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Do Weight Loss Supplements Help or Hinder Your Diet?

Ryan | June 27th, 2012

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Unsubstantiated claims made by purveyors of over-the-counter diet pills have led some consumers to believe that HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone) is a weight loss supplement. But not only has the FDA never approved HCG—or any pill, drop, or spray that contains it— for weight loss, scientific studies have repeatedly shown that HCG has limited to no effect on a user’s ability to lose weight.

What is the best weight loss supplement?

Though most doctors do not endorse HCG as a legitimate weight loss supplement, there are many supplements that are considered safe and effective complements to a healthy diet and exercise program.

Individuals should always consult with their doctor to determine the best weight loss supplement to suit their needs. Possible supplements include:

  • Appetite suppressants: Medications that fool the body into thinking that it is satiated and no longer hungry. They accomplish this by elevating the levels of chemicals in the brain that impact appetite, such as serotonin. Appetite inhibitors usually come in the form of tablets or delayed-release pills.
  • Fat absorption inhibitors: These drugs keep the body from breaking down fats after meals. Instead, the fat that is not absorbed is eliminated in a bowel movement.
  • Vitamin supplements: Calorie-restricting diets can sometimes come up short on essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D. Instead, these can be taken in the form of daily pills. Additionally, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are contained in fish oils, can also be taken via supplements.

Negative side to weight loss supplements

Weight loss supplements have been linked in research to negative side effects, including serious liver damage. Data taken from a national registry between the years 2003-2011 showed that 26% of liver injuries reported by study subjects were due specifically to dietary supplements. In some cases, a liver transplant was required.

Researchers suspected that liver damage is often due to supplements being contaminated with dangerous ingredients or chemicals not listed on the label. Anyone using a weight loss supplement should first consult with their doctor to ensure that the specific substance they are ingesting is safe.

Additionally, most prescription appetite suppressants are considered controlled substances, which means that they are potentially addictive. Such drugs could pose dangerous health problems if taken in excess and should therefore be taken under close medical supervision.

What is the HCG diet plan?

In most of its forms, the HCG diet plan involves a 6-week regimen of regular doses of pregnancy hormone HCG, combined with an extreme calorie-restricting diet that borders on starvation. Patients are usually required to consume no more than 500 calories a day.

Though HCG is marketed as a fat-burning substance, and in some instances is even purported to re-distribute fat to make people appear more slender, most doctors and nutritionists argue that HCG is merely a placebo. Any weight loss on the HCG diet plan can be attributed to six weeks of 500-calorie-a-day dieting. When regular eating habits are resumed after the 6 weeks are over, the body’s sluggish metabolism will burn calories slowly and seek to store fat, thereby perpetuating the cycle of “yo-yo” dieting.

Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder and chief medical officer of The Center for Medical Weight Loss, echoes the sentiments of many in the medical community when he advises, “Don’t look to a HCG weight loss program to lose weight. Not only are they expensive and unproven – they’re dangerous. On the other hand, patients following a medical weight loss program like the one at The Center for Medical Weight Loss not only lose weight quickly, they do so safely. And unlike HCG diet programs, the medical weight loss approach has been scientifically proven to help people lose excess weight and keep it off.”

Diets that work

The Center for Medical Weight Loss is one of the largest group of weight loss physicians in the country. The program is built around a long-term, one-on-one relationship between the patient and a board-certified doctor who will devise a personalized diet and exercise plan based on each person’s unique metabolism, body composition analysis (BCA) results, and medical history.

The Center for Medical Weight Loss operates 450 centers around the country. To find out if there’s one near you, enter your zip code in the Find a Center box above. Be sure to inquire about special discounts for first-time visitors.