Health and Fitness

Do Weight Loss and Diet Pills Work?

The majority of these infomercial-ready weight loss pills work by suppressing your appetite, increasing fat burning, or reducing how you absorb calories. But just because they can help you drop weight doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to last — or that it’s safe.

There is evidence that some weight loss pills can be used safely to help you hit your goals. But taking just any diet pills you find in the supplement aisle can be dangerous.

Weight loss pills make a lot of promises, but how do you know it’s the real deal? Here’s where 14 popular diet pills stand:

So what does science have to say about diet pills? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research to prove or disprove that many weight loss pills work. Here’s what we know.

1. Apple cider vinegar pills

Does it work? Probably not.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is essentially fermented apples that turn into vinegar. This can be made into pills and gummies marketed for weight loss. The acetic acid, B vitamins, and antioxidants in ACV may offer some health benefits. But taking apple cider vinegar for weight loss isn’t proven and studies are pretty limited.

A small 2004 study found that vinegar may have a role in regulating blood sugar after meals. A small 12-week study published in 2018 also found that participants who supplemented a reduced-calorie diet with ACV lost more weight than those who only followed the diet.

2. Keto pills (e.g., Rapid Tone)

Does it work? Technically, yes — but not in the long run.

“Keto pills” is an umbrella term for anything that claims it can help get your body into ketosis. The “Shark Tank” favorite Rapid Tone is one of these products.

These diet pills are effective at getting your body into a fat-burning state of ketosis. Research has shown that people in a ketogenic state have increased satiety hormones and decreased hunger hormones, which helps suppress appetite.

But even though these weight loss pills will help you shed pounds fast, it’s very likely the weight will return when you stop taking the pills. Studies show once people stop a ketogenic diet, hormones suppressing appetite increase and the weight comes back.

But that’s not a reason to take keto pills forever. Going keto long-term may also lead to negative health effects like nutrient deficiencies, low blood pressure, fatty liver disease, kidney stones, and eating disorders.

3. Water pills

Does it work? No. You’ll probably only lose 3 to 4 pounds of water weight, not actual fat.

Over-the-counter and prescription water pills are diuretics, meaning they make you pee by triggering your kidneys to get rid of extra water and salt. This helps you lose water weight and bloat.

A 2004 study found that water pills had basically no effect on weight loss. The pounds will return once you go back to your usual lifestyle. Plus, water pills can come with sketchy and even dangerous side effects like dehydration, headaches, cramping, dizziness, impotence, and seizures.

4. Caffeine pills

Does it work? Technically, yes — but not in the long run.

Caffeine may aid in weight loss by boosting your metabolism and fat burning, but it’s not likely to work for very long. That’s because your body builds up a tolerance to its effects.

A 2015 study comparing people who drank coffee and caffeinated beverages to those who did not found that the caffeinated peeps lost more weight. But it’s just not proven for lasting results.

5. Green tea extract

Does it work? Maybe.

Green tea extract often comes in a pill form with other fat-burning ingredients. The general idea is that the caffeine and antioxidants in green tea supplements can aid in fat burning.

According to a 2013 review of studies, some research has found that green tea extract can help with weight loss, but there’s not enough evidence to say for sure. It definitely won’t just melt away the pounds without diet changes and exercise.

6. Green coffee bean extract

Does it work? Maybe.

Green coffee beans (unroasted coffee beans) are another big weight loss supplement on the market that uses caffeine.

The caffeine in green coffee beans is thought to help weight loss by burning and inhibiting fat. Chlorogenic acid in the extract also slows down the breakdown of carbs in your digestive system. But there haven’t been many promising studies that weren’t funded by supplement companies.

A small, 8-week study found 20 subjects taking green coffee bean extract experienced more weight loss, reduced BMI, and suppressed appetite. But this small sample size isn’t enough to prove it works for everyone.

A 2011 review of three clinical trials also found the supplement helped with weight loss, but the authors stated there’s no clinical data available to conclude it works.

7. Hydroxycut

Does it work? Probably not. There are no reputable studies on the supplement itself, and online reviews are extremely mixed.

One of the most marketed and well-known weight loss pills, Hydroxycut is extremely controversial.

Over the years, the supplement has caused liver damage and heart-related deaths and has been recalled by the FDA numerous times for containing harmful ingredients like ephedra. Since it went back on shelves in 2010, Hydroxycut has changed its ingredients, but most medical professionals will caution you against using it.

Today’s Hydroxycut is a mix of caffeine, lady’s mantle extract, wild olive extract, komijn extract, and wild mint extract.

There are few to no studies on the different types of Hydroxycut, but we do know caffeine may help with weight loss.

8. Alli (orlistat)

Does it work? Yes. This one looks legit if you eat right and exercise too.

Alli is the lower-dose, over-the-counter version of orlistat (it’s also sold as the prescription drug Xenical).

In 2010, the FDA published a safety review of orlistat when people reported serious liver damage. The FDA could not find evidence that orlistat was the cause, but Alli changed its formula anyway.

The orlistat in Alli helps your intestines absorb less dietary fat by inhibiting the digestive enzyme lipase that breaks down fat. When you take Alli with a meal, roughly 25 percent of the fat you eat won’t be broken down — it’ll simply go straight through your bowels.

Numerous studies have shown that people who take orlistat with a calorie-restricted diet and exercise will lose more weight. But you don’t necessarily need it: A 2010 study actually found that eating a low carb diet was just as effective for weight loss as taking orlistat while eating a low fat diet.

Plus, Alli can come with uncomfy GI side effects like oily stools, diarrhea, fecal spotting, incontinence, and urgent bowel movements.

9. Garcinia cambogia

Does it work? Maybe.

Garcinia cambogia is a fruit that looks like a little green pumpkin. An extract from it is sold in pill form for weight loss.

Garcinia cambogia contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is thought to suppress appetite. A 2011 study found that garcinia cambogia led to an average weight loss of about 2 pounds over several weeks. But more research is needed to clarify whether it works.

This diet pill is also linked to several reports of liver injury so it’s not risk-free.

10. Glucomannan

Does it work? Yes. But with a healthy diet.

Glucomannan is an herbal supplement that’s extracted from elephant yam as a water-soluble dietary fiber.

Glucomannan is kind of a science experiment in your gut. Once ingested, it absorbs water and turns into a gel. This helps you feel full.

Research shows that glucomannan works when paired with a healthy diet and can also improve blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol. A 2005 study found that glucomannan helped participants lose weight while on a 1,200-calorie diet but this is significantly lower than the average calorie intake (about a 52 percent reduction for men and 40 percent for women).

11. Conjugated linoleic acid

Does it work? Yes, but it can really mess you up in the long term.

Conjugated linoleic acid, aka CLA, is a natural fatty acid used as a supplement for weight loss. CLA is thought to reduce appetite, break down fat, and boost metabolism.

A 2007 review of 18 studies found that participants taking CLA consistently lost weight for 6 months. However, the side effects are very serious and worth consideration. CLA can cause digestive issues and some nasty side effects (including fatty liver, inflammation, and insulin resistance) if used long term.

12. Forskolin

Does it work? Not likely. We know basically nothing about it.

Forskolin is extracted from the roots of the Indian coleus plant, a cousin of mint.

Forskolin is thought to help burn fat by raising your cells’ level of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a compound that helps break down stored fat. But TBH not much is known about this plant or how it affects weight loss.

There’s simply not enough data and too much conflicting information to tell if it’s safe, let alone if it works. So it’s best to avoid this pill until we have more research.

13. Bitter orange (synephrine)

Does it work? Probably, but its side effects can be dangerous.

Bitter orange has a variety of uses in traditional Chinese medicine, such as helping with heartburn and nasal congestion and aiding in weight loss.

The synephrine in bitter orange has very similar weight loss properties to ephedrine, the main component of ephedra (which was banned by the FDA for causing heart attacks and strokes).

While it’s similar to ephedrine, synephrine is less potent. It potentially helps weight loss by reducing appetite and helping you burn more fat. But, there haven’t been many studies on synephrine and the side effects can be major.

The NCAA lists synephrine as a banned stimulant for its athletes. The synephrine in bitter orange can cause heart, digestive, and circulation issues and is potentially addictive.

14. Prescription pills

Do they work? Maybe.

OK, so technically there are more than 14 pills on this list. There are several prescription drugs used to aid weight loss, but these are typically only prescribed for folks who are obese or overweight. These are not a quick fix to help someone shed a few pounds.

Prescription weight loss pills generally work by suppressing appetite and are combined with diet and exercise. Most are designed to support long-term weight loss plans created with a healthcare professional.

The most popular prescription weight loss prescription pills are:

So do they actually work? That’s up for debate. Contrave, Belviq*, Phentermine, and Qsymia have only been studied in participants who are obese and overweight. Most of these meds show pretty minor weight loss and only Qsymia has shown somewhat promising results after a year.

Metformin is actually a diabetes medication used to regulate blood sugar levels and its overall weight loss effects are also inconclusive.



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