Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss: Just the Facts (Updated)

With nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, people are always searching for help to lose weight, and for many, dietary supplements for weight loss are a promising option.

According to a global market study on dietary weight loss supplements, “Consumers across the globe are increasingly opting for … weight loss supplements in order to remain healthy and fit.

In fact, over-the-counter dietary supplements for weight loss are more widespread in use than prescription medications and medical treatments such as bariatric surgery.

According to the study, conducted by Persistence Market Research (PMR), the huge market for dietary weight loss supplements often drives trends and changes in the industry. This post will look at current trends among dietary supplements for weight loss.

First, a quick primer on dietary weight loss supplements:

  • Dietary supplements for weight loss encompass an array of products, including diet pills, soft gels, tablets, powder and chews, as well as meal-replacement bars, drinks and shakes.
  • Different supplements work in different ways to help users lose weight. Some dietary weight loss supplements curb appetite, some are fat burners/metabolism boosters, and others are fat blockers.
  • Each of these dietary supplements for weight loss uses unique ingredients or blends, ranging from vitamins and minerals, caffeine and other stimulants, amino acids, herbs and herbal extracts. These ingredients and blends produce a variety of benefits and side effects.

Trends in dietary weight loss supplements

Focus on healthy weight loss
Health consciousness has been on the rise throughout the past decade, and it has impacted the products that weight loss companies make as well as the way they market their products, including dietary supplements.

As the PMR research primer states, “Brands are competing on the basis of the new products that are than more focused on the overall wellness than just reducing the weight…. Consumers are showing interest in consuming [dietary] weight loss supplements that not just offer weight loss but also help in improving the immune system and in building muscle mass.”

Emphasis on balance and nutrition
Sales figures also reveal that consumers are more savvy about nutrition than they were just a decade ago, perhaps thanks to the wealth of information on diet and nutrition available online. People are more likely to seek weight loss solutions that involve a healthy, balanced diet over drastic measures such as radically cutting calories.

Similarly, they want dietary weight loss supplements that support good health and nutrition. As a result, “Vitamins and minerals ingredients are likely to be among the highest used and preferred ingredients in the weight loss dietary supplements,” according to the PMR report.

Research company Marketdata says that younger people entering the weight loss market have heightened interest in healthy means of losing weight. Millennials have grown up in the age of Google and are accustomed to doing extensive research on the products they use, including dietary supplements for weight loss.

“Millennials are now the largest population group, outnumbering the Baby Boomers,” Marketdata’s John LaRosa writes. “Their weight loss efforts are likely to focus on clean eating, exercise, convenience, and avoiding artificial sweeteners and highly processed foods.”

Better quality, higher safety standards
According to the PMR study, stiff competition in the weight loss dietary supplement sector has prompted companies to invest heavily in research and development focused on improving the safety and effectiveness of their products.

“Increase in the demand for weight loss dietary supplements has also tightened the regulations around product safety, manufacturing as well as efficacy claims,” the study reports. “Appropriate actions are also being taken by regulatory bodies in the case of food and dietary supplements labeling violations.”

However, if you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that regulations regarding dietary weight loss supplements are often insufficient to prevent dangers. Issues persist regarding health risks associated with many common ingredients in popular dietary supplements for weight loss, as well as false and misleading labels and marketing claims.

The PMR study does acknowledge that “increasing incidence of side effects is hampering the market growth.” But it goes on to say that companies are “showing special interest in conducting research on the type of [weight loss dietary supplement] ingredients that can be safe to consume without causing any side effects.”

While we hope this is the case, we know that the industry still suffers from the widespread use of unsafe ingredients. There are still some manufacturers who cut corners and inflate claims, which leads us to a trend not noted in the studies cited above, but one that is worthy of mention, nonetheless…

Lack of clinical trials on safety and effectiveness
The study points to increased use “new organic and natural ingredients,” including “herbal ingredients” such as Garcinia Cambogia in dietary supplements for weight loss. While it is clear the authors believe this to be a positive development, we believe this is a case of market researchers not having a firm grasp of the science behind the products they are writing about.

As we’ve noted in other posts, the use of “natural” and “herbal” ingredients such as Garcinia Cambogia in dietary weight loss supplements does not always mean a product is safe; rather herbal ingredients are often rife with health risks, dangers and negative side effects.

More often than not, use of these types of ingredients in dietary supplements for weight loss is intended to capitalize on the “greenwashing” trend where companies know that consumers respond positively to words like “natural” and “organic” on packaging and in advertising.

What is much more important from a consumer’s standpoint is evidence, based on clinical trials, that dietary weight loss supplement ingredients are safe and effective, and unfortunately, the industry as a whole has done a poor job of testing its products in statistically relevant human clinical trials.

Conclusion: The more you know, the better

Despite all the positive trends and changes in dietary weight loss supplements noted above, we always recommend that you research the ingredients in any supplement before putting it in your body.

In addition, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider to discuss the potential for health risks, side effects and possible interactions with any medication you are taking. This is especially true if you have a medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or liver disease; and you should never take a dietary supplement for weight loss if you are pregnant.

You’ll find more information on dietary weight loss supplements in these posts:

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