Health experts agree that following a healthy eating pattern, reducing caloric intake and engaging in physical activity every day is the surest way to achieve and maintain weight loss. Research shows that for overweight and obese individuals with high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, losing as little as 3% total weight (7.5 lbs. for a 250 lb. individual) can produce significant benefits to metabolic and cardiovascular health. Usually, the more weight lost, the greater the benefits. But making these changes can be difficult — and many turn to weight loss supplements to either boost the effects of these lifestyle changes or to replace them. But do weight loss supplements work?
While the scientific literature to date has not provided much clinical evidence supporting weight loss supplements as effective tools for weight loss, certain scientifically formulated, high-fiber dietary supplements (designed to improve overall digestive and metabolic health) may, as a side benefit, aid in weight management due to their ability to slow gastric emptying, lengthen intestinal transit time, enhance satiety, or a combination of all of these effects.
Why try to lose weight, anyway?
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (dyslipidemia)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems
- Many types of cancer
- Low quality of life
- Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
- Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning
These issues can have long-term, compounding effects on your health and can be prevented, managed, or sometimes reversed with weight loss. Even losing 5-10% of your total body weight can result in health benefits such as improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels.
What are weight loss supplements?
Dietary supplements, including weight loss supplements, do not diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. However, certain dietary supplements, including multivitamins, can be helpful, nutritive additives to your diet if your food intake alone does not provide you with the daily recommended amount of one or more micronutrients.
Weight loss supplements typically contain ingredients such as fiber, botanicals and minerals, and certain of them are sold with the intention of aiding in weight loss by influencing mechanisms that reduce appetite or body fat, or increase metabolism.
Weight loss supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as dietary supplements, meaning that they do not require premarket review or approval. It is the responsibility of the dietary supplement companies to ensure their products meet safety and nutrition standards, although they can sell their products without evidencing their purity, safety, efficacy or potency. If the FDA finds a supplement unsafe, they can remove the product from the market or ask the manufacturer to recall the product.
A big parenthetical aside: Supplements are not pharmaceuticals
Weight loss supplements are not the same as prescription weight loss drugs designed to treat patients with obesity and other metabolic complications. Prescription drugs are highly regulated, with their safety and efficacy backed by randomized clinical trials. Chief among the FDA-approved weight loss drugs are certain GLP-agonists, such as Saxenda, which since 2014 has been marketed for obesity in individuals who are age 12 and older; and Wegovy, FDA-approved for obesity in 2021. The FDA says the drugs should be used in addition to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity for treatment of chronic weight management in people who have a body mass index (a combined measure of height and weight) of at least 30, or who have a weight-related condition like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. Check out our guide on how to increase GLP-1 naturally.
However, many other prescription drugs, including the blockbuster drug Ozempic (which is the same drug as Wegovy, but in a different formulation/dose), are prescribed and taken “off-label,” meaning that physicians may prescribe them and/or patients may take them for weight loss even if the FDA clinical trials tested them for different indications than weight management. (Ozempic is approved for diabetes management.) As explained by Mayo Clinic, these drugs mimic the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1. When blood sugar levels start to rise after someone eats, these drugs stimulate the body to produce more insulin. The extra insulin helps lower blood sugar levels. Lower blood sugar levels are helpful for controlling type 2 diabetes. But it's not clear how the GLP-1 drugs lead to weight loss. Doctors do know that GLP-1s appear to help curb hunger. These drugs also slow the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine. As a result, you may feel full faster and longer, so you eat less.
The field is about to explode wide open, in all likelihood, because of Eli Lilly’s recent release of clinical trial data demonstrating that its tirzepatide medication (Mounjaro) is effective and safe for chronic weight management in adults with type 2 diabetes who are also obese or overweight. (While similar to GLP-1 receptor agonist medications, tirzepatide is a dual GIP and GLP-1 receptor agonist.) While Mounjaro is already approved to improve control of blood glucose in adults with type 2 diabetes, Lilly says its new data will be used together with earlier data to fast-track approval for Mounjaro for weight loss as early as the end of this year.
Clearly, this area of drug development holds great promise for those who are obese and/or experiencing metabolic disorders such as diabetes. However, we are not in the business of dispensing medical or pharmaceutical advice; so have that discussion with your healthcare provider. We would caution, however, that these drugs certainly are not for everyone, and all drugs come with side effects. The aforementioned drugs all list diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, thyroid tumors (cancer) and pancreatitis as possible side effects. Also, certain issues remain unresolved about the long-term efficacy of most weight-loss drugs; anecdotally, there are reports of “rebound weight gain” — so clinical trials of a longer duration may be required to settle that controversy. Plus, the drugs are extremely expensive, and surging demand has led to a global shortage.
What weight loss benefits might certain supplements provide?
As scientists continue to discover just how impactful gut health is to overall health, evidence suggests that supplements which improve your gut might have the potential to impact weight management, alongside daily exercise and a healthy diet. Studies have established links between obesity and other metabolic disorders, marked by undesirable changes in the gut microbiome ecosystem, a phenomenon known as gut dysbiosis. Considering this link, supporting a healthy gut microbiome could potentially restore healthy microbes, and in turn improve metabolic outcomes that impact weight management.
In particular, supplements containing prebiotic fibers — such as locust bean gum, guar gum, and barley beta-glucan — feed beneficial bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) within your gut. These SCFAs subsequently promote healthy weight management through improvements in glycemic control and lipid metabolism; and the fibers help delay gastric emptying, which in turn promotes satiety. One meta-review demonstrated that prebiotic fibers, such as galactomannan (a fiber found in locust bean gum, fenugreek, and alfalfa) and inulin fiber (found in fruits and vegetables like bananas, onions, and asparagus), improve weight management — again, through synergistic support of the gut microbiome primarily via:
- Increased production of SCFAs
- The delaying of gastric emptying (which in turn promotes satiety)
Get more details on how prebiotics can impact weight management in our special report.
While prebiotics are found in plentiful supply in dozens of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, sometimes consuming the right balance of such foods and achieving the optimal combination of important macro- and micronutrients can be challenging. Obtaining prebiotics in a supplement form is an option to consider.
Eden’s 3-in-1 Synbiotic Supplement contains a carefully selected and tested menu of prebiotics (locust bean gum, guar gum, barley beta glucan, resistant potato starch, and oat bran), together with a “synbiotic” blend of four probiotics and five polyphenols. (Learn more about What is a synbiotic?). This supplement is designed to optimize the health of your metabolism, control your glucose and lipid levels, enhance your immunity, and improve your level of satiety — factors that have strong associations with weight management and the support of a healthy gut microbiome.
In addition to its selection of prebiotics, several of the Eden's chosen polyphenols have associations with weight management. Polyphenols, compounds with strong antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, have a bi-directional relationship with the gut microbiome: they can impact composition of the gut microbiota and help balance good and bad bacterial growth, while the gut microbes help metabolize polyphenols into compounds that are more easily absorbed. Research suggests that certain polyphenols can aid in weight management, although we must caution that the research in this realm is preliminary; much larger human clinical trials are required to prove direct linkage. Green tea has been shown to speed up fat breakdown, both at rest and during exercise. Eden’s contains Oligonol®, a patented polyphenol extract that combines lychee and green tea, which has shown in clinical studies to significantly decrease abdominal circumference and belly fat. Eden’s also contains polyphenols derived from green kiwifruit, gold kiwifruit, and turmeric.
Overall, Eden’s research has shown that individuals who have used the supplement experienced an average 3.3-fold increase in GLP-1, the hunger-suppressing hormone that promotes a feeling of fullness (which can reduce food cravings and result in eating less).
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
What are the risks with weight loss supplements?
You can’t be sure what ingredients you’re really taking. One of the biggest risks in taking supplements is that FDA regulation begins only after the product is put on the market. Therefore, it isn’t tested for ingredients and might contain metals, prescription drugs or other contaminants. The FDA maintains a Tainted Weight Loss Products webpage to inform consumers on any findings and recalls.
Supplements can interfere with current medications. Weight loss supplements might contain ingredients that have side effects, cause allergic reactions, or interact with over-the-counter or prescription drugs already in your regimen. They may also contain botanical compounds that have not been tested in combination with one another. For example, glucomannan has been reported to lower blood glucose levels, but could interact with diabetes medications or decrease the absorption of other oral drugs. Green tea can interact with chemotherapy drugs. Even if there are no listed ingredients that could be potentially harmful, because supplements aren’t strictly regulated, hidden ingredients can pose a risk. It’s important to speak to your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, and to find a brand that is credible.
Clinical research is taken out of context and proportion. Not all manufacturers conduct human trials to ensure a safe and efficacious product — and if they do, such trials may only involve small numbers of people who take the supplements for a short period of time. Further, some manufacturers claim that specific ingredients are effective, citing human research, but this is no guarantee that trials examining the combination of ingredients in that product have been conducted. In other words, the amount and validity of scientific information varies greatly.
How to lose weight and keep it off
Weight loss and weight maintenance are not short-term plans. Losing weight takes persistence and patience, and maintaining it takes finding balance. It’s normal to lose 1-2 pounds per week, and also normal to have times when you gain it back. The key is persistence. Here are seven strategies that, when combined, are proven to be effective for weight loss over time:
1. Cut out empty calories. Empty calories refer to foods that don’t provide vitamins and minerals — such as candy, soft drinks, desserts and added sugars. Instead, substitute them with nutrient-dense foods.
2. Increase protein and fiber. Both protein and fiber can help you feel fuller for longer because they take longer to digest. Fiber also supports gut health which can have a number of benefits on metabolic markers. Review our list of high-fiber food options.
3. Hydrate more. Hydrating with water can help you feel full, more energized, and it improves sleep quality.
4. Get a good night’s rest. Good sleep hygiene is critical for your energy levels to better fuel you throughout the day and in your exercise routines. Exhaustion or sleep deprivation can also have impacts on your hunger hormones, cause cravings, and result in consuming too many calories.
5. Lift weights. Resistance training has been shown to decrease weight and visceral fat. Building muscle mass has also been shown to increase resting metabolism. Seven of the top ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity.
6. Get your heart rate up. Cardio helps your body burn calories and fat. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of high intensity cardio each week.
7. Find ways to de-stress. When you’re stressed, your body releases the cortisol hormone, which can result in an increased appetite and cravings for high-calorie sweet, salty and fatty foods. Managing stress and cortisol levels helps with sleep hygiene, maintaining steady energy levels throughout the day, and allowing your body to find satisfaction in nutrient-dense meals.
How to shop for weight loss supplements: be an informed consumer
Discuss it with your healthcare provider. If you feel like a weight loss supplement is right for you, speak to your healthcare provider first. Talk about dietary and lifestyle habits, including managing stress, having good sleep hygiene, drinking enough water, and daily exercise. Remember that weight loss and maintaining weight loss takes time and persistence. If you feel you need additional help, your healthcare provider can take you through options and risks specific to your health plan.
Avoid grandiose claims. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. All weight loss involves adopting nutrient-dense dietary patterns, and exercise (both strength training and cardio) on a consistent basis. Watch out for false advertising claims that guarantee weight loss without doing anything else, or a claim that the product can work for everyone or offer significant weight loss in a short period of time.
Research the ingredients. Research the ingredients listed and look for long-term, randomized control trials on a large group of people. You can visit the manufacturer’s website for these details and if it’s hard to find or difficult to understand, that could be a red flag.
Weight loss supplements can be risky because they are only regulated after they come on the market. You can’t guarantee that everything inside is listed, and most supplements don’t have long-term, randomized clinical trial data to ensure safe and effective use. However, certain high-fiber supplements scientifically formulated to improve overall digestive and metabolic health may have, as a side benefit, an action that makes you feel full for longer, which could lead to weight loss. Before trying a supplement, first consider small changes to your eating pattern and lifestyle habits. Speak to your medical professional if you feel that a medication or supplement could be right for you — and if that’s the case, be an informed consumer and utilize resources available to you.