Fact or Fiction? 5 Fat Burning Supplements
Fat burn, increased metabolism, appetite suppression. These are the glamorous phrases surrounding a multitude of natural, stimulant-free, supplements flooding the market today. The promise of weight loss provided by a small pill is attractive, especially when the pill is derived from natural ingredients. There is no place like the internet when it comes to hype about natural supplements that support weight loss. Online communities where both fitness professionals and general users can share stories about their enthusiasm and disappointment regarding these supplements are numerous and growing. More often than not, people are making claims about natural supplements that provide encouragement.
a meal of pills – modern living[/caption]But when these claims are not concieved by thorough laboratory testing on humans, they fail to produce valid evidence. This issue begs the question: How many of these supplements actually have scientific research supporting these claims? Let’s take a look at some common supplements that are touted as effective weight loss aids and see what the most recent research has to say about each.
1. Chromium Picolinate
Chromium Picolinate is an organic compound of the mineral Chromium and a naturally occurring derivative of Tryptophan, Picolinic Acid. This trace mineral is extremely popular as a weight loss aid because it is believed to increase the efficiency of insulin levels, which stabilize the body’s blood sugar levels. It has also become popular among body builders due to a recent claim that it can help increase lean muscle mass.
There have been many studies published on the effects of this supplement, but the results are contradictory. A 12 week , double-blind, placebo-controlled trial by Yazaki, et al. (2010) published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concluded that Chromium Picolinate did not affect the weight loss of overweight, but healthy adults. In addition, the FDA currently does not support any of the claims regarding the effectiveness of Chromium Picolinate in reducing insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, elevated blood sugar levels, and kidney disease, despite receiving multiple health claim petitions. As far as this supplement works for increasing lean muscle mass, a study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness by Trent and Thieding-cancel (1995) found that Chromium Picolinate did not support a reduction in body fat nor did it support an increase in lean muscle mass as compared to a placebo group.
These results seem disheartening, but fitness experts still seem enthusiastic about the supplements effects. If you are still curious about it, the National Institute of Health recommends adults taking 20-35 mcg of Chromium daily, but you are probably already getting enough with a balanced diet.
2. Raspberry Ketone
Raspberry Ketone is one of the major aromatic compounds of red raspberries. Basically, it is a chemical that gives the raspberry its scent. Many fitness professionals have claimed that Raspberry Ketones speed up metabolism and create feelings of satiety. This is likely because the research seems encouraging.
A study by Morimoto et al. (2005) found Raspberry Ketone to have an anti-obese function. Participants who were fed a high fat diet gained significantly less weight while supplemented with Raspberry Ketone than those fed the same high fat diet without Raspberry Ketone. However, the study yielded these compelling results because the participants were mice, not humans. This study and similar ones, also conducted on mice, have given Raspberry Ketones the potential of having an anti-obesity function. However, there are no double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments at present that have yielded the same results in human subjects. That said, this supplement is lacking the scientific evidence in human test subjects to back the claims found on the internet.
3. Garcinia Cambogia / Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA)
Garcinia Cambogia, also known as Malabar Tamarind, is an evergreen tree with flowering fruits that are shaped like small pumpkins. When the fruit is dried and broken down into powder, it is rich with Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA) – which has become popularized as a weight loss aid. HCA has been shown in animal research to reduce the conversion of carbs into fat by inhibiting certain enzyme processes, but again, this is not the case with human studies.
One famous study published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association (Heymsfield et al. 1998), which included 135 overweight human test subjects randomly assigned to either a placebo or 1500 mg of HCA (Garcinia Cambogia), per day for 12 weeks, while on calorie restricted diets, concluded that HCA failed to produce any significant weight loss results as compared to the placebo. Controversy was sparked by the results of this study due to the fact that participants were fed high fiber diets, which may have affected the actual absorption of HCA. Although the current evidence for the potential weight loss effects of HCA in humans is discouraging, it is not conclusive.
A similar 8 week, placebo-controlled study (Preuss et al. 2004) was conducted in obese men and women in 2004 in India and the results were surprising. Participants who took 500 mg of HCA 3 times per day before meals, while on 2000 calorie diets with 30 minutes of daily walking exercise, experienced 215% greater weight loss than the participants in the placebo group. The extreme variation of results leaves room for interpretation and further research on the effects of HCA. If you’re curious about trying it out, I would suggest following the same procedures as the subjects in the successful Preuss et al. study: about 500 mg of HCA 30 minutes before 3 meals per day, with 30 minutes of daily exercise.
A soluble fiber derived from the Konjac root, Glucomannan is often recommended for weight loss. It is believed to possess heart benefits by suppressing hepatic cholesterol synthesis and increasing fecal removal of cholesterol containing acids. It is also commonly marketed as a combination supplement to Garcinia.
Despite the positive suggestions from a critical review by Keithley and Swanson (2005) on the effects of Glucomannan in promoting satiety and fecal energy loss, a later study by Keithley et al. (2013) published in the Journal of Obesity, revealed conflicting information. They conducted a placebo-controlled, 8 week study with 53 overweight participants, and administered 1.33 g of Glucomannan 3 times per day before meals to the experimental group, with a placebo given to the control group. After 8 weeks, the participants on Glucomannan didn’t lose any more weight, nor experience change in body composition (hunger, fullness or changes in their Body Mass Index) when compared to the participants on the placebo. The research does not support the claims of weight loss management when it comes to Glucomannan. However, this fiber is still extremely beneficial in aiding the body with digestion and excretion.
5. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated Linoleic Acid, also known as CLA, is a group of geometrical and positional isomers of linoleic acid. CLA is not produced naturally in the human body, but is well absorbed through certain foods. The best natural sources of CLA are grass-fed beef and raw dairy products that come from grass-fed cattle. CLA is touted as a weight loss aid by physicians, fitness professionals and regular people, and the research actually backs this claim.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in China and published in Nutrition (2012) tested the effect of a 50% mixture of two active CLA isomers, Tonalin and Naturslim, on 63 overweight men and women. They received 1.7 g of CLA twice daily with milk for 12 weeks. The results? Compared to the placebo group, the body weight, BMI, total fat mass, fat percentage and waist-to-hip ratio of the subjects taking CLA actually decreased. Plus, there were no adverse effects. These results have sparked other studies on this fatty acid, and the results have been similarly encouraging. More research needs to be conducted on the variations and dosing of CLA, but the NYU Langone Medical Center recommends 3-5 g of CLA as an appropriate dosage for everyday use.
As the research demonstrates, some supplements are touting these claims from pure speculation, others are supported by animal studies, and a select few have sound research in human studies. The most important aspect of supplementing is investigating whether or not the claims made about the supplement are legitimately supported by research. Most supplements have studies that you can easily access on the internet to find further information. But there are far more supplements crowding the shelves that make extremely attractive claims about weight loss based on clinically insignificant data. Beyond the actual research, little information about supplements is reliable. Further, it is important to remember that natural supplements for weight loss likely will not do anything for you if you are not already taking healthy weight loss steps; supplements are tools, not miracle pills.
- Chen, C., Lin, Y.H., Huang, H.P., Hsu, W., Houng, J.Y., Huang, C.K., (2012). Effect of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation on weight loss and body fat composition in a Chinese population. Nutrition, 28(5,) 559-565. DOI: 10.1016/j.nut.2011.09.008
- www.fda.gov, (2014). Qualified Health Claims: Letter of Enforcement Discretion – Chromium Picolinate and Insulin Resistance(Docket No. 2004Q-0144). [online] Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm073017.htm [Accessed 2 Jul. 2014].
- Hara, M., Inoue, S., Morimoto, C., Okuda, H., Satoh, Y., & Tsujita, T. (2005). Anti-Obese Action of Raspberry Ketone. Life Sciences, 77(2), 195-204. Doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2004.12.029
- Heymsfield SB, Allison DB, Vasselli JR, Pietrobelli A, Greenfield D, Nunez C. Garcinia cambogia (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Potential Antiobesity Agent: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 1998;280(18):1596-1600. doi:10.1001/jama.280.18.1596.
- Joyce K. Keithley, Barbara Swanson, Susan L. Mikolaitis, et al., “Safety and Efficacy of Glucomannan for Weight Loss in Overweight and Moderately Obese Adults,” Journal of Obesity, vol. 2013, Article ID 610908, 7 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/610908
- NYU Langone Medical Center, (2014). Sala Institute for Child and Family Centered Care. [online] Available at: http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21676 [Accessed 3 Jul. 2014].
- Ods.od.nih.gov, (2014). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Chromium — Health Professional Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Chromium-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2014].
- Preuss, H. G., Bagchi, D., Bagchi, M., Rao, C. V. S., Dey, D. K. and Satyanarayana, S. (2004), Effects of a natural extract of (–)-hydroxycitric acid (HCA-SX) and a combination of HCA-SX plus niacin-bound chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract on weight loss. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 6: 171–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-8902.2004.00328.x
- Schardt, D. (2012). Seeing through sketchy claims. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 39(9), 9-11.
- Theiding-Cancel, D. , Trent, L.K. (1995). Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Body Composition. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 35(4), 273-280. Retrieved from:
- V., G., R., T., L., & Roy, A. (2011). Garcinia cambogia (Malabar Tamarind): A Pharmacological Review. Journal OF Pharmacy Research. 4(5), 1464-1466.
- Yazaki, Y., Faridi, Z., Yingying, M., Ali, A., Northrup, V., Niike, V., & … Katz, D.L. (2010). A Pilot Study of Chromium Picolinate for Weight Loss, Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 16(3), 291-299.