DO weight loss supplements actually work? The market for weight loss products never ceases to come up with new products for us to try. After all, they know that when we want to lose weight very badly, we will try just about anything that we see advertised with a before and after picture. Take that flat tummy tea that your favourite Instagram model is trying to sell you, for example. Is it really worth the investment?
ISSA certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach Alexander Carrington says different weight loss supplements are marketed to everyone, from casual gym goers to professional bodybuilders. They come under names such as fat burners, flat tummy teas, hydroxy cut, among others. But do they really work?
“Yes, but for the most part, not really,” Carrington says.
He explains: “The truth is they don't really work that well or if they have been shown to work a bit, they're not recommended or lack long-term studies. People have tried the array of supplements that claim to help them lose weight with mixed anecdotal results as well. At this point research on these supplements is limited, and most don't show much difference between taking them and taking a placebo.”
He also points out that in the few cases where significant weight loss occurs as a result of a supplement, more research needs to be done on the ingredients and the products may cause several unwanted side effects.
“The effect most of them purport is that you get a metabolic boost to help you burn fat faster, reduce appetite or reduce absorption of fat,” he breaks down. “In the case of flat tummy teas, what really happens is that you end up eating less when using them, sometimes a lot less, which causes you to lose weight quickly for a short period of time. However, you don't need the tea to eat less, you could do that on your own. Also when you return to your normal diet you'll likely put the weight back on again, sometimes more, from excessive overeating.”
Carrington notes that these types of supplements usually contain high levels of caffeine, which has been shown to increase fat burning significantly by causing a metabolic boost, while simultaneously suppressing your appetite. While the little caffeine in your cup of coffee may not cause serious problems, the high levels of the stimulant in these products may cause unwanted side effects, he says.
“Feelings of alertness, nausea, jitters, diarrhoea and anxiety are the typical symptoms,” he says. “Caffeine consumption has been linked to insomnia and reduction of sleep quality when taken at night.”
Glucomannan is another ingredient that is found in many supplements. It is a dietary fibre which is usually made from the root of the konjac plant and sold in powder, capsule and tablet forms.
“This works by suppressing your appetite, too. It makes you feel full, causing you to eat less during meals. You must take it before meals. This is pretty effective in causing weight loss but you could also just eat less food — that's the end goal.”
Green tea extract, he says, is believed to cause increased hormone activity, which results in fat loss. This is usually a well-tolerated supplement.
“The most common side effects of these supplements are bloating, constipation, digestive abnormalities, anxiety, irritability and sleep disturbances. While consumption of green tea itself is fine, the extract may contain very high doses and in rare cases has caused liver damage,” Carrington warns.
While the fitness coach understands that many people struggle to reduce their food portions on their own, he would not recommend weight loss supplements to his clients.
“It's far more beneficial to adhere to a diet that allows for a caloric deficit (that is, you eat a bit less than needed) and do some kind of exercise than to try a weight loss supplement that has not been proven to work, may be harmful, or just doesn't make you feel good,” he reasons. “The long-term alternative to weight loss supplements would be a sustainable diet and lifestyle change.”
This change, Carrington says, is not something that you need to join a gym to accomplish — you can achieve this at home as long as you get regular exercise of any kind that has a strength and cardio component.
He adds: “This will be the most rewarding way to lose weight, and most importantly, keep the weight off and remain healthy, side effect free, and saving a lot of money. Supplements aren't cheap!”