Weight-loss supplements – Do they live up to their claims?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat and drink whatever we want, not even think about creating a calorie deficit through watching our diet or exercising to burn more off energy and yet still magically lose weight (more specifically body fat) due to a ‘weight-loss supplement’?

Just lately, I’ve come across a lot of local ‘For sale’ sites where people are making outrageous claims such as ‘Take our shots for 2 weeks and achieve weight loss. You must be suffering from bloating, lack of energy, can’t lose weight’, etc., etc.

Recently, on seeing one of the latest supplements being peddled, I challenged the claims made for weight loss on the local Facebook ‘For sale’ site and was immediately blocked by the lady selling the product (apparently due to my references disproving the claims made for the active ingredients. How rude of me to provide scientific evidence!).

So before I address each of the ingredients individually and the science behind them, let me first start by saying that the laws of thermodynamics regarding weight loss state that you must be in an energy deficit in order to lose weight. Put another way, imagine if you were eating 5000 calories per day and this will add up to 3000 calories more than you burnt daily. No amount of ‘magic formula weight loss shots’ will make a blind bit of difference.

The opposite also holds true; imagine that you required 3000 calories daily on average, in order to maintain your weight. You’d then need to create a deficit of at least 500 calories to kick start the weight loss process (a smaller deficit may be required for people who are smaller and are already maintaining on a lower amount of calories).

This law of thermodynamics is applicable throughout the entire universe, yet some people seem to think that the human body is somehow exempt from this and that they’ll lose weight eating more than they burn by ‘magic’. In fact none of the adverts posted even make reference to exercise, activity and diet or energy balance, like none of these fundamental factors for weight loss even matter!

Let’s now take a look at the active ingredients and see if the science lives up to the claims:

1. Raspberry Ketones

Put bluntly, oral doses of this supplement are not effective for weight loss. All of the evidence has been observed in vitro (outside the body), in test tubes where the conditions couldn’t be more different from the human body. In addition, the concentrations raised in these studies cannot be replicated by oral supplementation. What is possibly most damning of all is that many of the studies were conducted on rats taking an astronomically high dosage compared with what a human is expected to take. In addition, human response to supplements is radically different to that of rats!

2. Guarana

Guarana contains caffeine and anyone with a history of heart impairments should consult their doctor before using it as a supplement. Regarding its role in fat loss, increases in metabolism are due to genetics and also to being naive to caffeine. In other words you haven’t drunk any tea, coffee or other caffeinated beverage or eaten any chocolate for a week, even up to a month. Minor increases in fat oxidation, due to increases in adrenaline, have been shown in three reliable studies. However, compared with the energy balance equation, it has a pretty inconsequential effect (eat & drink to excess and caffeine will do you no good in losing weight).

3. Green coffee bean

The main active ingredient here is Chlorogenic acid, a derivative from green coffee beans. Studies show that at best, it’s either weakly or moderately effective at helping with fat loss. Of the studies themselves, two were funded by profit-making companies with a vested interest in the supplement and others used mice as subjects.

4. White tea

White tea extract tends to be the most relaxing tea (compared with black or green tea, Pu-erh /fermented tea or Oolong tea) due to an ingredient called GABA. Other ingredients include caffeine, which as we’ve seen with Guarana, has only minor effects and under specific circumstances. Of most note is the Catechin content contained in the white tea. Catechins are four molecules, the most potent of which is called EGCG.

It is reported that the Catechins contained in white or green tea are cardio-protective, neuro-protective, anti-obesity, anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-atherogenic, liver-protective and beneficial for blood vessel health. These beneficial effects are seen in doses present both in green tea itself (as a drink) as well as from a supplemental form.

However, of note is that the benefits of green tea catechins on lipid oxidation and related fat-burning pathways are achieved in a dose-dependent manner. Significant effects in humans are noted only at high doses, such as 400-500mg EGCG equivalent per day (most Green Tea Extract supplements are roughly 50% EGCG). Fat-burning effects are highly synergistic, almost dependent, on not consuming caffeine habitually (have you stopped tea, coffee and chocolate for a month?!).

As stated, most common weight loss products only contain 200mg of white tea leaf so you can be sure that this active ingredient is not of a high enough dose to be effective!

Summing up

In summary, there is no magic formula to weight loss, no magic pills, potions or drinks that will create the calorie deficit crucial for weight loss. Weight management depends on making gradual lifestyle and habit changes to your diet, exercise and general activity levels.

There are many diets that can achieve this from Keto to Intermittent fasting to calorie-counting, portion control to Weight Watchers and Slimming World. All of them ultimately work by creating a calorie deficit. Diets do not fail but many do not promote long-term adherence because they can be restrictive.

Different people will find different diets more or less effective than others so the key is to find one that is family-friendly, still allows you the occasional treat, yet creates the negative calorie balance required to sustain weight loss without feeling hungry and deprived.

The Author

Peter is a Personal Trainer with over seventeen years’ experience in the fitness industry and has four Diplomas in Nutrition, Weight Management, Sports Supplementation and Behaviour Change. He uses a unique system by assessing his client’s readiness to change in a diet scenario by use of Psychometric testing. His certifications are with the Association for Nutrition, who accredit evidence-based University Degrees in Nutrition and other Nutrition courses to ensure that they are evidence-based. One of his biggest successes has come recently by helping a Gentleman with COPD in losing over 7 stone in 2 ½ years with a sustainable programme of diet and lifestyle advice, combined with personal training sessions at the client’s home and regular weight checks. Peter can analyse your diet and activity levels and assist you with making long-term, sustainable changes to your diet and exercise. He offers his in-home personal training services throughout Suffolk and Norfolk, through his company PMA Personal Training and can be contacted directly through his web site www.pmapersonaltraining.com