If you follow the reigning stars of Instagram, then you’ve probably noticed lots of them raving about the killer benefits of various fat burning supplements or teas. In theory, anything that blasts away these cells by swallowing a pill seems like a great deal. But anyone who knows a thing or two about fat loss knows that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. As Holistic Nutritionist Jennifer Silverman explains, fat burning supplements claim to help you burn more calories, reduce your appetite, or make you feel full longer. Some even tout the ability to minimize the absorption of fat from the foods you eat. These lofty statements are appealing, but, if you want the cold, hard facts, here’s what you need to know.
What are the different types?
Silverman describes fat burning supplements as ‘glorified diet pills.’ She explains that they use various ingredients that raise our heart rate or impact our hormones. These include green tea extract, caffeine, fiber, exogenous ketones, and many other chemical compounds. While technically ‘natural,’ the high dosage of many of these so-called fat burners can complicate things inside our bodies. Board-Certified Cardiologist Luiza Petre gives the example of green tea extract. It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps to convert some of the fat stored in our bodies into free fatty acids, which could increase burning by 10-17 percent. Another one—green coffee bean extract—has caffeine and large levels of chlorogenic acid, which promotes weight loss. Petre explains that it lowers the absorption of glucose and fat in your gut, and decreases insulin levels to help metabolic function.
What are the risks?
The greatest threat to using fat burning supplements is the fact that they are poorly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, according to Silverman. There also hasn’t been a ton of scientific research behind their impact, which doesn’t bode well for your body. Silverman notes that since most of these products are relatively new, lengthy side effects are unknown. “Therefore, even if a study or trial boasts promising weight loss results, there’s no way of knowing if the weight loss is sustained and what side effects may result from long term use,” she adds. Of course, while there is reason to believe that they may have some promising immediate results, it’s not a perfect science and results will vary.
Petre says that if you’re interested in taking this type of supplement, it’s best to research not only the ingredients but also the company to ensure a quality product. Be mindful of side effects that you can pretty much guarantee. For example, anxiety, shaking fits, mood swings, gas, bloating, raised heart rate, and more. Some people may not suffer from these to an extreme extent. But, the ingredients in the supplements themselves could make you sensitive.
Do they work?
Silverman says that the verdict is still out, largely due to the fact that there is very few proven facts. “With most nutrition-related studies, it’s almost impossible to establish a causal relationship. There are a number of co-factors that contribute to weight loss. For example, say someone loses weight with a particular supplement. He/she may have also made other changes that impacted the weight loss—cut out alcohol or exercised during that time period,” she continues. “There’s not enough research out there to prove their effectiveness.”
Petre notes that supplements are not miracle pills. However, with a nutritionally sound diet and workout program in place, they could, in theory, enhance the weight loss process. “Fat burners do help curb your appetite, boost your energy, increase your core temperature (so you burn more calories), encourage fat for energy consumption, and raise your metabolism,” she shares. “You can’t dine on junk food or pizza and expect fat loss. Fat burners are a tool to help fight the weight loss battle, [which is] great when used correctly, [but] ineffective when not.”
The smartest—and healthiest—strategy is to clean up your diet. Additionally, think of supplements as a potential upgrade, but not your crutch. Silver shares that eating a variety of vegetables, limiting processed foods, and staying hydrated are all better practices.
Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement.