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Table 19Common Ingredients in Weight Loss Dietary Supplements* (294)

IngredientPurported MechanismResearch FindingsSafety+
Bitter orange (synephrine)Increased energy expenditure and lipolysis; mild appetite suppressantSmall clinical trials of poor methodological quality demonstrating possible effect on resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure, with inconclusive effects on weight lossReported adverse effects include chest pain, anxiety, and increased blood pressure and heart rate
Caffeine (as added caffeine or from guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, or other herbs)Stimulation of central nervous system; increased thermogenesis and fat oxidationShort-term clinical trials of combination products showing possible modest effect on body weight or decreased weight gain over timeSafety concerns not usually reported at doses less than 400 mg/day for adults, but there are significant safety concerns at higher doses.
Reported adverse effects include nervousness, jitteriness, vomiting, and tachycardia
CalciumIncreased lipolysis and fat accumulation; decreased fat absorptionSeveral large clinical trials have shown no effect on body weight, weight loss, or prevention of weight gainNo safety concerns reported at recommended intakes, but constipation, kidney stones, and interference with zinc and iron absorption can occur at intakes above 2,000–2,500 mg for adults
ChitosanBinding of dietary fat in the digestive tractSmall clinical trials, mostly of poor methodological quality, have shown minimal effect on body weightReported adverse effects include flatulence, bloating, constipation, indigestion, nausea, and heartburn
ChromiumIncreased lean muscle mass; promotion of fat loss; reduced food intake, hunger levels, and fat cravingsSeveral clinical trials of varying methodological quality have found minimal effect on body weight and body fatReported adverse effects include headache, watery stools, constipation, weakness, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and urticaria (hives) when taken above recommended intakes (25–45 mcg/day for adults)
Coleus forskohlii (forskolin)Enhanced lipolysis; reduced appetiteA small number of clinical trials show no effect on body weightUnknown
Conjugated linoleic acidPromotion of apoptosis in adipose tissueSeveral clinical trials have shown minimal effect on body weight and body fatReported adverse effects include abdominal discomfort and pain, constipation, diarrhea, loose stools, dyspepsia, and possible adverse effects on blood lipid profiles
Ephedra (ma huang, ephedrine)Stimulation central nervous system; increased thermogenesis; reduced appetiteSeveral short-term clinical trials of good methodological quality, many of ephedra combined with caffeine, have found modest effect on short-term weight lossBanned as a dietary supplement ingredientReported adverse effects include anxiety, mood changes, nausea, vomiting, hypertension, palpitation, stroke, seizures, heart attack, and death
Garcinia cambogia (hydroxycitric acid)Inhibited lipogenesis; suppressed food intakeSeveral short-term clinical trials of varying methodological quality have found little to no effect on body weightReported adverse effects include headache, nausea, upper respiratory tract symptoms, and gastrointestinal symptoms
GlucomannanIncreased feelings of satiety and fullness; prolonged gastric emptying timeSeveral clinical trials of varying methodological quality, mostly focused on effects on lipid and blood glucose levels, have found little to no effect on body weightTablet forms may cause esophageal obstructions. Other reported adverse effects include loose stools, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal discomfort
Green coffee bean extract (Coffea aribica, Coffea canephora, Coffea robusta)Inhibited fat accumulation; modulated glucose metabolismFew clinical trials of poor methodological quality have suggested possible modest effect on body weightReported adverse effects include headache and urinary tract infections
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) and green tea extractIncreased energy expenditure and fat oxidation; reduced lipogenesis and fat absorptionSeveral clinical trials of good methodological quality on green tea catechins with and without caffeine have shown possible modest effect on body weightReported adverse effects for green tea extract include constipation, abdominal discomfort, nausea, increased blood pressure, liver damage
Guar gumBulking agent in gut; delayed gastric emptying; increased feelings of satietySeveral clinical trials of good methodological quality have found no effect on body weightReported adverse effects include abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, and cramps
Hoodia (Hoodia gordonii)Suppressed appetite; reduced food intakeVery little published research in humans, but results from one study suggest no effect on energy intake or body weightConcern for increased heart rate and blood pressure. Other reported adverse effects include headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting
PyruvateIncreased lipolysis and energy expenditureFew clinical trials of weak methodological quality suggest possible minimal effect on body weight and body fatReported adverse effects include diarrhea, gas, bloating, and possible decreases in high-density lipoprotein levels
Raspberry ketoneAltered lipid metabolismStudied only in combination with other ingredients. Unable to draw conclusions.Unknown
White kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)Acts as a “starch blocker, interfering with breakdown and absorption of carbohydratesFew clinical trials, all of poor methodological quality, suggest
possible modest effect on body fat, but no effect on body weight
Reported adverse effects include headache, soft stools, flatulence, and constipation
Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe, yohimbine)Hyperadrenergic effectsVery little research has been done on yohimbe for weight-loss, with insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions.Significant safety concerns reported, with adverse effects including headache, anxiety, agitation, hypertension, and tachycardia
*Table adapted from The ODS Fact Sheet on Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss (294)
+Listed in order of severity, with the most severe reported side effects listed last.

From: Dietary Treatment of Obesity

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