If you Google “natural weight loss supplements,” prepare to be overwhelmed ― there are currently over four million search results for the term “natural weight loss supplements!”
Not only is that an impossible amount of material to sift through and try to make sense of, it’s also full of bogus information. So prepare to be misled, as well.
The weight loss supplement industry is notorious for unscrupulous characters who prey upon the millions of Americans who are desperate to lose weight. They’re always coming up with new marketing fads designed to grab our attention and fill us with false hope. Lately, it’s “natural weight loss supplements.”
There are literally millions of websites dedicated to convincing you to buy and try natural weight loss supplements in every imaginable category, including:
Some sites promise unbiased reviews or rankings of popular natural weight loss products but are actually just marketing sites made to look like third-party reviews.
This post will help you separate facts about natural supplements from marketing hype, so you can be an informed consumer and make the best choices for you and your weight loss.
Some of the questions we will seek to answer include:
The short answer to this question is: not much.
The word “natural” shows up on so many product labels, from weight loss pills, vitamins and dietary supplements to laundry detergent, home cleaning products and packaged foods.
“Natural” may be the most abused food label fib because there are no laws, legal requirements or rules for its use.
On its website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says:
“Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’ we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of ‘natural’ in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term ‘natural’ to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.”
Confused? So are we. According to this loose standard, a weight loss supplement labeled natural may contain, for example, extracts and oils from genetically modified plants, seeds and herbs.
What’s more, the Global Healing Center produced a fascinating report on synthetic vitamins that goes into great detail about how easy it is for dietary supplement and vitamin makers to work around the FDA’s natural labeling guidelines:
“Unfortunately, vitamins can be labeled as natural if they contain as little as 10% of the natural form of the vitamin. This means that your ‘natural’ vitamin could contain 90% of synthetically produced chemicals!”
Or, as Consumer Reports puts it:
“[Natural] doesn’t mean ‘organic,’ ‘free of genetically modified organisms,’ or ‘no artificial ingredients,’ or that a product is safe to take. Instead, it can mean whatever a manufacturer wants it to mean — or nothing at all.”
Natural weight loss supplements can help you lose weight, but there is no guarantee they will help you lose weight.
Natural weight loss supplements vary greatly in effectiveness. Even the best natural weight loss supplements, including supplements that are shown to be effective in clinical trials for the majority of people taking them, don’t work the same or as well for every individual.
Every person’s body responds differently to supplements, and there are many variables that affect an individual’s weight loss results. A supplement that is effective for one person may not be effective for another person.
The two factors that have the greatest influence on a supplement’s effectiveness are its active ingredients and/or mode of action.
Most weight loss supplements contain ingredients such as natural herbs, herbal extracts, fiber or stimulants. These ingredients are referred to as “actives” because they are known (or believed) to act on the body to produce a specific effect that will aid in weight loss or make losing weight easier.
Some supplement ingredients help to suppress appetite, some help to burn fat, while others work to block fat.
You may be familiar with some common weight loss supplement ingredients, such as caffeine (Hydroxycut), garcinia cambogia, glucomannan (konjac root, Lipozene), green tea extract, ketones and the synthetic fat-blocker orlistat (Alli).
In our previous post, Understanding Weight Loss Supplements, Pills, Shakes & Vitamins, we examine in great detail the weight loss supplement ingredients mentioned above and others, reviewing evidence of each ingredient’s effectiveness based on clinical trials.
As you’ll see in our post, scientific evidence regarding the benefits and effectiveness of most weight loss supplement ingredients ― both natural ingredients and synthetic drugs ― remains open to debate.
Generally speaking, weight-loss pills — whether prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, herbal products or other natural dietary supplements — can help you lose weight … but only when they are taken as one part of a sensible and sustainable weight loss strategy based around smart lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy, balanced diet.
The first thing you should look at when considering a natural weight loss supplement is whether the product will really work to help you lose weight.
As mentioned above, our previous post, Understanding Weight Loss Supplements, Pills, Shakes & Vitamins, examines evidence, based on clinical trials, of the effectiveness of various weight loss supplement ingredients.
The second item to consider is whether the product’s ingredients are, in fact, natural.
Given the broad and somewhat ill-defined standards for natural products, it’s not always easy to know if the supplement you’re taking is actually natural, but one clear signal a product is not natural is when it contains a drug.
For example, the active ingredient in the popular over-the-counter fat blocker Alli is a synthetic drug called orlistat. So, while clinical trials have shown orlistat to be moderately effective in aiding weight loss, it is not a natural ingredient.
What’s more, orlistat is known to cause a number of unwanted side effects, which brings us to our third “must know” item when considering a natural weight loss supplement. We will discuss side effects in greater detail in the next section of this post.
The down side of many weight loss supplement actives, even “natural” ingredients, is that they act on the body un unwanted ways, causing side effects.
Most hunger-control supplements and fat burners, for example, rely on caffeine and other stimulants that have the potential for side effects that range from jitters to sleeplessness and racing heart.
Some fat blocker ingredients such as orlistat (Alli) are notorious for uncomfortable, urgent and embarrassing gastrointestinal side effects because they interfere with the body’s natural digestive processes to expel nutrients through the colon undigested.
If a supplement can cause an effect, chances are it can cause a side effect, and “natural” does not always mean safe.
Poison ivy is natural. So is the flu virus. Some “natural” weight loss supplement ingredients, like products containing high levels of caffeine and other “natural” stimulants, are among the most harmful and should be avoided.
As the National Institutes of Health quotes on its website: “… even minor adverse events shift the delicate risk-benefits balance against [supplement] use.”
Always talk to your doctor or health care provider to discuss possible side effects and other safety concerns before beginning a natural weight loss supplement plan.