Weight loss pills show little proof of actually working, misleading claims could harm dieters

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Are weight loss pills just a waste of money? A new study finds dietary supplements which are marketed to help people boost their metabolism, burn fat, and curb appetite actually show little proof of doing anything at all.

A team with The Obesity Society says there is “a lack of strong evidence” these supplements actually work. Moreover, researchers warn that their allegedly misleading claims “have the potential to harm patients.”

The findings will likely shock millions of men and women hoping to get “beach body ready” in time for the summer.

“Our findings are important for clinicians, researchers, and industry alike as they suggest the need for rigorous evaluation of products for weight loss,” says corresponding author Professor John Batsis, a nutritionist at the University of North Carolina, in a media release.

“Only then can we produce data that allows clinicians to provide input and advice with a higher degree of certainty to our patients.”

Less than 20 weight loss pill trials actually produced results

There are literally hundreds of weight loss supplements in an industry making billions of dollars each year. These products range from cabbage and green tea extract to the shellfish sugar chitosan, guar gum, and conjugated linoleic acid. Study authors estimate that one in three Americans trying to lose weight have turned to dietary supplements at some point.

The analysis by The Obesity Society (TOS) reviewed hundreds of existing studies. Most showed users failed to shed their excess weight. Prof. Batsis suggests manufacturers work with academics to design high quality clinical trials for their products.

Patients often struggle to lose or maintain weight because therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are ineffective. It is also difficult to access healthcare professionals who provide treatments for obesity.

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements now evaluates information and supports ongoing research. TOS decided it was important to examine non-FDA therapies to guide its membership by pooling data on 315 randomized controlled trials. The team discovered only 52 had a low risk of bias and were reliable enough for scientists to consider them effective.

Of these, just 16 demonstrated significant before-and-after differences in comparison to placebo (non-working) diet pills. However, weight loss in these trials ranged from 10.5 ounces to nearly 11 pounds.

Finding safer and reliable ways to manage obesity

TOS’s Clinical Committee, led by study co-author Dr. Srividya Kidambi, recommends doctors consider the findings when advising patients on taking weight loss drugs.

“Public and private entities should provide adequate resources for obesity management,” adds Dr. Kidambi. “We call on regulatory authorities to critically examine the dietary supplement industry, including their role in promoting misleading claims and marketing products that have the potential to harm patients.”

General practitioners tend to be the ones prescribing these supplements, in combination with diet and exercise, to people who have a significant amounts of weight to lose. Typically, these patients have a BMI (body mass index) of 27 or higher — falling into the overweight or obese categories. However, some experts go a step further, calling for a ban on dietary drugs.

The findings appear in Obesity, the flagship journal of The Obesity Society.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.