Are Weight-Loss Supplements Effective?

Are Weight-Loss Supplements Effective?
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Are there any safe and effective dietary supplements for weight loss?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my last video, I noted that one investigation found four of out five bottles of commercial herbal supplements bought at major retailers didn’t contain any of the herbs on their labels, instead often containing little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice “and houseplants.”

At least you hope it just contains houseplants. Weight-loss supplements are infamous for being adulterated with drugs. In a sampling of 160 weight-loss supplements sampled that claimed to be “100 percent natural,” more than half were tainted with drugs: active pharmacological ingredients, ranging from antidepressants like Prozac to erectile dysfunction meds like Viagra. Diuretic drugs are frequent contaminants, which makes sense. In my keto videos, I talk about rapid water loss as the billion-dollar gimmick that has sold low-carb diets for more than a century. But why the Viagra?

At least the spiked Viagra and Prozac are drugs that are legal. Researchers in Denver tested every weight-loss supplement they could find within a 10-mile radius, and alarmingly found a third were adulterated with banned ingredients. The most common illegal adulterant of weight loss supplements is sibutramine, which was sold as Meridia before it was yanked off the market back in 2010 for heart attack and stroke risk; now also blamed for cases of slimming supplement-induced psychosis.

An analysis of weight-loss supplements bought off the internet advertised with claims such as “purely natural,” ‘‘harmless,’’ or ‘‘traditional herbal” found that a third contained high-dose banned sibutramine, and the rest contained caffeine. Wouldn’t you be able to tell if caffeine was added to a supplement? Perhaps not if it also had Temazepam added—a controlled substance (benzodiazepine) “downer” sedative found in half of the caffeine-tainted supplements.

Doesn’t the FDA demand recalls of adulterated supplements? Yes, but they just pop back up on store shelves. Twenty-seven supplements purchased at least six months after the recalls were released, and two-thirds still contained banned substances—17 out of 27—with the same pharmaceutical adulterant found originally, and six containing one or more additional banned ingredients. Aren’t the manufacturers penalized for noncompliance? Yes, but “fines for violations are small compared to the profits.”

One of the ways supplement makers can skirt the law is by labeling them as “not intended for human consumption;” for example, labelling the fatal fat-burner DNP as an industrial or research chemical. That’s like how designer street drugs can be sold openly at gas stations and convenience stores as “bath salts.” Another way is to claim synthetic stimulants added to slimming supplements are actually natural food constituents, like listing the designer drug dimethylamylamine (DMAA) as “geranium oil extract.” The FDA banned it in 2012 after it was determined DMAA was “not found in geraniums.” (And who eats geraniums anyway?) Despite being tentatively tied to cases of sudden death and hemorrhagic stroke, DMAA has continued to be found in weight-loss supplements with innocuous names like Simply Skinny Pollen, made by Bee Fit with Trish.

There is little doubt that certain banned supplements, like ephedra, could help people lose weight. “There’s only one problem,” wrote a founding member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine: “This supplement may kill you.”

Are there any safe and effective dietary supplements for weight loss? When popular slimming supplements were put to the test in a randomized placebo-controlled trial, not a single one could beat out sugar pills. A systematic review of systematic reviews of diet pills came to a similar conclusion; that none appear to generate appreciable impacts “on body weight without undue risks.” That was the conclusion reached in a similar review out of the Weight Management Center at Johns Hopkins recently, which ended with this: “It is fitting to highlight that perhaps the most general and safest alternative/herbal approach to weight control is to substitute low-[calorie] density foods for high-[calorie] density and processed foods, thereby reducing total [calorie] intake.” (In other words, more whole plant foods and fewer animal foods and junk.) “By taking advantage of the low-[calorie] density and health-promoting effects of plant-based foods, one may be able to achieve weight loss, or at least assist weight maintenance without cutting down on the volume of food consumed or compromising its nutrient value.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Bruno Glätsch via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my last video, I noted that one investigation found four of out five bottles of commercial herbal supplements bought at major retailers didn’t contain any of the herbs on their labels, instead often containing little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice “and houseplants.”

At least you hope it just contains houseplants. Weight-loss supplements are infamous for being adulterated with drugs. In a sampling of 160 weight-loss supplements sampled that claimed to be “100 percent natural,” more than half were tainted with drugs: active pharmacological ingredients, ranging from antidepressants like Prozac to erectile dysfunction meds like Viagra. Diuretic drugs are frequent contaminants, which makes sense. In my keto videos, I talk about rapid water loss as the billion-dollar gimmick that has sold low-carb diets for more than a century. But why the Viagra?

At least the spiked Viagra and Prozac are drugs that are legal. Researchers in Denver tested every weight-loss supplement they could find within a 10-mile radius, and alarmingly found a third were adulterated with banned ingredients. The most common illegal adulterant of weight loss supplements is sibutramine, which was sold as Meridia before it was yanked off the market back in 2010 for heart attack and stroke risk; now also blamed for cases of slimming supplement-induced psychosis.

An analysis of weight-loss supplements bought off the internet advertised with claims such as “purely natural,” ‘‘harmless,’’ or ‘‘traditional herbal” found that a third contained high-dose banned sibutramine, and the rest contained caffeine. Wouldn’t you be able to tell if caffeine was added to a supplement? Perhaps not if it also had Temazepam added—a controlled substance (benzodiazepine) “downer” sedative found in half of the caffeine-tainted supplements.

Doesn’t the FDA demand recalls of adulterated supplements? Yes, but they just pop back up on store shelves. Twenty-seven supplements purchased at least six months after the recalls were released, and two-thirds still contained banned substances—17 out of 27—with the same pharmaceutical adulterant found originally, and six containing one or more additional banned ingredients. Aren’t the manufacturers penalized for noncompliance? Yes, but “fines for violations are small compared to the profits.”

One of the ways supplement makers can skirt the law is by labeling them as “not intended for human consumption;” for example, labelling the fatal fat-burner DNP as an industrial or research chemical. That’s like how designer street drugs can be sold openly at gas stations and convenience stores as “bath salts.” Another way is to claim synthetic stimulants added to slimming supplements are actually natural food constituents, like listing the designer drug dimethylamylamine (DMAA) as “geranium oil extract.” The FDA banned it in 2012 after it was determined DMAA was “not found in geraniums.” (And who eats geraniums anyway?) Despite being tentatively tied to cases of sudden death and hemorrhagic stroke, DMAA has continued to be found in weight-loss supplements with innocuous names like Simply Skinny Pollen, made by Bee Fit with Trish.

There is little doubt that certain banned supplements, like ephedra, could help people lose weight. “There’s only one problem,” wrote a founding member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine: “This supplement may kill you.”

Are there any safe and effective dietary supplements for weight loss? When popular slimming supplements were put to the test in a randomized placebo-controlled trial, not a single one could beat out sugar pills. A systematic review of systematic reviews of diet pills came to a similar conclusion; that none appear to generate appreciable impacts “on body weight without undue risks.” That was the conclusion reached in a similar review out of the Weight Management Center at Johns Hopkins recently, which ended with this: “It is fitting to highlight that perhaps the most general and safest alternative/herbal approach to weight control is to substitute low-[calorie] density foods for high-[calorie] density and processed foods, thereby reducing total [calorie] intake.” (In other words, more whole plant foods and fewer animal foods and junk.) “By taking advantage of the low-[calorie] density and health-promoting effects of plant-based foods, one may be able to achieve weight loss, or at least assist weight maintenance without cutting down on the volume of food consumed or compromising its nutrient value.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Bruno Glätsch via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

If you missed the previous video, check out Are Weight-Loss Supplements Safe?

I mentioned one of the recent keto videos I did. Here is the whole series:

My new book, How Not to Diet, is out now and is all about optimal weight loss.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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