July 2021

Weight Loss Supplements: What to Tell Patients

The weight loss supplement industry generates billions of dollars each year. It’s expected to reach almost $6 billion in annual sales by 2024. Clearly consumers are interested in buying these products, and that interest isn’t waning. Providers need to be prepared to address questions about weight loss supplements and to counsel patients about the many safety concerns surrounding this product category.

One of the first questions many consumers are likely to ask is “do any weight loss supplements actually work?” Overall, tell them that there’s no magic pill.  While there is some supportive evidence for a few ingredients, the majority of evidence suggests that dietary supplements won’t have major effects on weight loss on their own. A recent, large meta-analysis evaluated various commonly used ingredients in these products, including chitosanglucomannanfructans and conjugated linoleic acid. There was no evidence that any of them helped much with weight loss. Other common ingredients include bitter orangegreen coffeegarcinia and green tea – for all of these ingredients the overall evidence is conflicting, and any observed benefits are small.

Even if consumers don’t ask, make sure you follow up their question about efficacy with a discussion on product safety. Fiber weight loss products like chitosan and glucomannan likely aren’t a concern. But ‘fat-burners’ and ‘appetite suppressants’ are notorious for containing undeclared ingredients and stimulants. Researchers recently identified 9 different stimulants in a sample of weight loss and sports supplements – none of these stimulants have been evaluated for safety in humans. The bottom line is, it’s a risky category. Plus, these products aren’t cheap. Tell patients not to waste their money - they’re better off putting resources towards healthier food choices and exercise.

If you’re interested in learning more about this industry and how to properly counsel patients, check out our new certificate program – RxAdvanced: Guide to Natural Medicines. An entire module is dedicated to Natural Medicines for Weight Loss and Athletic Performance.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.