No Evidence Weight-Loss Supplements Work

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May 14, 2021 — Although some herbal and dietary supplements appear to help people lose a little weight, it is enough to benefit your health, according to the joint findings of the first two comprehensive studies of all available herbal and dietary supplements for weight loss for over 15 years.

“There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend any of the supplements we included in our reviews for weight loss,” lead author Erica Bessell, a PhD candidate from the University of Sydney in Australia, said.

Some products with promising results do deserve further study, however, she said.

But, overall, she says there should be fewer products on the market that have no proof of effectiveness, “because, as we found, many of the products currently marketed for weight loss just do not work.”

“Herbal and dietary supplements might seem like a quick-fix solution to weight problems, but people need to be aware of how little we actually know about them,” she told Medscape. “We would recommend that people trying to lose weight should save their money and seek out evidence-based care instead.”.

The research was presented at this year’s online European Congress on Obesity.

Herbal supplements included in the analysis included green tea; mangosteen; white kidney bean; ephedra; African mango; yerba mate); veld grape; licorice root; and East Indian Globe Thistle.

No Clinically Significant Results

“Though most supplements were safe for use in the short-term, very few were found to produce clinically meaningful weight loss,” Bessell said. “Those that were found to result in clinically meaningful weight loss had only been investigated in one or two trials, so need more research.”

The first review on herbal supplements found that only white kidney bean led to significant weight loss compared to a placebo, with an average weight difference of 3.5 lb.. The result was not clinically meaningful, however.

Other dietary supplements, including modified cellulose — a plant fiber that expands in the stomach to induce a feeling of fullness — and blood orange juice extract, also showed encouraging results but were only investigated in one trial and need more evidence before they can be recommended for weight loss, Bessell added.

Herbal and Dietary Supplement Industry Booming

Supplements for weight loss are growing in popularity, and have become a major global industry. In the United States, the herbal and dietary supplements industry was estimated to be worth $41 billion in 2020, with 15% of Americans having tried a weight loss supplement in their efforts to shed pounds.

In light of this, Bessell said it is increasingly important to make sure supplements are effective and safe. “The popularity of these products underscores the urgency of conducting larger, more rigorous studies to have reasonable assurance of their safety and effectiveness for weight loss.”

Commenting on the study and the wider issues related to the surge in sales of herbal and dietary supplements, Susan Arentz, PhD, said the evidence is similar to that for other things people try for weight-loss, in that there are lots of them and most are of low-quality.

One problem with studies of supplements is that it is difficult to confirm what is in them.

“Given the chemical variability of plants grown and harvested in different conditions, and the presence of pharmaceuticals and heavy metals found in some supplements…future investigations of standardized herbal supplements … are needed,” Arentz, a board member of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association, said.

“Also, further [studies] are warranted due to the consumer preferences for natural treatments, especially in health settings with predominant use of traditional medicines and practices,” said Arentz.

Medscape Medical News

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