I'm a Dietitian and Here's Why I Don't Recommend Weight-Loss Supplements

If I were you, I’d save my money for something else.

a ban circle made of of weight loss pills
Photo: Getty Images / Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Yulia Reznikov

There are so many supplements on the market today—over 80,000, to be precise. Many claim they'll improve your health in some way or another, and for some supplements, this includes claims around weight loss. We've all probably heard the ads or seen various weight-loss supplements at the store, but are they really worth your dollar?

As a registered dietitian, I'm already wary of most supplements. The supplement industry isn't well regulated, so you never really know what you're going to get. And I'm especially cautious of supplements that boast "fast" or significant weight loss from taking their product. The reason? Well, there are a few. Here's why I don't recommend weight-loss supplements—plus what you can do instead to lose weight the healthy way.

They aren't effective.

Even if a supplement makes a claim that it leads to weight loss, that doesn't mean it actually will. A recent review of 315 clinical trials of weight-loss supplements found they did not produce much, if any, weight loss among participants. The evidence was so weak to support supplements that the study authors included a perspective, urging regulatory authorities to take a closer look at supplements marketed for weight loss. This is in large part because they aren't effective, but also because they might not even be safe. Studies have found that people who have taken over-the-counter weight-loss supplements have reported liver failure, kidney impairment, the worsening of chronic ailments and more.

They're unregulated.

Secondly, supplements are totally unregulated. This means that there is no organization checking that supplements are safe, effective or accurately labeled before they go to market. While there are ways to vet supplements to make sure they are actually what they say they are (reference this checklist for more on that), over-the-counter supplements with strong claims surrounding weight loss should be a red flag. More often than not, these claims are not substantiated and should not be made by manufacturers. However, they get away with making these claims due to the lack of regulation.

If you are interested in taking a supplement, check for a third-party certification like the USP certification. This signifies that the manufacturer went through voluntary product testing to ensure that the ingredients and quantities they list are accurate. And it's always important to talk to your doctor or a dietitian before starting any supplement to make sure the product is right for you.

They're expensive.

As someone on a budget, this is already a hard stop for me. A study out of Duke University found that the expected annual cost of taking three brands of popular weight-loss supplements was over $1,300 each. That's a lot of money that could be spent in healthier ways, be it on fresh produce, whole foods or other non-food-related activities you enjoy. You could get you a manicure once a week for the whole year for that amount of money! And not only are they expensive in the short term, but in theory they only work if you are taking them. So this makes taking a weight-loss supplement a long-term financial commitment.

They aren't sustainable.

Sustainable weight loss is achieved through small behavior changes over time. One of the main issues with weight-loss supplements is that to sustain any weight loss, you need to continue to take the supplement. It's not viable or potentially even safe to take a weight-loss supplement for any amount of time, so any weight loss experienced will likely be gained back when the supplement is stopped.

Bottom Line

While there are some FDA-approved medications that may help with weight loss, over-the-counter supplements are not included in the list. And even the FDA-approved meds come with their own list of side effects. Instead of using weight-loss supplements, your time and money would be better spent on lifestyle changes that can lead to weight loss if that is your goal. Instead, I would recommend that someone trying to lose weight sticks to safe and proven methods such as diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Check out the best way to lose weight and actually keep it off according to experts for more on healthy ways to drop a few pounds.

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