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Do Fat Burner Pills Really Work?

author image Amber Canaan
Amber Canaan has a medical background as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and pediatric oncology. She began her writing career in 2005, focusing on pregnancy and health. Canaan has a degree in science from the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences and owns her own wellness consulting business.

It's hard to turn on the television and not see an advertisement for fat burner or diet pills. The latest and greatest pharmaceutical applications in the fight against fat are prevalent, offering quick results with minimal effort and requiring little to no change in diet or exercise. With so many choices available, it is difficult to know for certain if any of them actually work and if they carry a risk of side effects.

Fat Burners and the FDA

Fat burners, diet pills and herbal supplements are unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the quality, ingredients and claims made by manufacturers of these products are unchecked. Since there are no established regulations on the majority of these products, it's difficult to be sure what you're getting and whether or not the product actually works as advertised.


Carnitine is an ingredient in some fat burning pills. It is reported to help break down fats and allow the fatty acids to absorb into the muscles for use. Although the theory may seem to make sense, Go Ask Alice with Columbia University notes that it doesn't actually work.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract is found in some fat burning and diet supplements because it is reported to speed up metabolism and help burn fat and calories while also decreasing the appetite. MayoClinic.com reports that this ingredient is "possibly safe" but it hasn't been studied well enough to know if it actually works.


Ephedra, also known as the Chinese herb ma huang, was a popular ingredient in diet pills prior to 2004. While it did work, it also had a number of very serious side effects including increased blood pressure, changes in the heartbeat known as an arrhythmia and death in some cases. Ephedra is a good example of a fat burner that did work, but had serious consequences to the user. For this reason, you should always consult your doctor prior to taking a fat burner or diet supplement.


As of July 2011, Alli is the only over-the-counter supplement that is FDA approved, although it is technically a fat blocker, not a fat burner. By blocking the fat however, your body is able to burn the fat already stored, resulting in fat burning and weight loss. MayoClinic.com notes that this supplement is effective, partially blocking the absorption of fat from the food that you eat. As with all medications and supplements, there are side effects the most notable of which is diarrhea and stomach cramping. Individuals taking Alli should limit their fat intake to 15 g per meal. Excessive fat intake will result in these unpleasant side effects.

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