- Weight loss supplements are a growing industry, yet there’s minimal evidence that they work.
- Weight loss supplements may be risky for people taking medications, and there may be other health risks as imported supplements may not be made safely.
- An FDA-cleared weight loss device, Plenity, is a better option for people looking to lose weight.
Weight loss supplements are a major seller in a growing industry, with over $54 billion spent on dietary supplements in 2020 alone. Yet hovering over the industry are big questions: Do they work? Are they safe? And if they aren’t, what are the other options?
What Are Weight Loss Supplements?
Legally speaking, a dietary supplement, for weight loss or otherwise, is a product you consume that isn’t presented as food and is clearly marked to “supplement” what you eat. A meal replacement shake, for example, isn’t considered a supplement, even if it makes weight loss claims.
It also explicitly has to be labeled a “dietary supplement” and needs to have one or more of the following:
- Herbs or botanicals, such as flowers
- Amino acids
- Anything that can be developed from the above, like a concentrate or extract
The legal definition is what matters because dietary supplements don’t have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA states on its website that supplements have to demonstrate they’re safe to consume, and their facilities have to pass inspection. Otherwise, supplement makers can do what they want.
Do Weight Loss Supplements Have to Prove Their Claims?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has regulations on what supplements are allowed to claim on the bottle, and they do enforce them when they receive a complaint. However, it’s not a perfect system.
First, someone needs to complain for them to investigate, picking out individual brands instead of regulating the entire industry. Secondly, the law on what triggers an FTC investigation is more nuanced than you might think.
Supplement claims are sorted into four types:
- Disease (“Cures the flu!”)
- Function and structure (“Calcium builds strong bones!”)
- Health claims (“Lowers your cholesterol!”) which can be qualified (“Research shows oats lower your cholesterol!”)
- Nutrient content (“100g of soluble fiber per serving!”)
A product making health claims will get shut down pretty fast. You might remember a popular cereal claiming it lowered cholesterol before the government stepped in.
“Function and structure” is a different matter, especially if they’re qualified. Pull a vitamin C supplement off the shelf, and you’ll notice statements like, “Helps support your immune system.” This is absolutely true as far as it goes, but it won’t prevent colds.
Therein lies the gray area with supplements. Their phrasing and language are designed to encourage you to make assumptions, and if those assumptions are wrong, it’s not their problem.
Are Weight Loss Supplements Safe?
If weight loss supplements are made in the U.S., their facilities are inspected by the FDA, so they have to meet or exceed safety regulations in preparing their products. That doesn’t mean they’re safe, however.
For example, St. John’s wort is a popular herbal treatment for depression, yet it can interfere with an enormous number of drugs. And as medical knowledge advances, substances previously thought safe can turn out to be dangerous.
This also assumes what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle, and that’s not always true. In 2015, the New York State Attorney General’s office tested herbal supplements from major retailers and found most of them didn’t have any detectable level of herbs. Many were almost entirely filler.
Supplements shipped from overseas usually haven’t been inspected, and fraud and tainted products are commonplace. The FDA has repeatedly found hidden drugs in weight loss products, some of which have extremely dangerous side effects like sudden increases in blood pressure.
Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
When weight loss supplements undergo scientific testing, they rarely come off well. Scientists have found a few consistent problems.
There’s little research that proves supplements work
A 2021 systematic review of dietary supplements studies struggled to find much high-quality research on the effects of dietary supplements, good or bad. In fact, out of 1,743 papers the review evaluated, only 52 met the standards required.
Of those, only 16 noted any sort of effect on weight, and in all of them, the results weren’t good.
The ingredients rarely work as advertised
According to an extensive fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most popular weight loss supplement ingredients show, at best, a “modest” effect on weight in the studies it looked at. Some of them haven’t been researched extensively enough to make a call one way or the other.
The NIH also notes that these ingredients rarely have much research behind them. When they do, it’s usually for another health issue with weight loss noted as a possible secondary effect. What research there is, it turns out, rarely meets rigorous scientific standards.
High-quality research finds little effect
What quality research there is says they’re not worth it. Another systematic review found that that weight loss was minimal, although a few substances merited more research before making a call one way or the other.
In short, there’s not much evidence the ingredients in weight loss supplements, separately or in combination, do anything for weight loss.
Are There Weight Loss Options That Work?
An active lifestyle and the right dietary choices are the foundation of any weight loss program. Beyond the usual advice, though, there is another option that has solid research behind it and has been cleared by the FDA.
Plenity is a weight loss device, not a drug, that provides a feeling of fullness. It’s made from inert materials that form a gel in the stomach. It’s the first weight loss device cleared by the FDA, and it’s recommended for people with a BMI of 25 or higher. Plenity can easily be incorporated into a weight loss plan.
Try Plenity, the Weight Loss Device That’s Proven to Work
If you’ve tried every weight loss supplement you’ve ever heard of and you’re not seeing results, Plenity might be the answer you’re looking for. Stop wasting your money and try this new and different way to lose weight. Order our Plenity welcome kit today and find out how Plenity, the weight loss device that’s backed by science, can make your weight loss dreams a reality.
Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies “beyond the headlines,” reading the study to more closely examine the results.