For years, we have struggled to effectively help people to lose weight using diet and exercise alone. While the pharmaceutical industry has several drugs on the market that are approved to help with weight loss, none are overly effective, and many people don’t want to jump into taking a prescription medication. Instead, many individuals are interested in finding a nutritional supplement that might help with their weight-loss goals. So, let’s take a look at a few supplements that are talked about when it comes to weight loss, and see what the latest science says about the effectiveness.
In recent years, links have been drawn between gut microbiomes and healthy weight. Dr. Gail Cresci of the Cleveland Clinic explained that the gastrointestinal bacteria found in the guts of people with a healthy weight was different that in those who were obese. What’s more, when people of average weight received fecal transplants (introduction of different gut bacteria into the body), they sometimes gained weight, and typically this was because the person who was donating the gut bacteria was overweight.1
The composition of the human microbiome—the set of genes that give rise to bacteria in the gut—is richly varied from individual to individual. According to Nutrients, natural diversity in gut bacteria tends to lead to a lower body weight. Compared to slimmer individuals, overweight people with higher body weights tend to have 20 to 40 percent less diversity in their microbiomes. The question is, however, can external addition of probiotics be effective in changing the entire microbiome of an individual significantly enough to result in weight loss?2
Dr. Cresci doesn’t believe that taking an over-the-counter probiotic supplement will have much effect, as the bacterial strains in those types of products are minute compared to what is growing in the average person’s gut. Nevertheless, dietary changes that impact gut bacteria composition may be effective in managing weight. According to Nutrition and Metabolism, the standard Western diet that is heavy with fat and sugar can impair metabolism and skew gut bacteria in a direction that is more conducive to obesity. In comparison, eating fermented foods, yogurt and a high-fiber diet can stimulate a healthy gut microbiome.1,3
Green tea has long been touted to provide a less intense caffeine kick for those trying to avoid coffee, and is also believed to boost metabolism and aid in fat burning. Green tea can be consumed either as a beverage or in a more concentrated extract, usually put into pill form. It is believed that compounds found in green tea known as catechins can increase fatty acid oxidation during activity and rest, leading to overall fat loss. According to Advanced Nutrition, studies have shown that fat oxidation when taking green tea extract does increase significantly when the individuals studied were both resting and exercising. This supplement is especially effective when paired with healthy lifestyles changes.4
Consuming green tea in beverage form can also aid in fat metabolism, and lead to weight loss. A study done by the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences showed that in overweight diabetic subjects, drinking four cups of green tea a day it lead to a significant decrease in body fat and blood pressure. While this study is limited in its scope, it does demonstrate that green tea in any form can be a positive addition to a healthy lifestyle.5
Fit Tea is a weight-loss tea that has been sensationalized by celebrities and through its social media presence. This product is marketed as a “detox” tea and claims to decrease water retention and improve digestion.6 While this product boasts several “super foods” that can supposedly improve overall health, the most formidable ingredient in Fit Tea is Garcinia cambogia.
The compound of interest in this plant is hydroxycitric acid, which has been touted to decrease appetite and help individuals manage their weight.7 A stroll down the supplements aisle at any grocery store will reveal the ubiquity of garcinia in quick-fix weight loss products. However, robust evidence is yet to be gathered about the effectiveness of this chemical compound.
According to the Journal of Obesity, one study comparing the effects of garcinia against a placebo showed a small, though statistically significant, weight loss of 0.88 kg. that favored those who took the garcinia. However, the journal makes note that this is only one study and its results have yet to be corroborated on a large scale.8
So what is the bottom line? At this point, we still don’t have the magic bullet for supplements that can effectively help with weight loss. Good old healthy eating, along with getting enough exercise, seems to be the best bet. However, supplements do have a place, as they can help to correct or prevent nutrient deficiencies, which over time can help to ensure that one is staying healthy. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to a host of serious conditions that can impede weight loss (like bone fractures, lethargy and blood pressure abnormalities), so making sure you have a proper nutrient balance is essential.
1 Cleveland Clinic. Could Probiotics Help with Weight Loss? 2020. Retrieved from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/could-probiotics-help-with-weight-loss/.
2 Mazloom K, Siddiqi I, Covasa M. Probiotics: How Effective Are They in the Fight against Obesity. 2019. Nutrients 11(2): 258. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6412733/.
3 Kobyliak N, Conte C, Kruzliak P. Probiotics in prevention and treatment of obesity: a critical view. 2016. Nutrition and Metabolism 13:14. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761174/.
4 Hodgson AB, Randell RK, Jeukendrup AE. The Effect of Green Tea Extract on Fat Oxidation at Rest and during Exercise: Evidence of Efficacy Proposing Mechanisms. 2013. Advances in Nutrition 4(2): 129-140. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649093/.
5 Mousavi A, Vafa M, Hoseini F. The effects of green tea consumption on metabolic and anthropometric indices in patients with Type 2 diabetes. 2013. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 18(12): 1080-1086. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3908530/.
6 FitTea. 14 Day Detox. Retrieved from: www.fittea.com/collections/home-listings/products/14-day-detox.
7 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Garcinia cambogia. 2017. Retrieved from: www.nccih.nih.gov/health/garcinia-cambogia.
8 Onakpoya I, Hung SK, Ernst E. The Use of Garcinia Extract (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Weight loss Supplement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. 2011. Journal of Obesity 2011: 509038. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010674/.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.