conalin or Clarinol as the quality of CLA varies.

Health risks: Herb derived stimulants such as Ephedra has fatal side effects such as heart attacks and strokes from raising blood pressure. Even though Ephedra is proved useful for weight loss, a study showed that the blood pressure of people remained high even after they stopped using the product. As the main function of herb derived stimulants is to increase metabolism, there are other safer ways to stimulate fat burning such as exercising more and regulating portion size.

Verdict: There is proof that a combination of herb derived stimulants and essential fatty acids can increase metabolism. However, herb derived stimulants can greatly raise blood pressure and cause heart attacks and strokes. Opt for cheaper and safer ways to increase metabolism such as exercising more or eating less.

How are dietary supplements regulated?

selective focus photography of tape measure

There is a lot of worry about the safety of the ingredients within your weight loss supplements. This can be confusing as all companies are required to be transparent with their ingredient labels and to make sure that all the ingredients used compile with FDA rules and regulations. Why are people still so worried about what’s in the weight loss pills?

We live in a post regulatory system, where chemicals and ingredients are only investigated after cases of ill health arises. In fact, clinical trials are rarely carried out by companies, hence why there is little scientific evidence showcasing the effects of weight loss supplements. Products marketed as “clinically proven”, may have just been supported by one trial with a limited sample size. Treat “clinically proven” label with caution!

Tips to living a healthy lifestyle

woman using dumbbells

Many studies report that diet pills do not work without exercise. Here are some tips of living a healthy lifestyle to incorporate into your life.

  • Plan your meals. Spontaneous eating out leads to poor food choices.
  • Find ways to keep moving. Take the stairs. Walk around while on a call. Walk to get coffee.
  • Increase vegetable intake as fiber can increase metabolism.
  • Order salads and soups as a starter to fill you up.
flat lay photography of fruits on plate

Eat all you want, never exercise and lose weight. Sounds like a dream. However, the US Government Accountability Office reported that “little is know about whether weight loss supplements are effective” and that some supplements have been associated with “potential for physical harm”. There is evidence that these supplements can help aid weight loss, it is best to exercise caution. Weight loss supplements are costly, so before lightening your wallet, do your research and consult your healthcare provider to analyze the benefits and risks.


 “Most weight loss supplements are not effective — ScienceDaily.” 6 Mar. 2012, Accessed 15 May. 2021.

“The Real Deal Behind Diet Pills | Live Science.” 9 Nov. 2008, Accessed 15 May. 2021.

“Dietary supplements for weight loss – Mayo Clinic.” 10 Nov. 2020, Accessed 15 May. 2021.

 “The Truth About Weight-Loss Pills – WebMD.” Accessed 15 May. 2021.