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Do Weight Loss Supplements Work? The Experts Weigh in Once and For All

It’s hard to go through life without noticing the barrage of covert and sometimes overt messaging that we should be trying to lose weight. Everywhere we look, whether you’re in the grocery checkout lane or watching a movie at home, you’re absorbing information that says, “look at this glamourous, thin body,” and, “how awful does this larger body look?”

This sleazy messaging is all a symptom of a more significant problem in society, and that problem is diet culture. Diet culture makes us feel as if we’re never thin enough and that thinness equals beauty and health.

Diet culture is also, unfortunately, a multi-billion-dollar industry. It makes its money by creating a problem, i.e., “you will never be thin enough,” and then selling a bunch of weight loss supplement products that don’t actually work. Because multiple factors go into successfully losing weight, you rarely blame them and instead blame yourself when these products fail.

 

Somewhere Between Diet Culture and the Obesity Epidemic Lies the Answer

There is no denying that we, as a society, have a problem. The obesity epidemic has been on the World Health Organization’s radar for years, and today, one in four Canadian adults is considered medically obese.

Not coincidentally, we’re sicker than ever, with 44% of adults suffering from one of the following chronic illnesses:

  • hypertension
  • diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • osteoarthritis
  • asthma
  • mood or anxiety disorders
  • cancer
  • dementia
  • ischemic heart disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

 

This is to say, not everyone searching “how to lose weight” on the internet is a victim of diet culture. Some genuinely need to prioritize losing weight to live a long and healthy life.

Beyond that, some individuals just genuinely want to lose weight for personal reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with how they look. For example, maybe a new job has made them increasingly sedentary and has resulted in some undesirable weight gain they’re looking to shed.

The point is, there’s a balance, and we’re certainly not discrediting the validity of the fitness goal. Instead, we want to outwardly state that weight loss should be discussed delicately, and motives should be sorted before moving forward.

 

Addressing the Weight Loss Supplement Elephant

It’s possible you’re reading this and thinking, “why is a supplement company talking about diet culture like this?” Or, “Isn’t it kind of hypocritical to oppose diet culture while selling weight loss supplements?” So, let’s talk about it.

There is a space where opposing diet culture (and the idea that all people need to be thin, and thinness equals health and beauty) and pursuing weight loss to achieve a more healthy, active lifestyle meet. That’s where we live. Even better, we like to encourage health and lifestyle changes that do not focus on weight but may naturally lead to weight loss as an added result.

Additionally, we do believe in quality supplements to help support people in achieving whatever fitness goal they set their mind to, be it weight loss or muscle gain. The key piece here is quality.

The supplement industry is a big world, with plenty of opportunities to mislead people and capitalize on diet culture. Supplement Superstore weeds out those brands and sticks to reputable brands with research-based ingredients.

 

What Are Weight Loss Supplements?

Weight loss supplements are a subcategory of health supplements marketed to assist in weight loss through typical ingredients like:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • herbs
  • fibre

 

There are different kinds of weight loss supplements within this subcategory, and they each aim to help reduce body weight or fat.

Some of the methods these products use are as follows:

  • appetite suppression
  • thermogenesis
  • water weight loss
  • increased energy
  • blocking fat absorption

The supplement could be a single ingredient, but more commonly, weight loss supplements contain many ingredients in a formula that supports a multifaceted approach to weight loss.

 

Popular Types of Weight Loss Supplements

First, let’s discuss some common types of weight loss supplements that you’ll come across, and then, we will talk about common ingredients and how they support the goal.

 

Fat-burning Supplements

Sometimes fat-burning supplements and weight loss supplements are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Weight loss supplement refers to anything designed to help lower your scale weight. This could be water weight loss, fat loss, or even muscle wasting.

Fat-burning supplement refers to a product specifically targeting fat, not just reducing scale weight. Typically, these fat-burning supplements contain ingredients known to help reduce and prevent stored body fat.

Some of the most common ingredients are:

  • caffeine
  • green tea extract
  • fibre
  • yohimbine
  • L-carnitine

 

Shop Fat-burning Supplements

 

Nighttime Fat-burning Supplements

Nighttime fat-burning supplements are products designed to support fat loss, specifically during sleep. They have similar ingredients as listed above but avoid stimulants and instead might contain ingredients that support more restful sleep and recovery as well.

 

Shop Nighttime Fat-burning Supplements

 

CLA Supplements

CLA is short for conjugated linolic acid. CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in animal products like dairy and meat. It’s also a natural weight loss supplement thoroughly researched in animals and humans.

Natural CLA from food and synthetic CLA in supplements are believed to increase fat metabolism within the body and lead to a modest reduction in body fat.

 

Detox Supplements

Detox supplements are often (but not always) marketed as weight loss supplements, and health experts absolutely hate this. “Detox” is a bit of a misnomer because the human body has a natural detox process (hello, good old liver), and nothing you ingest can make your body “detox.”

The theory behind detox supplements as weight loss supplements is that you’re ridding the body of toxins, which helps shed weight and somehow reset and revamp your metabolism. They also could focus more on supporting the liver to encourage better natural detoxification.

Detox supplements most commonly contain herbal ingredients, and they often come along with instructions to drink a lot of water and perhaps even restrict certain foods. These are additional factors that contribute to the potential resulting weight loss.

 

Diuretics

Diuretic supplements, also known as “water pills,” encourage the kidneys to excrete water and salt through the urine to reduce the overall water content in your body. This results in temporary water weight loss. Additionally, diuretics are typically used as a first medical intervention in controlling blood pressure.

Diuretic supplements are also used in the fitness world by fitness models or bodybuilding athletes before a photoshoot or performance for water weight loss to temporarily achieve a super lean physique.

 

Natural Weight Loss Supplements

Natural weight loss supplements are weight loss supplements with “natural” ingredients, like herbs or other naturally occurring elements. It’s important to note that the term “natural” doesn’t really mean much. Instead, it’s often used to create the illusion that this weight loss supplement is a safer alternative. It’s important to point out that natural is not synonymous with safe, effective, or healthy.

 

Do These Weight Loss Supplements Work? What Does the Science Say?

Answering the question about the effectiveness of a particular supplement is always tricky, especially when the supplement in question is typically made of multiple ingredients, no two of which are the same.

Yes, some weight loss supplements do work, and no, others do not. So, the best way to answer this question is to discuss each type of weight loss supplement and then focus more on ingredients and specific products instead of giving a blanket answer.

 

Do Fat-burning Supplements Work?

Evidence supports specific ingredients leading to more fat loss in the human body. Let’s go over the ingredients and the research behind each.

 

Fat-burning Supplement Ingredients and What They Do

Caffeine

Caffeine is a substance you’re likely familiar with, commonly consumed in coffee, tea, and sodas. It is a natural stimulant that works with the central nervous system.

Once consumed, caffeine makes its way to the bloodstream via absorption through the intestines. The liver then breaks it down into compounds, affecting various organs. Most notably, caffeine affects the brain where it blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter responsible for perceived tiredness.

Caffeine has other benefits besides fighting off energy crashes. For example, it’s a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements as it enhances exercise performance by:

  • delaying muscular fatigue
  • improving muscular contractions

 

How Does Caffeine Contribute to Fat Loss?

These factors can contribute to desired weight loss over time because, essentially, you make your workouts work harder for yourself. However, caffeine as a fat-burning supplement has potential in and of itself. In 2019, researchers reviewed multiple viable studies on caffeine and found that caffeine intake can promote a reduction in body fat and weight.

Caffeine’s effectiveness as a fat-burning supplement is thought to be due to its ability to increase the metabolism by about 11%, forcing your body to use more fat for energy.

 

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract comes from the leaves of a plant known as Camellia sinensis. It contains various polyphenols and flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Green tea extract also contains caffeine and, therefore, the benefits that caffeine has to offer.

In addition, green tea extract has various health benefits, including:

  • regulated blood sugar
  • disease and cancer prevention
  • enhanced exercise recovery

 

How Does Green Tea Extract Contribute to Fat Loss?

While caffeine plays a modest role in green tea extract’s role in fat-burning supplements, the main component is the antioxidant known as catechin.

One study shows that catechins combine with caffeine to increase the metabolic rate and thermogenesis. These things promote the body’s use of fat for energy.

Hormone regulation, thanks to catechins and caffeine, also plays a role in some fat loss. Additionally, green tea extract seems to help the body more effectively burn calories, which can also contribute to fat loss.

 

Fibre

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that comes from plant foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are two types:

  • soluble fibre
  • insoluble fibre

Soluble fibre is used in fat-burning supplements and weight loss supplements. It absorbs water in the gut and forms a gel substance. Soluble fibre is a vital component of human nutrition with many benefits, including:

  • lowering blood sugar and cholesterol
  • reducing risk of heart disease
  • supporting gut health

 

How Does Fibre Help with Fat Loss?

In addition to the benefits above, soluble fibre also helps increase the GLP-1 hormone that suppresses ghrelin, the hormone responsible for feeling hungry. This mild appetite suppression helps you feel fuller for longer, meaning you’ll potentially consume fewer calories, contributing to weight and fat loss.

In addition, some research proves that soluble fibre helps the body absorb less fat and calories, helping to burn more fat.

 

Yohimbine

Another common ingredient in fat-burning supplements is yohimbine, a substance derived from the bark of the Pausinystalia Yohimbe tree native to Central Africa.

Yohimbine is most well-known for its aphrodisiac qualities and benefits, including:

  • increased heart rate and blood flow
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased male sexual function

 

Why is Yohimbine in Fat-burning Supplements?

Yohimbine is a common active ingredient found in fat-burning supplements because, in addition to the benefits mentioned above, there’s also research that shows the substance moderately reduces body fat in both obese and lean individuals.

It’s believed that yohimbine works for fat loss because it blocks the alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. Under normal conditions, adrenaline binds to these receptors, but when yohimbine blocks this, adrenaline circulates the body for longer, increasing energy needs. The body then utilizes stored body fat for this energy.

 

L-Carnitine

Unlike the other fat-burning supplement ingredients we’ve discussed thus far, L-carnitine is a non-essential amino acid that naturally occurs in the body. It’s a popular supplement, thanks to health benefits, including:

  • improved brain function
  • enhanced exercise performance
  • reduced type 2 diabetes symptoms

 

Does L-Carnitine Help with Fat Loss?

While the ingredients listed so far have solid evidence behind their effectiveness in fat-burning supplements, L-carnitine has more mixed results.

It seems that L-carnitine is most effective in fat-burning supplements when the user is considered obese. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many people who are overweight are most interested in fat-burning supplements. It’s just to say that L-carnitine may or may not be the most effective ingredient for you, specifically.

 

Do CLA Supplements Work for Weight Loss?

We mentioned above that CLA has been thoroughly researched in both humans and animals. While researching the effects of CLA supplementation in mice, researchers noted that their body fat percentage reduced by up to 70% after six weeks. That’s a significant change, so it showed promise for weight loss supplements for humans.

Unfortunately, results for the CLA on humans are underwhelming. In one review of over 15 high-quality studies, researchers concluded that individuals using 3.2 grams of CLA supplements per day experienced a loss of .05 kg per day. This translates to less than .23 kgs per month.

More current research on CLA supplementation as a weight loss supplement suggests it has very minimal effects on weight loss.

 

Do Detox Supplements Help You Lose Weight?

Detox supplements are not effective weight loss supplements and typically don’t contain any of the fat-burning ingredients we’ve mentioned. That’s not to say that the scale won’t move while you do a detox diet and use the supplement.

Detox supplements help with water weight loss in a few ways:

  • Encouraging you to eat next to nothing
  • Encouraging lots of liquids
  • Potentially including diuretic ingredients
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Including herbal ingredients that make you have more bowel movements than normal

 

The combination of ingredients and the recommended diet (or lack of diet) and increased water or even ingredients that encourage more frequent bowel movements will temporarily reduce your weight. However, as we mentioned, this resulting weight loss is primarily due to water weight loss.

 

What’s Wrong with Water Weight Loss?

Water weight loss will move the scale in the direction you’ll approve of, and it’s possible that it even shaves some centimeters off your waistline. The problem with water weight loss is that it’s not a long-term solution. As soon as you begin eating and drinking normally, that weight and those centimeters come right back.

There’s also a moderate risk for dehydration and other potentially dangerous conditions resulting from these kinds of supplements and diet programs.

 

Do Diuretics Help with Weight Loss?

Similarly, diuretics are also not effective weight loss supplements. Diuretics help your body eliminate excess water through the urine only for as long as you’re using the supplements. This results in water weight loss that will come right back at cessation.

As with detox supplements, this kind of water weight loss carries risks for dehydration and more, which we will discuss later.

 

Shop Weight Loss Supplements

 

Risks Associated with Weight Loss Supplements

There are always risks associated with the potential benefits of weight loss supplements. You can avoid many serious risks by choosing a reputable supplement brand that’s third-party tested. This ensures that the product contains what it says in the amount it notes.

However, even when you’ve chosen a trustworthy product, there are still some risks to be aware of. As with any supplement, you should be aware of any potential interactions with prescriptions you take. Additionally, you should research the risks and side effects of the specific ingredients in your supplement. Let’s touch on the risks of the common fat-burning supplement ingredients we’ve been talking about.

 

Caffeine Risks

Caffeine is safe and well-studied in doses of up to 400 mg per day. However, it can cause some anxiety or digestive upset in this dose. It’s also known to cause restlessness if taken too late in the afternoon.

In doses larger than 400 mg, caffeine consumption gets riskier, and these large doses can cause:

  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • increased and irregular heartbeat
  • anxiety

 

When using caffeine in fat-burning supplements, you must also consider the caffeine you’re consuming through other means, like coffee, soda, pre-workout supplements, etcetera.

 

Green Tea Extract Risks

Like caffeine, green tea extract is considered safe in reasonable doses. There is caffeine in green tea extract, which means all the risks associated with caffeine should be considered for this ingredient as well.

In addition, green tea extract in large doses over a long period is correlated to liver damage in rare cases.

 

Fibre Risks

As we mentioned, fibre is an essential part of your diet. When used in appropriate doses, it helps maintain digestive health along with all the benefits we already discussed. However, too much of a good thing is bad, and fibre is no exception.

 

Too much fibre can cause:

  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

 

The RDA for fibre is about 25 grams for adult women and 38 grams for adult men. Of course, as with everything else, you’ll need to consider the fibre you’re consuming from other sources as well.

It’s also important to know that increasing your fibre suddenly (like adding a weight loss supplement with a large dose of fibre) can lead to these uncomfortable side effects as your body adjusts. So be sure to drink lots of water to prevent and relieve symptoms.

 

Yohimbine Risks

Of the weight loss and fat-burning supplement ingredients we’ve discussed, yohimbine is the riskiest. Adverse side effects include:

  • digestive upset
  • anxiety
  • increase heart rate
  • increased blood pressure

 

In larger doses, yohimbine has been associated with:

  • heart attack
  • seizure
  • kidney damage

 

L-Carnitine Risks

L-Carnitine is a safe supplement when used in 2 grams per day doses. This dose typically doesn’t have risks or adverse side effects, but you might experience some nausea and digestive discomfort when using long-term.

 

CLA Supplement Risks

CLA in small doses like those you’d get from dairy and meat are safe. CLA supplements in small doses are relatively safe but can cause things like diarrhea and oxidative stress.

 

In large doses, however, CLA can cause:

  • accumulation of fat in the liver
  • inflammation
  • lower HDL cholesterol
  • insulin resistance

 

It’s also worth noting that dosing varies greatly between individuals and is used differently in the body based on composition versus bodyweight.

 

Risks of Water Weight Loss from Diuretics and Detox Supplements

We’ve already discussed how detox supplements and diuretics are not viable fat-burning supplements or weight loss supplements. We’ve also mentioned that each supplement carries a risk for dehydration that comes with temporary water weight loss.

Dehydration can be extremely dangerous and result in death if left untreated. However, even mild dehydration can cause noticeable side effects. For example, dehydration by just 1% negatively impacts:

  • mood
  • memory
  • attention
  • motor coordination

 

As dehydration continues, symptoms get more noticeable and severe.

 

More Risks of Weight Loss Supplements to Consider

We should also discuss another risk when talking about weight loss supplements and fat-burning supplements. We tend to see people use these supplements alongside their extremely rigid and restrictive diets. These diets and supplements will often lead to noticeable weight and fat loss.

The problem is that most of the time, people will eventually give up on their diet. This is true even if they try to change their mindset to a “lifestyle” approach because this type of restriction is not sustainable. Within a year, all weight loss, fat loss, and associated benefits have come and gone. Sometimes individuals even gain more weight than they started with.

 

This kind of yo-yo weight loss is dangerous for a number of reasons, most notably:

  • increased risk of death
  • increased appetite
  • increased body fat percentage
  • growing frustration
  • increasingly damaged relationship with food, self-image, and self-esteem

 

How to Lose Weight Once For Good

Weight loss supplements might help you reach your desired weight loss, but they’re not going to do it alone, and they won’t keep the weight off. So, how can you reach your fitness goal of losing weight once and for all? Below are some thinking and action points to help you get there:

 

Ask Yourself WHY—What’s on the Other Side of Weight Loss?

Getting clear about why you want to lose weight is helpful. If, upon consideration, you realize you simply think life will be better if you drop 10 kg, you might need to reassess. Life won’t be any different, and this thinking sets you up for disappointment. On the other hand, if you realize that your health will likely improve and you’ll have a more enjoyable time being active with your children, that’s the kind of motivation that can lead to lasting results.

 

Be Reasonable with Expectations and Timeline for Weight Loss

Expecting to drop 5 kg a week is not going to happen if you’re (hopefully) not following an extreme crash diet. In fact, you might not even lose 5 kg a month if you’re approaching this goal correctly. So instead, buckle up for the long haul. Have faith and keep working. You will eventually see the changes you’re looking for. All good things take time.

 

Don’t Focus on the Scale

The scale is not your friend. You will notice your weight fluctuates throughout the day and at various times of the month. You will also notice if you start to build muscle mass, the scale might creep up or stay the same. These things can be disheartening, and if you’re not careful, you can miss the transformation that’s happening inside of you.

 

Consider Gaining Muscle

Gaining muscle as opposed to losing weight is a great goal. This is because increased muscle mass raises your metabolism, meaning you will burn more fat even if your diet stays the same.

Gaining muscle is also a more functional way to create the physique you desire, instead of shrinking into a string bean.

 

Fall in Love with Movement

Exercise isn’t punishment; it’s a gift. If you dread your workouts, there’s no chance you’ll stick to it long-term, and if you do, you’ll be miserable. There are countless ways to move and exercise. Don’t be afraid to find something you enjoy. Here are a few ideas:

  • hot yoga
  • cycling
  • walking
  • weightlifting
  • running
  • sports
  • roller skating

 

Focus on Your Nutrition, Consider Adding vs. Restricting

We always emphasize that restriction doesn’t work long-term. Instead, consider resolving to add something to each meal. For example, add a serving of vegetables to each meal. Add a nutrient-packed smoothie to each day. Make a serving of casein protein into a pudding for a bedtime snack. The sky is the limit for nutrient-dense additions to your day.

 

Use Supplements to Support Your Efforts, but Don’t Consider Them a Magic Pill

Your supplements are tools to support you on your journey; they are not magic. Using a fat-burning supplement tonight will not lead to you waking up tomorrow with a six-pack.

 

Get Real about Targeted Fat Loss

Additionally, targeted fat loss is not a thing. You can’t spot-reduce belly fat, even when using an effective fat-burning supplement. Fat is loss happens gradually throughout the whole body. So no, fat-burning creams and sauna wraps around your belly do not work.

 

Prioritize Rest and Recovery, Avoid Overtraining

Finally, avoid becoming obsessed with exercising to the point that you’re not taking enough time to rest and recover. You should lift no more than five times per week and always dedicate at least one day to rest (the other can be a more active form of rest or another way to move your body). Additionally, brush up on your sleep hygiene and aim for 8 hours a night.


Cortisol is essentially enemy number one when aiming for fat loss, and if you’re overtraining or not getting enough sleep, you’re already fighting a losing battle.

 

How Do I Select a Safe and Effective Weight Loss Supplement?

Always use brands that meet at least a few of the following criteria:

  • GMP certified
  • third-party tested
  • independent research
  • Informed Choice Certified

 

The next thing to do is look at the active ingredients. Using the knowledge you’ve gained here, carefully consider the ingredients and doses. Research any ingredients we haven’t mentioned and determine if this is a safe product for you. You should also consider talking to your primary care physician about any supplement you’re considering.

 

Supplement Superstore’s Recommended Weight Loss Supplement

A:Cuts by Allmax

Contains:

  • 500 mg L-carnitine
  • 127 mg caffeine

 

Supplement Superstore’s Recommended Fat-burning Supplement

Beach Ready by Yummy Sports

Contains:

  • 1500 mg L-carnitine
  • 400 mg green tea extract
  • 1500 mg green coffee extract (about 300 mg caffeine)

 

How Long Until I See Results from Weight Loss Supplements?

How quickly you will notice results after starting a weight loss supplement depends on your other lifestyle adjustments. You should give it roughly two to four weeks before assessing your progress.

As with all weight loss, it’s better to focus on measurements or photos rather than obsessing over the scale.

 

Will I Regain Weight When I Stop Using My Weight Loss Supplement?

It’s possible that when you stop using your weight loss supplement, you regain a bit of weight. If the weight loss or fat-burning supplement you chose has any diuretic or water-shedding ingredients, you will regain all water weight loss immediately.

If your supplement helped you achieve fat loss, then your results will stick around longer. But without maintaining your activity level and dietary intake, you will eventually regain any lost weight.

This is one of the reasons we suggest prioritizing adding muscle mass for anyone that wants to lose weight.

 

Other Supplements to Help You Lose and Maintain Weight

With that said, these are the following supplements we recommend considering when you want to get serious about making lasting changes to your physique. Of course, you can use these supplements in addition to a fat-burning supplement or instead of one. But one thing to always keep in mind is the combination of ingredients in your supplements. For example, your pre-workout supplement might have caffeine, and so might your weight loss supplement, so be careful not to exceed the safe dose.

 

Protein Supplement

Creatine Monohydrate Supplement

Pre-Workout Supplement

Multivitamin Supplement

Hormonal Support Supplements

Sleep Aids

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