These 4 Weight Loss Supplements Just Don’t Work (try these instead)

Written by Tim Skwiat

Weight Loss Supplements

If you’re anything like two-thirds of Americans, you’re trying to lose weight.1 And chances are you’re thinking about using (if you’re not already) weight loss supplements to help. And if you’re anything like 80% of people, this isn’t your first weight-loss rodeo.2

In other words, you’ve been down this weight-loss path before. Mostly likely, you’ve tried at least a handful of too-good-to-be-true, hyped-up “fat-burning” supplements on your journey down weight-loss lane. How did that work for you? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Well, I have great news. In this article, I’m going to review several popular weight-loss pills that don’t work. Even better, I’m going to highlight weight-loss pills that actually do work to spare you time and money.

Before we delve in, let me be abundantly clear: Even the most effective, science-backed weight-loss supplements are not a substitute for good nutrition habits, regular physical activity, and the other “big rocks” of weight management. That said, a quality, research-supported supplement can complement these pillars and accelerate weight loss by: 1. Boosting metabolism, 2. Reducing appetite, and/or 3. Affecting fat/carbohydrate metabolism (e.g., reduce calorie absorption).

Weight Loss Supplements That Don’t Work

Weight Loss Supplements

Green Coffee Extract

The Hype: Green coffee extract (GCE) is derived from green unroasted coffee beans. It’s been purported to “speed up metabolism” and increase energy and fat burning at a “tremendous rate.”

The Hope: GCE is a concentrated source of chlorogenic acid (CA). In vitro (that is, test tube) and rodent studies have shown it increases the body’s ability to break down fats for fuel and decreases the body’s ability to absorb fat calories.

The Evidence: Considering the hype, there’s a surprising scarcity of data to support GCE. One noteworthy study, published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity, reported that participants lost a remarkable 10% of their body weight using GCE. As impressive as those results may sound, there were many problems with the study. Most telling is the fact that the researchers RETRACTED the article because they “could not ensure the validity of the data.”3–6

The Low-Down: A domino effect included a senate subcommittee hearing on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance on June 17, 2014, regarding the promotion of GCE supplements. Unfortunately, many were duped by this study. I don’t want the same to be true for you. Overall, there’s insufficient (even false) data to support GCE for weight loss.

A better idea would be to drink coffee, which contains CA, seems to facilitate weight loss, and is inversely associated with weight gain. Because CA is destroyed during the roasting process, if you’re looking to maximize your intake, choose a lighter roast.


Raspberry Ketones

Raspberry Ketone

The Hype: Raspberry ketone is derived from red raspberry and used by the food industry for flavoring. Another “As Seen on TV” weight-loss pill, it’s touted to suppress hunger and boost energy levels while burning fat.

The Hope: Test tube (in vitro) studies have shown fat-burning effects (e.g., increased fat oxidation, reduced fat storage), and rodent studies have found raspberry ketone prevented high-fat diet-induced increases in body weight.

The Evidence: There isn’t any. Despite lofty marketing claims, there is NO clinical evidence to support the use of raspberry ketone as a weight-loss supplement in humans. To date, the lone human clinical trial showing beneficial effects involved a multi-ingredient supplement that also included caffeine and capsaicin, which may be effective weight-loss ingredients.

The Low-Down: This is a no-brainer considering there’s no human evidence to support it. If that’s not enough, there is also concern over the toxicity associated with the very high recommended amounts of raspberry ketone.6–8

[NOTE: Raspberry ketone should not be confused with ketone bodies, which are produced by the liver during periods of fasting, carbohydrate restriction (e.g., ketogenic diet), and prolonged vigorous exercise.]


Hoodia gordonii

Hoodia gordonii

The Hype: Hoodia gordonii is a small plant, native to South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Hoodia has been marketed heavily as “the very best all-natural appetite suppressant.”

The Hope: Hoodia contains a metabolite called P57 shown in rodent and in vitro studies to decrease food intake and increase production of cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK being a hormone secreted in the digestive tract that reduces food intake.

The Evidence: Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to Hoodia. The reality is that oral supplementation leads to extensive breakdown of P57 in the digestive tract, preventing the purported active metabolite from working its supposed magic. In the lone clinical trial evaluating the effects of Hoodia on appetite and weight loss, researchers from the Netherlands found that supplementation for 15 days had no effect on body weight, body fat, or calorie intake.

The Low-Down: The evidence in humans is, once again, non-existent. At best, Hoodia would need to be consumed in very high quantities to achieve any meaningful effect. This poses yet another problem: there have been serious toxic and adverse effects reported with consumption of high amounts of Hoodia. And if all that wasn’t enough, there is a very high likelihood that most commercial Hoodia is adulterated.6,9–11


Garcinia Cambogia

Garcina cambogia

The Hype: Garcinia cambogia, which is also known as brindle berry (reminiscent of a small pumpkin), is native to Southeast Asia. It is traditionally used as a flavoring compound in fish curries due to its sharp sour taste. G. cambogia is touted to accelerate fat burning, block fat production, and curb appetite.

The Hope: The purported bioactive compound in G. cambogia is called hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which has been shown to reduce the body’s ability to create fat (de novo lipogenesis) and raise levels of serotonin, which helps regulate satiety and may reduce food intake.12

The Evidence: Results from randomized controlled trials have been inconsistent. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medicine Association, researchers found that 12 weeks of supplementation with G. cambogia combined with a reduced-calorie diet failed to result in significantly greater weight loss than placebo.13 Several other studies have corroborated these unimpressive findings.14

That said, Georgetown University researchers found that supplementation with a patented form of HCA resulted in a 5.4% decrease in body weight after 8 weeks. Supplementation also reduced appetite, improved blood lipids, increased fat burning, and increased serotonin levels.15

The Low-Down: The conflicting findings may be explained by the different forms of G. cambogia used in studies. Unfortunately, most supplements contain cheap, ineffective forms instead of the patented research-backed form. In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Obesity, researchers found that supplementation with HCA resulted in a very modest 2 more pounds of weight loss compared to placebo over 12 weeks.6,12,16,17 Taken together, the results are less than jaw-dropping.

Now that you know what doesn’t work, let’s talk about some solid, science-backed weight loss supplements that actually do work.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Few ingredients have undergone the level of scientific scrutiny that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has. The safety and effectiveness of CLA, which is found in small quantities in meat and dairy, has been demonstrated in over a dozen randomized, controlled trials. The body of evidence suggests that supplementation can significantly improve body composition.

Two separate systemic reviews (with meta-analysis) demonstrated that supplementation with CLA led to significantly greater fat loss than placebo. With one study showing that 12 weeks of supplementation resulted in a 10% greater reduction in body fat compared to placebo.21–23 In addition, a meta-analysis published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that supplementation with CLA also results in a significant increase in fat-free mass (FFM) compared to placebo.24

Why is this important? For starters, building FFM (while losing fat) is key to achieving a lean, toned appearance. What’s more, FFM is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body. So increasing FFM means an increased metabolic rate. On the other hand, a loss of FFM—from dieting or being sedentary—is a major risk factor for weight regain, not only because of the impact on metabolic rate, but also because the body compensates by driving overeating—a phenomenon referred to as “collateral fattening.”25,26

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Garcinia mangostana

Sphaeranthus indicus and Garcinia mangostana

The patented combination of S. indicus and G. mangostana has been shown in three separate randomized, controlled trials to be substantially more effective than diet and exercise alone, leading to significant weight loss and heart health support. In a study published in the journal Obesity, obese participants supplementing with 400mg of the combo twice daily for 8 weeks (along with a 2,000-calorie diet and regular physical activity) lost 6.2% of their initial body weight. That’s over 3 ½ times more weight loss than the placebo group (diet and exercise alone).18 A second, more robust 8-week study solidified these findings.19

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In a third clinical trial, overweight participants supplementing with 400mg of the herbal blend twice daily (combined with a 2,000-calorie diet and regular physical activity) for 16 weeks dropped over 4 ½ times more weight than the placebo group (diet and exercise alone).20 In addition to supporting weight management, all three studies demonstrated that supplementation with the herbal blend supports healthy levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides, suggesting cardiovascular health support.

[NOTE: Please don’t confuse G. mangostana with the G. cambogia. While both hail from the Garcinia genus, they are distinct species with unique bioactive compounds: HCA and α-mangostin, respectively.]

Proceed with Skeptical Optimism

 The fact is there are far more overly hyped, ineffective weight loss supplements than evidence-based slimming pills that work. Hopefully this has served as a useful guide to help you navigate your way down weight-loss lane. Remember, even the most effective, science-backed supplement is only intended to make a solid weight-loss program more efficient.

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References

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  • 8. Lopez HL, Ziegenfuss TN, Hofheins JE, et al. Eight weeks of supplementation with a multi-ingredient weight loss product enhances body composition, reduces hip and waist girth, and increases energy levels in overweight men and women. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):22. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-22.
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  • 11. Vermaak I, Hamman JH, Viljoen AM. Hoodia gordonii: an up-to-date review of a commercially important anti-obesity plant. Planta Med. 2011;77(11):1149-1160. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1250643.
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  • Robert Harbin

    very interesting! i did not know of a better way to lose weight.

    • Cristina

      Hello Robert. We are thrilled to hear that you enjoyed reading this article. Thankfully there’s not a “right” or “best” way to start losing weight; there’s simply a better path for YOU personally.

      I am a firm believer in taking a lifestyle-based approach to optimizing your health, body composition, and performance. The following article is a great resource for beginners, and provides information on how to develop healthy eating habits that will elicit long term results.

      How Do I Stop Dieting And Lose Weight?

      I would encourage you to check out some of our other articles, and ask questions if there is anything we can help you to better understand. Our blog is a place to gain and share knowledge, and we hope it inspires you to learn from others and better understand how to be the best version of yourself possible.

  • Randy

    Thanks for the information it help me understand a lot more than I thought it would I enjoy reading this blog. Thanks . Randy ps. I wish more people would stop and read it

    • Cristina

      Hi Randy. Thank you for taking then time to read our article on the 4 weight loss supplements that just don’t work.

      At BioTRUST, it’s our team’s mission to empower men and women worldwide to improve their nutrition, reduce body fat levels, and positively transform their health through our informative articles, inspiring community, and our line of premium, scientifically-backed nutrition products made with natural ingredients.

      I hope you will continue to explore our blog posts, and they serve as a valuable resource for you.

      If there is anything that you would like to learn more about, or would like to discuss further, we encourage you to let us know.

  • Melinda ‘Mendi Parker’ Dowell

    Thank you for the information, I had never heard of the S Indicus & G Mangostana or the Gonjugated Linoleic Acid. I have tried the Garcina Cambogia and it just didn’t work, and now I know why!! =) Mendi

    • Cristina

      Hi Mendi. I am pleased to hear that you found this article to be informative.

      Unfortunately, and as you have witnessed first hand, Garcinia Cambogia is not necessarily efficacious as an anti-obesity aid. In fact, most companies do not standardize their Garcinia Cambogia products to contain the active ingredient known to have anti-obesity effects (i.e., (-)-Hydroxycitric acid (HCA)).

      Thus, one would struggle to obtain adequate amounts of the active compounds (i.e., HCA) in Garcinia Cambogia products when looking to lose weight.

      Adding fuel to the fire, HCA does not appear to be an effective fat-burner for humans, so it’s even more unlikely for one to see an increase in fat utilization by taking any Garcinia Cambogia products.

      While this article only discusses a few of the products that we have found to be ineffective in terms of promoting weight loss, if you have any other supplements that you would like additional information on, please let us know.

  • nevergetany

    In addition to the video, it would be nice to be able to the complete text in pdf format, so you could find things faster, and be able to reference what you need faster.

    • Cristina

      Thank you for your positive and constructive feedback. Great minds think alike, nevergetany. There has been some discussion regarding the creation of pdf files of the video content to make it easier for folks just like yourself to have access to the information.

      In the meantime, if you are looking to access the information contained in the video presentations without having to rewatch them, you can actually skip the video and read a portion of the script; just try to leave the page and then click “Stay on page” when prompted to do so.

      Alternatively, if there is any particular topic you would like to learn more about, you can always leave us a comment and we will see to it that we follow up with some additional information and resources.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share your suggestion.