Hot Weight Loss Supplements: Worth the Hype?
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Supplements made from acai berries, and more recently, green coffee bean extract, are by far two of the top-selling so-called “weight-loss miracle cures.” Featured on the Dr. Oz show, and widely available online—and even at your local drug store—these products appeal to the masses with promises of speedy and seemingly effortless weight loss. But should you buy into the hype? Here are some things you should know before you bet your bottom on a bottle to lose weight.
Acai Berry Dietary Supplements
Available in capsule, pill, patch, and powder form, and touted to promote weight loss and to even “make your body perfect” as stated on one company web site, a search of acai berry supplements on google reveals an astounding 70 million results.
Derived from the acai palm tree, native to tropical Central and South America, acai berries pack in a variety of nutrients such as fiber, omega-9 fats, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamin A, according to 101 Foods That Can Save Your Life, by David Grotto, RD, LDN. Commonly consumed in whole fruit or juice form, acai berries also overflow with antioxidants, powerful plant chemicals that shield body cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals (substances such as smoke and other pollutants that circulate in the environment and in the body). Acai berries are especially rich in anthocyanins, plant chemicals currently being studied for their possible role in promoting heart health, enhancing cognition, reducing inflammation, and preventing cancer among them.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, there’s no definitive scientific evidence based on human studies that supports the use of acai berries for weight loss or any other health benefit.
And what about the accuracy of claims from supplement manufacturers? As of yet, there aren’t any studies published in peer-reviewed journal to prove claims or support the effectiveness of acai berry supplements in producing weight loss.
Green Coffee Bean Extract
Derived from green (unroasted) coffee beans and touted to burn fat and speed weight loss, the popularity of green coffee bean extract seems to grow by the day. Rich in two substances that may be linked to weight loss including caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, and chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant, there’s some short-term data on the extract’s safety and effectiveness as a weight loss aid.
In a 2012 study published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity (and funded by a supplement manufacturer), 16 overweight adults were each given a low dose of green coffee bean extract, a high dose of the supplement, or a placebo daily for six weeks each (with a two week period in-between each treatment period). Throughout the study, participants were encouraged to maintain their current diet, and to be physically active.
Subjects who took the extract lost an average of about 18 pounds—more than 10 percent of their body weight, and suffered no adverse side effects. A review article published in 2011 in Gastroenterology Research and Practice found that green coffee bean extract was more effective than a placebo in moderately lowering body weight. Still, the authors noted the poor quality of those studies and called for more high quality data before conclusions are drawn.
While it may not be associated with adverse side effects, consuming too much chlorogenic acid from green coffee bean extract or other sources may increase levels of the amino acid homocysteine; that, in turn, raises the risk of heart disease.
According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), supplement manufacturers are responsible for making sure that their products are safe before they’re marketed—and they don’t need to prove they’re safe or effective or get approval from the Food and Drug Administration before being available to consumers. Before you take a supplement, especially to lose weight, it’s best to first speak with a physician or a registered dietitian who can evaluate the supplement.
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees. "While green coffee bean extract or acai berry supplements might sound like magic bullets for weight loss, the research on these is extremely sparse. Until more long term research is done regarding their safety and effectiveness, a nutritious, calorie-controlled diet coupled with physical activity is still the safest and most effective way to slim down."
Have you tried either of these (or any other) weight loss supplements?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.