Although it’s easy to be tempted by the “quick fix” claims of dietary supplements marketed for weight loss or appetite suppression, most of these products haven’t been proven safe or effective. Many people have the misperception that herbal or traditional products—and those that are “natural”—are safe to use, but research has shown that many of these products carry the same dangers as pharmaceutical agents. So, if you’re thinking about a dietary product to help you lose weight, here are some things you should know.
- Ask yourself if a product sounds too good to be true. Be cautious if the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic and use phrases like “quick and effective” or “totally safe.” Be skeptical about information from personal “testimonials” about the product’s benefits. Keep in mind that testimonials, anecdotes, unsupported claims, and opinions are not the same as objective, evidence-based information.
- Be aware of the possibility of product contamination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found weight loss products sold as dietary supplements that contain hidden prescription drugs or other compounds. These tainted products can cause serious harm to unsuspecting consumers.
- There is no definitive scientific evidence to support the use of acai berry, bitter orange, and green tea supplements for weight loss. There is little reliable information about the safety of acai as a supplement, and there have been reports of serious side effects from taking bitter orange supplements and concentrated green tea extracts.
- Ephedra is dangerous, and the increased risk of heart problems and stroke far outweighs any potential benefits. In 2004, the FDA banned the U.S. sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra. The FDA found that these supplements had an unreasonable risk of injury or illness—particularly cardiovascular complications—and risk of death.
- Consider a mind and body approach such as mindfulness meditation or yoga. There is some emerging evidence suggesting that some mind and body approaches are generally safe and may be useful as complements to other weight-loss interventions. Research in this area is in its early stages, but results of studies on yoga and mindful eating are promising.
- Make lifestyle changes that work for you, including a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity. The key to achieving a healthy weight (NHLBI) is making changes in your eating and physical activity habits that work for you and that you can maintain for the rest of your life.
Talk with your health care provider. If your doctor does not ask you about healthy eating, physical activity, and weight management during your regular check-up, you can start the conversation. Your health care provider can assess your weight and health risks, determine whether you need to lose weight, and provide information that will help you make informed decisions about a weight-loss program. You may feel uncomfortable talking about your weight with your health care provider, but remember that he or she is there to help improve your health.