The multi billion dollar natural supplement industry is booming, and one of the most common reasons why people are reaching out for these products is for help in losing weight.

A recent review on this topic was undertaken by Wharton and colleagues, with a focus on the top 10 most advertised products in Canada. For each supplement, they summarized effectiveness of these supplements to result in weight loss, as well as potential safety concerns. Included in the review are:

  • bitter orange
  • capsinoid
  • chromium picolinate
  • conjugated linoleic acid
  • glucomannan
  • grean tea extract
  • psyllium
  • carnitine


They found that most of these supplements do not have evidence to support that they are effective for weight loss, and some have concerning side effects reported in association with them (eg kidney failure in association with bitter orange; liver failure with green tea extract).

We like to think that regulatory health agencies (eg Health Canada, or FDA in the US) are keeping us safe from potentially harmful remedies, and surely no product could make unsubstantiated claims…right??  Sadly, this is not the case, as the ‘evidence’ required to support claims is minimal. In the US, FDA approval is not required for natural supplements to be marketed, and the responsibility to ensure safety lies with the company. This is in very stark contrast to prescription medications for weight management (or any other health condition for that matter), which require clinical trials with proof of efficacy and clear documentation of any safety concerns.

As the authors write:

“It is therefore necessary to emphasize that natural supplements are not devoid of potential consequences, and while they are often heralded as a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals, they should still be regarded as medicines that can potentially have severe detrimental effects on health over time. This is especially pertinent due to lax natural-supplement regulatory approval and monitoring.”


Dr Sue Pedersen © 2019 

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