Weight loss supplements: do they work?

January 1, 2015


Igho Onakpoya, Research Fellow

An offshoot of the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity is the proliferation in the market of weight loss supplements with varying claims of effectiveness. While conventional drugs undergo rigorous testing before being granted marketing approvals, weight loss supplements are not subjected to such examinations because they are classified as “food”.

Consumers usually patronize such supplements because of a desire to lose weight without the demands of dietary modification and physical activity. They are also “hoodwinked” into thinking that “natural” implies “safe”, and the supplements are also easily accessible. Because of the sheer number of slimming pills being sold over-the-counter and on the internet, health professionals are uncertain of the therapeutic value of these so-called “fat busters”.

Having conducted extensive reviews evaluating the evidence for effectiveness and safety of most of the commonly marketed supplements over the past four years (this includes green tea, green coffee, chromium, Phaseolus vulgaris, African mango, garcinia extracts, guarana extracts, Ephedra, Citrus aurantium, calcium, conjugated linoleic acid, caffeine, glucomannan and pyruvate, guar gum), our findings show that none of them has been proven to reduce body weight effectively and safely.

I have been inundated with emails and phone calls by manufacturers and promoters of some of these supplements, and in the course of our interactions, they have failed to discredit the results of these reviews. The advertised claims of effectiveness for these supplements are often exaggerated, and their patronage and consumption a waste of resources.

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