Myth-busting weight-loss supplements

By Kelly Jirsa

Myth-busting weight-loss supplements
We hunt down the evidence proving or disproving the weight loss claims of supplement ingredients.

The weight-loss product market is overwhelming, with an endless list of pills and potions claiming to be a fix for your weight-related concerns. Complimentary medicine companies claims range from outright to moderate success. We take a look at the evidence that either proves or disproves these claims, but also what kind of harm can the ingredients used in these products do to your body.

Cayenne pepper

Made of dried red chilli peppers, cayenne pepper has been proven to increase the amount of calories burnt whilst at rest. According to researchers it accounts for “10 more calories burnt over a four-hour period”, but this amount is not so significant to effect remarkable weight loss on it’s own.

Verdict: Busted


This stimulant can cause increases in heart rate and blood pressure when used to excess. Like Cayenne, it increases the amount of calories burnt at rest but again studies show that though it “increases fatty acid turnover” there is too little evidence to suggest it has a meaningful effect on weight-loss.

Verdict: Busted


In studies conducted with animals, Ginseng has shown potential for efficacy for weight loss. However studies have yet to be done to prove its effectiveness on Humans. The University of Sydney, Australia, is currently testing the plant tuber in randomised controlled trials to determine this.

Verdict: Possible

Green tea

According to Nick Fuller, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney,“green tea is believed to increase the activity of noradrenaline in the body, a hormone responsible for increasing blood pressure and heart rate.” Studies into the effectiveness of green tea on weight loss showed that those who took green tea had lost an average of 1.3kg over those who were taking a placebo. Though it should be noted that the results saw a greater effect in “Asian versus Caucasian populations, and also in those who have lower intakes of caffeine each day.”

Verdict: Plausible

Aloe vera

The plant we all know and love, commonly used to treat burns, cuts and skin conditions has laxative properties when taken orally. Despite claims that this all rounder can reduce weight, in several clinical studies it shown not significant effect as compared with a placebo group.

Verdict: Busted

Acai berry

These highly celebrated berries are packed with antioxidants, amino acids, fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, hence their popularity. The hype around this berry has included claims that they can be effective in losing weight, clinical trials have however proved that this is a myth.

Verdict: Busted


This contentious ingredient, derived from a South American climbing plant can be found in energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. Some research has shown that Guarana can have the effect of making the body feel full, which aids weight loss. A double-blinded randomised controlled study over an eight week period showed that in combination with the a medicinal extract ma huang, from the Ephedra sinica plant, it did have some effect on short term weight loss.

It must be stated though that the active ephedra alkaloid ingredient from ma huang, that has been proven to have minor effectiveness in combination with Guarana has been deemed unsafe and is banned in the US and other countries, due to its potential deathly side effects.

Adverse side effects of ma huang include severe skin reactions, irritability, nervousness, dizziness, trembling, headache, insomnia, profuse perspiration, dehydration, itchy scalp and skin, vomiting, and hyperthermia, irregular heartbeat, seizures, heart attack, stroke, and death.

Verdict: Ingredient alone – Busted (with ma huang – Not worth risk of serious health complications and legal ramifications.)



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