The Best Weight Loss Pills
There is no one weight loss pill that will zap away fat. But when combined with healthy food, exercise, and a doctor’s close eye, the best can help you kick-start and maintain an effective weight loss plan. We talked with doctors and combed through over 350 supplements to find the best weight loss pill for sustainable weight control that won't endanger your health or totally waste your money.
Alli is the the only weight loss pill proven effective for eliminating up to 25 percent of the fat you consume, and it's the only pill approved by the FDA. But those benefits come with some gnarly side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea if you don’t change up your diet.
Twinlab’s Forskohlii Diet Fuel isn’t a proven weight loss aid, but it contains several ingredients that show some evidence for helping with appetite control, like chromium, magnesium, and green tea leaf extract. Bonus: Unlike most supplements on the market, it doesn’t contain any questionable additives.
The Best Weight Loss Pills
The quest for weight loss in America supports a $20 billion industry. For anyone struggling for a healthier way to live, exercise and dieting alone can seem like a long, hard road — and many are looking for a little extra push. That’s often where diet pills come in.
"In almost all cases, additional research is needed to fully understand the safety and/or efficacy of a particular ingredient."
The problem? Where to begin. Over-the-counter weight loss supplements vary widely in terms of ingredients and side effects. They are poorly regulated, and can be dangerous if taken improperly. What’s more, most research conducted on weight loss supplements is dodgy and scientifically inconclusive — the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements states simply “the amount of scientific information available on these ingredients varies considerably … studies supporting a given ingredient’s use are small, of short duration, and/or of poor quality, limiting the strength of the findings. In almost all cases, additional research is needed to fully understand the safety and/or efficacy of a particular ingredient.”
That said, the doctors we we spoke to agreed that, under the right circumstances, supplements can provide a boost to a clean diet and consistent exercise plan. Dr. Donna Ryan, professor emerita of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, cautions that most over-the-counter supplements are bunk, but supports the use of Alli as an effective and safe supplement for weight loss. Its active ingredient, orlistat, is the only weight loss supplement that science considers safe and effective — it works by preventing your body from absorbing up to 25 percent of the fat you ingest from food.
And that right there is your answer: If you’re looking for a guaranteed way to boost your weight loss progress without getting a prescription, plan to shell out at least $33 for 20 days worth of Alli.
But what about the other weight loss supplements lining the aisles of drug stores and spamming your inbox? We were admittedly curious. So, we analyzed the ingredients lists of all the diet pills we could find — over 300 in total. While there’s no evidence to support that they’ll help you lose weight, they at least won’t be harmful to your health.
We like Twinlab Forskohlii Diet Fuel most. It’s a mix of magnesium, chromium, caffeine, medium-chain triglycerides, forskohlii root, and green tea extract, which purports to curb your appetite and aid in digestion. More important to us: There are no junk ingredients and its caffeine is in safe doses.
Our Pick for the Best Weight Loss Pills
Alli emerged is our overall top pick for one very good reason: it is the only FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss pill out there. Many supplements say they have “FDA-approved ingredients” or are manufactured in “FDA-approved facilities,” but this is just marketing trickery — a way to lend credibility to a product that has no proof backing its claims.
Unlike prescription drugs, supplements don’t need to go through the traditional FDA approval process. Manufacturers do have to submit their claims (for example, that their product increases metabolism) to the agency within 30 days of going to market. They also have to provide the address of their manufacturing facility so that the FDA can add it to their round of inspections (they check for things like a clean processing environment). Even so, supplements will often go to market before an inspection can take place.
The active ingredient in Alli, orlistat, has been subject to over 100 clinical studies. According to Dr. Ryan, orlistat functions by blocking the enzyme pancreatic lipase. “Pancreatic lipase breaks down ingested fat and allows (fat) to be absorbed,” she says. “Alli blocks the enzyme and fat can’t be absorbed. Alli produces weight loss because you are not absorbing the calories in the fat that passes through your body, and it also helps you stick with a diet that does not have large doses of energy-dense fat.”
Alli claims to prevent your body from absorbing up to 25 percent of the fat you ingest through food, and can boost your weight loss progress up to 50 percent: For every 2 pounds you might lose with just a healthy diet and exercise, Alli claims to help you lose 3 pounds.
The science backs up these bold claims. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that overweight individuals on orlistat who followed a low-calorie diet “lost and maintained a modest but medically significant amount of weight. The loss was twice as high as that of subjects taking placebo.”
At between $33 and $50 per bottle, Alli is far more expensive than other contenders. Suggested dosages are capped at three pills per day, one per meal with 15 grams of fat — a relief compared to other supplements that require the user to take a whopping nine pills per day. Taking more than three pills per day won’t help you lose weight faster, by the way. A $50 bottle yields just over a month’s worth of supplements.
There’s a big drawback, though: Alli’s main side effect is closely connected to the mechanism that makes it effective.
When your body doesn’t absorb fat, your digestive system eliminates it in uncomfortable and even painful ways. Dr. Ryan notes that Alli is a motivator to stick to a balanced, low-fat diet because if too much fat is ingested, you can experience severe gastrointestinal side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and oily anal leakage. Yikes!
Those unpleasant side effects are intimidating, but they’re also good motivators to develop and maintain a lower-calorie food plan. One more important thing to note: Alli can block your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene, so Dr. Ryan and the manufacturer recommend you take a multivitamin to compensate.
How We Found Our Other (Unproven) Top Pick
We started with a list of 360 supplements pooled from sites like Bodybuilders.com, Walgreens, Piping Rock, Amazon, and CAM Formulas, plus “natural supplements” you can find at your local health food store.
And then we got to work. Our goal: Find out if any of these pills might help you lose weight — and eliminate any that put your health at risk.
One of our first interviews was with Dr. Albert Grazia, the director of the Doctor of Health Sciences Program at the University of Bridgeport, who stated in no uncertain terms:
"In my over 20 years of nutritional practice, I have never suggested a diet pill to anyone interested in losing weight.”
Not a great start. But Dr. Grazia’s stance makes sense: Diet and exercise have proven to be safe and effective in weight loss, whereas the various compounds found in most diet pills simply have not. Alli is the exception.
As the research is so frustratingly inconclusive and most medical professionals recuse themselves from recommending diet pills at all, our main process for disqualifying products was essentially “do no harm.”
Weight loss supplements often contain ingredients that can seriously interfere with medication or medical conditions that could occur with obesity, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Pay attention to all the ingredients in your chosen supplement — and ask your doctor about them before putting anything in your body.
First, we cut all proprietary blends.
“Proprietary blend” is about as shady as it sounds. Manufacturers use “proprietary blend” in lieu of listing specific dosages of included ingredients. It means you are operating in the dark: Ingredients could be present in ineffective or even dangerous amounts or combinations. Dr. Grazia confirms, “Proprietary blends can be no more than marketing deception, used to fool consumers into thinking that if it’s a ‘proprietary blend’ that it must be good. There are no secret ingredients when it comes to supplements. Natural supplements cannot be patented and are available to all manufacturers.”
360CUT 360SLIM For Her, 360CUT 360STIM, Ab Cuts 5-in-1 Fat Fighter, Ab Cuts Lipo Cuts, Ab Cuts Sleek and Lean Super Burn, Adaptogen Science FURIAN, AllMax Nutrition Rapidcuts Femme, ANS Performance Diablo Inferno, ANS Performance HIT, Applied Nutriceuticals Fat Free, Applied Nutriceuticals ThermoVate, Applied Nutrition Green Tea Fat Burner Liquid Softgels, AST Dymetadrine Xtreme, Axis Labs SynthaLean, Beast Sports Nutrition 2 Shredded, Beast Sports Nutrition Carnitine, Betancourt Nutrition RIPPED JUICE EX2, Betancourt Nutrition TrimX3, Bikini Ready Weight Loss Catalyst, Bio-Science Institute ABSolute Fuel Xtreme, Bio-Science Institute ABSolute Fuel, Blue Star Nutraceuticals Blade, Blue Star Nutraceuticals CARNITINE LCLT, Body Fortress Super Thermo Blast, Bodybuilding.com Platinum Series INCINER-8, BPI Sports 24/7 Burn, BPI Sports B4, BPI Sports BURN XS, BPI Sports NITE-BURN, BPI Sports ROXY, BQuick Nutrition LEAN, BSN HYPER SHRED, Cellucor CLK, Cellucor Super HD, Cellucor SuperHD Xtreme, Controlled Labs Red ACID Reborn, Dymatize Dyma-Burn Xtreme, Dynamik Muscle Eviscerate, EPIQ EPIQ Ripped, EPIQ EPIQ Shred, Evogen Lipocide , FINAFLEX PX White (Pro Xanthine), FitMiss Burn, FitMiss Tone, Formutech Nutrition LEAN-EFX Refined, Formutech Nutrition Level II Super Thermogenic Capsules, Fuel:One Thermo Stack, GAT JetFUEL ACCELERATOR, GAT JetFUEL Pyro, GAT Jetfuel, Grenade Thermo Detonator, Gym Angel Slim Angel, Healthy ‘N Fit Advanced Fat Metabolizing Nutrients, HERdiet Carb and Fat Attack for Women, HIT Shape Pure Garcinia Lean, HIT Supplements Diva, HIT Supplements Raspberry Ketone Lean, HIT Supplements Torch, Human Evolution Core Burner Caps, Hybrid Hybrilean, Hydroxycut Caffeine Free, Hydroxycut Hardcore Weight Loss, Hydroxycut Max Weight Loss Dietary Supplement Rapid-Release Liquid-Caps, Hydroxycut Pro Clinical, Infinite Labs Final Cutz, Inner Armour CLA 1250 Elite, Inner Armour Thyrolean, Irwin Naturals High-Performance Ripped-Man, Irwin Naturals Triple-Tea Fat Burner, 75 Softgels, iSatori CLA, 40 Softgels, iSatori Curvelle, 100 Capsules, iSatori LIPO-DREX, 45 Thermo Capsules, John Scott’s Nitro Burn Extreme PM, 84 Capsules, John Scott’s Nitro Burn Extreme, 90 Capsules, John Scott’s Nitro MytoCharge, 80 Capsules, Lecheek Nutrition AMPilean Pink, 45 Capsules, Life Extension Integra-Lean Irvingia, 60 Vcaps, Lipozene Capsules, Magnum Nutraceuticals Heat Accelerated, 120 Capsules, MAN Lean Ph.D, 10 Capsules, MAN REM PM, 60 Capsules, Mega-Pro Mega Cut Fat Burner, 90 Capsules, MET-Rx Mega CLA Energy, 120 Rapid Release Softgels, Metabolic Diet LipoFlush, 180 Tablets, Metabolic Diet Thermocell 35, 120 Tablets, Metabolife ULTRA Advanced Weight Loss Formula, MHP Anadrox, 112 Capsules, MHP DOPAMITE, 30 Tablets, MHP Thyro-Slim, 21 Day Supply, Millennium Sport Shred-ULTRA, 90 Caps, Muscle Elements 212, 60 Capsules, Muscle Elements LeanWorks, 90 Capsules, MusclePharm Carnitine Core, 60 Capsules, MusclePharm CLA Core, 90 Softgels, MusclePharm Shred Matrix, 21 Capsules, MUTANT Stimutant, 90 Liquid Capsules, Myogenix AdiPro Energy, 60 Capsules, Myogenix AdiPro Max, 60 Capsules, Natrol AcaiBerry Diet, 60 Fast Capsules, Natrol Tropical Thin, 60 Capsules, Nature’s Truth Ultimate CLA Conjugated Linoleic Acids Leanlok Softgels, NatureWise Green Coffee Bean Extract, Neon Sport Thermo Rev, 90 Capsules, NLA for Her Her Carnitine, 60 Capsules, NLA for Her Shred Her, 60 Capsules, Nutrex Lipo-6 Black Hers Ultra Concentrate, 60 Black-Caps, Nutrex Lipo-6 Black Ultra Concentrate, 10 Black-Caps, OhYeah! Nutrition OhYeah! CLA Power, 30 Softgels, Olympian Labs FucoGreen, 60 Vcaps, Olympian Labs MaxCuts, 150 Capsules, Panthera Labs Diamond Fire X7, 120 Liquid Capsules, Performix Iridium Series SSTi, 60 Liquid Capsules, Performix SST GLOW, 60 Liquid Capsules, Performix SST, 60 Liquid Capsules, PharmaFreak RIPPED FREAK, 10 Hybrid Capsules, PhenELITE, Pro Supps Vanish, 90 Capsules, Pro Supps Vexxum, 5 Capsules, ProFight C.C.B., 120 Capsules, Prolab Cuts II Gold, 90 Tablets, Purely Inspired 100% Pure Garcinia Cambogia+ Gummies Fruit Burst, Purely Inspired Green Coffee Bean Tablets, Relacore Extra Max Weight Loss Aid, Relacore The Ultimate Super Fat Burning Belly Bulge Kit, RIVALUS MPOWER, 120 Capsules, RSP Nutrition QuadraLean, 30 Capsules, S.A.N. Tight, 60 Capsules, S.A.N. Tight! Xtreme Reloaded, 12 Hot Caps, SciVation Dialene, 90 Vegetarian Capsules, SD Pharmaceuticals CARNITINE 750, 120 Veggie Capsules, SD Pharmaceuticals GARCINIA CAMBOGIA 500, 60 Capsules, SD Pharmaceuticals RASPBERRY KETONE 200, 60 Capsules, Sera-Pharma Amidren Burner, 60 Capsules, SizeSlim Burner+Energy, 120 Capsules, SKALD Oxydynamic Fat Scorcher, SlimQuick Pure Maximum Strength Caplets, SlimQuick Pure Weight Loss Designed for Women, StrongGirl Smart Weight Loss, 120 Capsules, Supreme Sports Enhancements LipoTherm, 120 Capsules, Swole Sports Nutrition Turbo Shred, 60 Capsules, Top Secret Nutrition Ab Igniter Black, 14 Capsules, Twinlab Ripped Fuel 5x, 40 Tablets, Twinlab Ripped Fuel Extreme, 60 Capsules, Twinlab Ripped Fuel Physique, 96 Capsules, Twinlab RIPPED FUEL Pro-Series, 90 Capsules, Universal Nutrition Red Hot, 60 Capsules, Universal Nutrition Ripped Fast, 120 Capsules, USN Hyper-Cut Lipo XT, 60 Capsules, Vigor Labs Gut Cut, 60 Capsules, VPX MD2 Meltdown, 100 Capsules, Xenadrine Xenadrine Core, Zantrex Black Rapid Release Liquid Gels, Zantrex Weight Loss Dietary Supplement Capsules, Zoller Laboratories Zantrex-3 Fat Burner
Supplements with yohimbe bark or yohimbe bark extract were out, too.
Yohimbine – the active ingredient in yohimbe bark – might be a fat-burning compound and appetite suppressant, but it’s also a potentially dangerous stimulant. By increasing adrenaline levels in the body, it can produce a fasting state that can help you burn fat and eat less, but it’s also associated with extreme anxiety and can even trigger psychosis in those with psychological disorders. No good.
360CUT 360LEAN, GAT Jetfuel Superburn, Infinite Labs Elevate Final Cutz, MuscleTech Hydroxycut Hardcore Elite, MuscleTech Hydroxycut Hardcore Next Gen, MuscleTech Hydroxycut SX-7, Six Star Pro Nutrition Thermogenic Shred, True GRIT THERMO
We cut products with bitter orange extract.
When Ephedra was taken off the market in 2004 after being linked to heart arrhythmia, strokes, and death, many weight loss pill manufacturers replaced the highly effective stimulant with bitter orange extract. Bitter orange’s active ingredient, synephrine, works similarly. It can increase metabolism and reduce appetite, but it often reacts negatively when combined with other drugs.The National Institute of Health warns that existing research on its efficacy is shoddy; its connection with severe health issues like heart attack put it on the blacklist.
4 Dimension Nutrition Cycle 4 Black, Irwin Naturals Green Tea Fat Metabolizer, JYM Shred JYM, Mass Machine Nutrition MM180 Physio-Machine SUPREME, PEScience SHIFT, PrimaForce Syneburn, Sexy-Strong Burn
And anything with too much caffeine or caffeine anhydrous.
While caffeine can increase your metabolism, curb your appetite, and is considered safe in doses of up to 400mg per day, too much is dangerous. We cut products with more than 200 mg of caffeine per serving — the equivalent of a cup of coffee.
Caffeine anhydrous is a different ballgame: It’s a dehydrated, high-concentration form of caffeine that rapidly absorbs into the bloodstream and is prone to causing overdose. Taking an incorrect dosage of caffeine anhydrous (or other forms of concentrated caffeine like 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) can lead to high blood pressure, restlessness, irritability, nausea, and even death. Axed.
AllMax Nutrition Rapidcuts Shredded, Athletic Edge LIV, Black Skull KILLER 2F, Controlled Labs Red Ghost, ErgoGenix ErgoCut, EVLUTION NUTRITION TRANS4ORM, FUSION BODYBUILDING SUB-Q, Inner Armour Shred Factor, Myokem Pyroxamine, Neogenix Velocity 3.0, Nutrex Lipo 6 Rx, Prolab Thermo Fire, Top Secret Nutrition Ab Igniter, Weider Fat Burners
We also eliminated unnecessary or counterproductive additives.
Unsurprisingly, many supplement formulas are stuffed full of fillers and junk like stabilizers and dyes. Even our top pick, Alli, contains titanium dioxide (a potentially carcinogenic whitening agent) and a raft of other additives that would normally mean we'd never recommend it. But that's the trade-off of being the only proven OTC weight loss pill on the market. While color additives and preservatives are considered “food-safe” by the FDA, new research indicates they could be linked to physical and behavioral side effects. From a strictly scientific standpoint, we can’t argue that ingesting these ingredients will definitely harm you — but avoiding additives can’t hurt, so we erred on the side of purity.
We cut anything with silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent), calcium silicate (another anti-caking agent), propylene glycol (antifreeze), shellac (found in nail polish and wood finish), maltodextrin (an artificial sweetener), and color additives like FD&C Red #40, Blue #1, and Yellow #6. None of these are meant to promote weight loss; all of them have been linked to nasty side effects.
4 Dimension Nutrition Raspberry Ketone Green Coffee Bean, 60 Capsules, 4 Dimension Nutrition Triple Garcinia, 120 Caplets, All American EFX Lean Fix, 60 Capsules, Alli Weight Loss Aid Capsules, Applied Nutriceuticals 7-Keto, 60 Capsules, Applied Nutriceuticals L-Carnitine, 60 Capsules, Applied Nutrition Maximum Strength Green Tea Triple Fat Burner Liquid Softgels, Axis Labs ADIPO-X PM, 60 Capsules, Betancourt Nutrition L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, 60 Capsules, Better Body Sports C-Bolic, 60 Capsules, Beverly International Lean Out, 120 Capsules, Beverly International Quadracarn, 120 Tablets, BioGenetic Laboratories Garcinia TRIM, 120 Capsules, Calorease FBCx Easy Weight Management Aid, Controlled Labs CARNmore, 120 Tablets, Controlled Labs Red Trim, 30 Capsules, Doctor’s Best Best L-Carnitine Fumarate, 60 Veggie Caps, Dymatize L-Carnitine Xtreme, 60 Capsules, EVLUTION NUTRITION Carnitine 500, 60 Capsules, FINAFLEX ALC CLA, 120 Capsules, GAT Garcinia, 90 Vegetarian Capsules, Huntington Labs Pure Forskolin, Kaged Muscle Clean Burn, 180 Vegetable Capsules, Kaged Muscle L-Carnitine, 120 Vegetable Capsules, Kaizen Yohimbine HCL, 90 Capsules, Labrada Jamie Eason Signature Series Acetyl L-Carnitine, 60 capsules, Magnum Nutraceuticals Carne Diem, 96 Capsules, MAN Scorch, 168 Thermo-Caps, MRM L-Carnitine 500, 60 Tablets, MuscleTech Hydroxycut CLA Elite Next Gen, 100 Raspberry Flavored Softgels, MuscleTech Hydroxycut Hardcore Next Gen Non-Stimulant, 30 Capsules, MuscleTech Hydroxycut SX-7 Non- Stim, 70 Capsules, MuscleTech Platinum 100% Carnitine, 180 Capsules, MuscleTech Platinum Garcinia Plus, 21 Caplets, MUTANT Carnitine, 120 Capsules, Nature’s Design Pure Forskolin Extract, Olympian Labs Green Tea Extract, 60 Vegetarian Capsules, PEScience Forskolin-95, 60 Capsules, PrimaForce Alcalean, 100 Vegetarian Capsules, Purely Inspired 100% Pure Raspberry Ketones+ Tablets, Purely Inspired Garcinia Cambogia+ Tablets, RSP Nutrition L-Carnitine, 10 Capsules, S.A.N. L-CARNITINE POWER, 60 Capsules, S.A.N. Raspberry Ketones, 90 Capsules, S.A.N. Ultra-Pure Green Tea, 60 Capsules, Source Naturals Garcinia, 90 Tablets, Source Naturals L-Carnitine, 120 Capsules, Top Secret Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia + Green Coffee Bean Extract, 90 Veggie Caps, Top Secret Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia + White Kidney Bean Extract, 90 Veggie Caps, Top Secret Nutrition Green Coffee Bean Extract, 90 Capsules, Top Secret Nutrition L-Carnitine Plus Green Coffee Bean Extract, 60 Veggie Caps
That left us with 126 supplements that won’t necessarily help you lose weight — but they also won’t hurt you.
Out of that group, we ditched “natural” or “organic” weight loss aids. Ultimately, these were cut because there’s just no evidence that they work: “Organic” and “natural” are meaningless distinctions in the supplement market, and Dr. Grazia warns that they may be just as chemically processed as the alternative.
In addition, according to Grazia, many of the natural weight loss aids on the market contain ingredients that act as diuretics — therefore, the weight loss can actually be from water loss rather than adipose tissue. Other weight loss aids may contain “natural” stimulants that aren’t safe for people with hypertension, a common condition associated with obesity.
We hand-picked from there, homing in on supplements that included a mix of the most promising ingredients. Amongst our list of nice-to-haves: chromium, magnesium, green tea, caffeine, and raspberry ketones. We take a deeper look at their health benefits below.
Our Unproven (But Safe) Alternative Pick
While it won’t work as an outright weight loss aid, Twinlab Forskohlii Diet Fuel contains many ingredients that could offer some benefit for appetite control and organ function. But most importantly, its mix of chromium, magnesium, green tea leaf extract, forskohlin, and caffeine won’t harm you. Let’s see how it all breaks down.
Chromium can aid with digestion and help your body metabolize glucose. It might also help you build muscle mass — key for raising metabolism and keeping fat loss sustainable.
Magnesium is linked to an array of benefits, including improving liver function, lowering bad cholesterol, and strengthening your bones. The caffeine in green tea extract could increase alertness and give you a nice dose of catechins — antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health and fat loss. A day’s worth of Forskohlii Diet Fuel contains 100mg of caffeine, which is a bit more than an average cup of coffee. It’s enough to give your metabolism a boost without creating counteractive side effects.
A rare bonus ingredient in the Forskohlii Diet Fuel: MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides. MCTs are a form of saturated fatty acid thought to aid in weight management by increasing satiety and energy expenditure. (Ever heard the suggestion to eat a tablespoon of coconut oil a day to lose weight? MCTs are why.)
In fact, the only ingredient in Forskohlii Diet Fuel that didn’t quite check out is what it’s named for. Forskohlin, or forskohlii root extract, is a common ingredient in diet pills — popping up in 22 of our contenders — that manufacturers claim curbs appetite and increases fat metabolism. The National Institute of Health states that there have only been a few short-term clinical trials on the efficacy of forskohlin. Thus far, the research suggests that it has no effect on body weight, but it also confirms that there are no safety concerns reported as of yet. While we preferred to cut unnecessary additives, this one isn’t a worry yet.
At $13 for a bottle of 60 capsules (one month’s worth), Forskohlii Diet Fuel is 80 percent more cost-efficient than Alli — but scientifically, Alli is the better bet.
Another Safe Option
NOW LipoTrim ($12): NOW LipoTrim didn’t make the final cut because it lacks caffeine, green coffee extract, and green tea extract. But it is chock-full of other things that could give you bursts of energy and aid in your workouts. Power duo chromium and magnesium make appearances, as do vitamin B6 and Choline (for increased energy), inositol (for circulation), and taurine and l-carnitine (two amino acids that serve as protein building blocks for building muscle). NOW LipoTrim might not have concrete weight loss aids, but its energy-increasing nutrients could function as workout boosters to help you stay on track.
Our Top Picks at A Glance
A Closer Look at What Works (And What Doesn’t)
This is the closest thing the diet pill world has to a silver bullet. It’s the only ingredient clinically proven to lead to modest weight loss when taken as directed and in conjunction with a specialized low-fat diet. In over 100 clinical studies, orlistat was shown to be an effective pancreatic lipase inhibitor. Basically, it binds lipase (fats) together so that enzymes from the liver can’t break it down and absorb it into the body. Fat passes through the body and is eliminated through the bowels. It blocks up to 25 percent of the fat you eat, but that effective elimination comes with unpleasant side effects like oily anal leakage and gastrointestinal distress. That discomfort is magnified if you eat extra-fatty foods. It’s available as prescription medication Xenical, and in a half-dose as Alli.
In addition to orlistat, the only ingredient scientifically proven to increase calorie burning is caffeine. In weight loss pills, caffeine appears by itself, as yerba mate, or as green tea extract. Caffeine is a clean, safe way to boost your metabolism and shrink your appetite because it increases your body’s resting metabolic rate, which in turn increases the “thermic effect” of a meal — in other words, how quickly and efficiently your metabolism breaks down your food when you eat.
Chromium and magnesium
Integrative dietitian, lifestyle coach, and dietary nutritionist Esther Blum throws some support behind these naturally occurring elements: She recommends chromium and magnesium to balance blood sugar, or glucose, which your body uses for immediate energy. Imbalanced blood sugar (your body having access to too much glucose at one time, or not enough) can lead to crashes in mood or energy, which in turn can result in intense cravings and poor food decisions. Chromium and magnesium might help mitigate this — but know that there’s little hard evidence they have any significant impact on weight loss.
Raspberry Ketones are the hip new weight loss fad. Basically, these are chemicals found in red raspberries that act upon a hormone called adiponectin, which might reduce appetite and increase fat burning. Ketones are a natural byproduct of a process called ketosis wherein a body deprived of carbohydrates and in need of quick energy will start to burn fat instead. This effect can be produced by fasting or while on a strict ketogenic diet – but it isn’t necessarily safe. A buildup of ketones in your blood can cause severe dehydration.
And now for the dismal science: The only published studies on raspberry ketones and their efficacy in weight loss were conducted on mice, and while they have been shown to increase calorie burning, the concentrations needed to produce these effects are quite high.
Green coffee bean and green tea extract
Green coffee bean extract is a fruit extract and comes in a decaffeinated form. Proprietors claim it could inhibit fat accumulation and increase your body’s ability to metabolize sugars. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, scientifically: The NIH cautions that the clinical trials conducted on green coffee bean extract are of “poor methodological quality,” but it also states that research has found a “possible modest effect on body weight.” Considering that the NIH describes almost every ingredient we researched as having “no effect on body weight whatsoever,” this places green coffee bean extract slightly above the rest. A close cousin, green tea extract, offers similar modest effects on body weight, but with the advantage of having undergone tests of “good methodological quality.”
Did You Know?
Not everyone should take weight loss pills.
Although Dr. Grazia continues to recommend diet and exercise for proper weight management, he suggests that a good candidate for diet pills may be a “healthy overweight person who is less than moderately obese.” According to the CDC, a “healthy overweight person” has a BMI of between 25.0-29.9, and no co-occurring health issues like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. (It’s extra-important to check with your doctor on this: Some ingredients in diet pills — like conjugated lineoleic acid — can interfere with these conditions or medications associated with them.)
Your BMI is a measurement that compares your weight in reference to your height and can be useful, but not definitive, in assessing risks for weight-related illness. Due to concerns about obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure, Dr. Grazia suggests that individuals who are in the obese territory (a BMI of 30.0 or over) or anyone with health issues should consult a doctor before moving forward with over-the-counter weight loss supplements. You can calculate your BMI on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's website.
Skipping meals won’t help you lose weight.
Experts warn that eating too little (with or without the aid of diet pills) will slow your metabolism and ultimately increase your body’s tendency to store fat when you return to a normal diet. Also, not eating enough can throw your body into starvation mode, and your body will consume muscle mass. This isn’t just a vanity issue: The more muscle your body has, the more calories it burns naturally. Muscle loss will work against your fat-loss goals!
Neither will appetite suppressants.
The use of appetite suppressants or supplements with stimulants can also have a backslide effect once you stop. While they may cause a short-term boost in energy, when you stop taking them your hunger could roar back something fierce, erasing the gains you made exercising.
Esther Blum joined Dr. Grazia in cautioning against using appetite suppressants. “People who restrict their calories destroy their metabolisms and experience long-term effects of slow metabolisms and increased hunger,” Blum says. “The answer lies in supporting liver function and detoxifying the liver. Diets stop working because the liver becomes congested and is no longer able to metabolize fat from the body, especially if you are adding booze and sugar and junky chemicals into the mix.”
Diuretics aren’t a long-term solution.
None of the supplements we recommended contained diuretics, which can cause dangerous levels of dehydration. Often marketed as water pills, diuretics like PharmaFreak RIPPED or GNC TotalLean Waterex capsules work via false promise: By forcing your body to expel water, they make you feel thinner very quickly. But the loss of water can’t last, and as soon as you stop taking them, your body will gain water weight back fast.
Always tell your doctor if you are taking other medications.
The FDA says simply: “Mixing medications and dietary supplements can endanger your health.” Even small amounts of excess vitamins, stimulants, or minerals can change the way prescription medications are absorbed into your bloodstream, making them more or less potent and potentially causing physical side effects.
Here's how to get the most out of your weight loss pills
- Enjoy moderate food intake. To paraphrase and expand on Michael Pollan’s famous rules: Eat food, not too little, not too much, mostly plants. Choose a diet plan that fits your personality, lifestyle, and eating preferences, and consult with your doctor or a nutritionist for specifics.
- Get regular exercise. Studies show that any increase in physical activity can help you shed pounds, particularly if you have a sedentary job. Building muscle mass will help you keep the fat off and raise your metabolism.
- Drink plenty of decaffeinated fluids. Proper hydration will aid in exercise and overall physical performance while maintaining metabolism.
- Get on a regular sleep schedule. Poor sleep can lead to weight gain, erode healthy exercise habits, and lead to bad food decisions.
- Be realistic. Set realistic, attainable goals for weight loss. Aim for losing 5 percent of your body weight and see how you feel. Plan to lose no more than 1-2 pounds a week by burning 500-1,000 more calories per day than you consume. That’s a sustainable level that makes it easier to not fall off the wagon or get discouraged.
The Best Weight Loss Pills: Summed Up
- Acheson, K. J., Zahorska-Markiewicz, B., Pittet, P. H., Jequier, E. (1980). Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 33 (5), 989-97.
- Drew, B. S., Dixon, A. F., Dixon, J.B. (2007). Obesity management: Update on orlistat. Vascular Health and Risk Management, 3 (6), 817-821.
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