Everyone wants to lose weight in an easy way and are willing to spend tons of money to do so. When there is money there will be con artists.
The weight loss supplement is a $2.4 billion dollar industry which is still growing rapidly without much of governmental regulations or even an industry standard. Unlike medicine, supplements are categorized under “food” and they don’t need to go through a rigorous scientific process before selling their products. Some are ineffective and do nothing, but some are actually harmful for the body.
One researcher at Oregon State University went through hundreds of supplements and found most of them are not effective. She found a few products such as green tea, fiber, and low-fat supplements that may promote a few pounds of weight loss if it is accompanied with exercises, but most do not do anything without a workout.
She pointed out that most of supplements claim their effects without any randomized clinical trials, and the effects are not reproducible. If they show examples, the results are not only from the supplement, but usually from the combination of a low calorie diet and a vigorous workout .
There are four types of weight loss supplements. The first ones are the supplements which block fat and/or carbohydrate absorption, such as chitosan. These supplements claim to slow down the absorption of fat and carbohydrate in the intestines and flash them though the system without being absorbed as the energy source.
The second one is an appetite suppressor such as fiber. In this category, there are two types of supplements. One is to simply fill your stomach with low calorie, but high volume food, and the second is the supplements which send signal to brain to lower the appetite. Although there are medications which lower the appetite, most “supplements” cannot reproduce a similar effect safely.
The third is the supplement which increases metabolism, such as caffeine and ephedra. Caffeine actually does increases your metabolism if you have not taken it for a while, but if you are regular coffee drinker, there is almost a null effect. Furthermore, if you take too much of these stimulants, you may get a heart irregularity and at the worst, you may die from a heart attack without losing a pound of body fat. Another example is the pepper family. When you take them, it makes your body hot and burn a bit more calories. However, many people get stomach problems.
The fourth one claims that they change the body’s composition by decreasing body fat such as linoeic acid. This might worked on lab rats, but it is not proven for human subjects, and probably the effects, if actually there are any, are minimum.
Why then, are these supplements still on market? First of all, people want a magic pill and are willing to pay for any supplements. The manufacturers don’t care how effective their product is, as far as it does not harm the people. There are so many people who want to try them; and there is no worry of running out of customers even if a previous user found it ineffective.
Second, because the government cannot remove them unless it is really harmful for the body or it is a totally false advertisement. If one product says that if you take the supplement, you “WILL” lose 20 pounds in a month, and if it does not, it is a false advertisement, and the government can order the company to change the claim, but the advertisement industry is clever and they just replace one word “WILL” to “MAY.” With this change, the government cannot say that the advertisement is false.
Similarly, if you see “before” and “after” pictures, there is always a small print saying that “this is not a “typical” result. If I interpret this, it is basically saying “you won’t get the same result.”
So what should I do to lose weight? Well, simple, work out and eat a healthy diet. You need a lifestyle change. If you are living like how you are living now, you will get what you are getting; probably gaining more weight. You really need to change your lifestyle. Rather than spending $100 every month for weight loss supplements, spend that $100 to join a gym. That is a sure way of losing weight rather than wasting your money.
Dietary Supplements for Improving Body Composition and Reducing Body Weight: Where is the evidence? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2012, 22, 139.
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