4 Weight Loss Supplements That Actually Work

Diet and exercise are still your best options—but the National Institutes of Health says these can help.

1 / 6

To drop pounds, you have to burn more calories than you take in—and diet and exercise are still the gold standard when it comes to that strategy, according to Caden Mitchell, RD, CSCS, outpatient bariatric dietitian at Lourdes Medical Associates in New Jersey.

But what if a supplement, taken in conjunction with healthier eating and increased physical activity, could help you slim down a bit more easily?

There are plenty of weight loss products on the market making bold promises, but very few have the research data to back up their claims. In January 2018 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a consumer fact sheet about the safety and effectiveness of several dietary supplements, and many simply don’t seem to work.

However, that doesn’t mean none of them do. Mitchell notes there are a handful of options that could actually help you lose a small amount of weight, and may be worth considering. Let’s take a look.

Medically reviewed in March 2018.



Caffeine is a stimulant found in beverages like coffee, cola, black and green tea, as well as some supplements.

“Far and away, caffeine is the easiest to add to your weight-loss efforts,” says Mitchell. “It increases your energy, and that can up your calorie burn.”

The NIH notes that caffeine is safe for most adults at doses up to 400mg to 500mg a day. For reference, a grande Starbucks dark roast coffee has 260mg of caffeine. Mitchell adds that it’s easiest (and more delicious) to get caffeine in a drink, but that you can also get the stimulant in pill form.

Drawbacks: When you use caffeine regularly, you tend to become tolerant of it, the NIH states, which means it may not give you that energy boost after a while and could lessen the effect on body weight over time. Also, watch out for side effects at higher doses, such as nausea, rapid heartbeat and jitters.



Pyruvate is naturally present in your body—a compound thought to speed up the breakdown of sugar and fat. Because of its role in that action, pyruvate is used for weight loss. The NIH adds it’s also touted as a way to improve exercise performance, and that taking the compound in supplements may help you lose a small amount of weight.

A review of several studies points out that researchers noted a difference in body weight when study participants used pyruvate over a placebo. However, the reviewers suggest that its effect is uncertain, and more research has to be done before declaring pyruvate a true weight loss aid.

Drawbacks: The NIH notes that pyruvate seems to be safe at up to 30 g per day for six weeks, but that it can cause diarrhea, gas, bloating and rumbling noises in the intestines due to gas.

Also notable: the supplements may be prohibitively expensive for what ultimately amounts to a small number of pounds dropped.



The white kidney bean, also called common bean or Phaseolus vulgaris, is a legume grown throughout the world. An extract of the bean is thought to block the absorption of carbohydrates as well as suppress the appetite.

One scientific review examining several Phaseolus vulgaris studies found there was a statistically significant reduction in body fat among subjects who took the supplement versus those who had a placebo, though the reduction was small and the research sometimes conflicted.

You can also get the benefits of legumes by making them part of your meals rather than taking them in supplement form. Beans, in general, are a great choice to enhance weight reduction efforts because they’re high in fiber, Mitchell says.

“Fiber is always an excellent idea for weight loss,” he notes. “Since it takes a while to break down into its components in the stomach, you feel full for longer, and that can help quite a bit with appetite management.”

Bonus: fiber can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as obesity.

Drawbacks: When you increase your fiber intake rapidly through a food like kidney beans, some uncomfortable side effects may occur, Mitchell notes. These may include cramping, diarrhea and gas. The NIH says these can also occur if you’re taking supplements. However, Mitchell adds that truly adverse side effects are only likely when you’re consuming fiber well above the daily recommended intake.

The best strategy is to add these type of fiber-rich foods or supplements gradually in small amounts, so your digestive system has time to get used to the higher intake.



One supplement ingredient not on the NIH list—but possibly should be—is creatine, says Mitchell. Creatine is often used in pre-workout supplements and is very popular for bettering performance, he adds. Its main role is to increase adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source found in muscles as well as brain tissue.

Essentially, creatine gives your muscles an extra power boost, which can help you work out harder, leading to weight loss over time. On a separate fact sheet about exercise supplements, the NIH notes that creatine is best for intense, short exercises—like those in high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—rather than endurance activities.

“This is one of the more effective options when it comes to getting more out of your exercise routine,” Mitchell notes. “And the more activity you get, the more calories you’re likely to burn.”

Drawbacks: Creatine is considered generally safe as long as you stick to a label’s recommended amount. But it should be avoided by those with kidney disease, or those with increased chances of developing kidney problems, since there have been concerns the ingredient can worsen them. Finally, using creatine typically results in a little weight gain, since it makes you retain more water than usual.



According to the NIH, there are several supplement ingredients claiming to offer weight loss benefits, but there’s no evidence that’s the case. These include yohimbe, hoodia and raspberry ketone.

For many supplements, the NIH notes that you may experience digestive upset as a side effect, including bloating, diarrhea and gas. Some, like hoodia, have more serious effects, like vomiting, increased blood pressure and rapid heart rate.

As with any type of supplement, take the time to do your research, Mitchell suggests. Just because it's on store shelves doesn’t mean it’s effective—or even completely safe. Speak to your doctor with questions, or before taking any new supplement.

Your best bet? Stick with tried-and-true strategies like putting more plants into your diet, increasing your activity, upping your hydration and getting enough fiber and protein, he advises. Consider the type of supplements covered here as complementary to that approach, instead of a replacement for those tactics. 

Continue Learning about Dietary Supplements

The Importance of Supplement Safety
The Importance of Supplement Safety
In 2002, the two-year-old daughter of Jude Law attended a children’s party at London’s Soho House Club. It was reported that while there, she swallowe...
Read More
What are the health benefits of larch arabinogalactan?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
Larch arabinogalactan helps optimize the body's natural defenses, keeping it strong and protected. L...
More Answers
What is the nutritional value of button mushrooms?
Michael T. Murray, NDMichael T. Murray, ND
White button mushrooms are an excellent source of many minerals, including selenium, copper, potassi...
More Answers
How Does Coconut Oil Work to Improve Health?
How Does Coconut Oil Work to Improve Health?