We look into which supplements help with weight loss by supporting your energy levels, curbing your appetite, or helping you to sleep so that you can show up as your best self.
We do not recommend that you take weight loss pills, and while supplements may help you to maintain good health, weight loss may only be achieved through a calorie deficit; when you are using more calories than you are consuming.
We’ll be busting common myths around weight loss supplements and looking at alternative ways to lose weight that are tried and true. If you're looking for sustainable ways to lose weight, take a look at the best exercise machines to lose weight.
Can supplements help with weight loss?
We spoke to community pharmacist and founder of Pillsorted, Zeinab Ardeshir, who gave her recommendations. “There are certain vitamins that can top up your energy levels when you need them most,” she says. “I would recommend a multivitamin and mineral supplement that is especially rich in the Vitamin B family of nutrients. The Vitamin B family helps the body break down and release energy from food and maintain a healthy nervous system, boosting your energy. Other than that Caffeine can help as a quick fix.”
If you are looking for a way to boost your protein intake to aid in muscle growth and recovery, you can have a look at our guide to the best protein powders for weight loss. Protein is a great way to support healthy weight loss, with research in the British Journal of Nutrition indicating that protein is filling, and can help you stay in a calorie deficit by suppressing your hunger and giving you a sense of satiety.
A review in Nutrients journal found that the evidence behind most dietary supplements for weight loss is low quality, further indicating that relying on supplements for weight loss isn’t a good idea. Another review in Nutrients found the supplement Chromium taken for 24 weeks by competitive swimmers significantly increased lean mass by 3.5% and decreased body fat percentage by over 6% when compared to the placebo. However, it is worth noting that the participants of this study were athletes, and these results may not be easy for the average person to duplicate. The same study found that a fiber supplement can help with weight loss as fiber increased the sense of satiety in subjects, who ate less as a result.
Dietitian and Founder of CityDietitians, Sophie Medlin, tells us that deficiencies can impact your energy levels, appetite, and sleep quality, so supplements may help with weight loss by correcting them. “Being deficient in certain nutrients, such as B vitamins, can make it harder for us to maintain a healthy metabolism and may lead to weight gain in some people,” she says. “Similarly, some people may be iodine deficient which can lower our thyroid levels and lead to weight gain. In these groups, nutritional supplements can lead to weight loss when the nutritional deficiencies are corrected but that is the minority of people, not the majority and for most people taking nutritional supplements, there won’t be any impact on their weight.”
Is it safe to take supplements for weight loss?
While you may want to take supplements to support overall good health, relying on weight-loss pills can be dangerous and they are often marketed in a way that is misleading. “While there are many supplements advertised as weight loss enhancers, such as chromium, chitosan, and green tea extract, the FDA does not regulate and review these supplements for safety or efficacy before they hit the market the same way as they do medicine,” Ardeshir explains. “Be sure to check the labels and ingredients properly to ensure that none of the ingredients will disagree with you or affect things like sleep and digestion. It’s strongly recommended that you speak to your doctor before taking diet supplements so that it’s done in the safest and healthiest possible way.”
Medlin agrees that relying on weight loss pills is not healthy. “They broadly fall into two categories, ones which are supposed to suppress appetite and ones which are supposed to increase your metabolism. None of these supplements have any reliable outcomes and some may be very unsafe,” she says. “Your GP can prescribe some medications which can support weight loss in some people. They’re only appropriate if you have a genuine problem with your weight that is putting your physical health in danger as they also have side effects and risks. Those designed to reduce your appetite often do so with substances that sit in the stomach and are difficult to digest. They can lead to issues with digestion and in the worst case scenario, blockages in the bowel. Those designed to increase metabolism usually contain a lot of stimulants like caffeine which can raise your blood pressure and cause harm to your heart and blood vessels. They can also cause insomnia and anxiety. ”
Additionally, Medlin notes that you can overdose on vitamin and mineral supplements if you are not careful. “Most people tolerate vitamin and mineral supplements well, but it is important not to take excessively high doses and to just use an A-Z multivitamin unless you have been advised differently by your dietitian or doctor,” she says.
What alternatives are there to supplements?
Maintaining a small calorie deficit is the most effective way to lose weight. You can achieve a deficit by increasing your movement or reducing your calorie intake, which will lead to a reduction in weight over time.
While supplements can be very helpful when you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency that might be lowering your energy levels or causing other negative symptoms, a balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals your body requires for proper functioning. If there is some reason that you aren’t getting sufficient amounts of a nutrient from your diet, or you have an underlying health condition that prevents proper absorption, then you may want to consider supplementation under the guidance of your doctor.
Medlin also notes that you might want a blood test if you feel that you can’t lose weight through traditional means. “If you have been struggling with your weight and are finding that dieting isn’t working, ask your GP for a blood test to check your thyroid and hormone levels,” she says. “It may be that there is an underlying reason why you are finding it hard. Alternatively, speak to a registered dietitian who can help you to understand the reasons why you’re struggling with your weight - physical and psychological - and guide you to reduce your weight in a sustainable way.”
For more on sustainable weight loss, find out how to create a calorie deficit.
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Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well and Coach. She previously worked for Live Science, and regularly writes for Space.com and Pet's Radar. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.
Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health.
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