Health experts agree that making lifestyle changes—including following a healthy eating pattern, reducing caloric intake, and engaging in physical activity—is the basis for achieving long-term weight loss. But because making diet and lifestyle changes can be difficult, many people turn to dietary supplements promoted for weight loss in the hope that these products will help them more easily achieve their weight-loss goals.
Use of weight-loss supplements in the United States is fairly common. Approximately 15% of U.S. adults have used a weight-loss dietary supplement at some point in their lives, with more women reporting use (20.6%) than men (9.7%). Americans spend about $2 billion a year on weight-loss dietary supplements in pill form (e.g., tablets, capsules, and softgels, and to lose weight is one of the top 20 reasons why people take dietary supplements.
Dietary supplements promoted for weight loss encompass a wide variety of products and come in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, liquids, powders, and bars. Manufacturers market these products with various claims, including that these products reduce macronutrient absorption, appetite, body fat, and weight and increase metabolism and thermogenesis. The average product contains 10 different ingredients, but some contain as many as 96. Common ingredients include botanicals (herbs and other plant components), dietary fiber, and minerals.
In its report on dietary supplements for weight loss, the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that “little is known about whether weight loss supplements are effective, but some supplements have been associated with the potential for physical harm”. Many weight-loss supplements are costly, and some of these products’ ingredients can interact or interfere with certain medications. So it is important to consider what is known—and not known—about each ingredient in any dietary supplement before using it.
Talk to your doctor before taking weight loss supplements
People who are considering using weight-loss supplements should talk with their health care provider to discuss these products’ potential benefits and risks. This is especially important for those who have medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Yet according to a large national survey, less than one-third of U.S. adults who use weight-loss dietary supplements discuss this use with a health care professional.