Makers of inexpensive herbal supplements claim the products deliver quick weight loss with minimal effort. While some supplements may result in temporary weight reduction, the risks to your overall health are significant, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Seek your doctor’s advice before taking any supplement that claims to aid weight loss, especially if you are breast-feeding or pregnant.
Many herbal supplements are relatively cheap and can be purchased without a prescription at drugstores, online or through the mail. The convenience of the supplements makes them attractive for people who seek to lose weight quickly without the need for a diet or exercise. MayoClinic.com reports that while the price of the supplements may be minimal compared to other weight-loss methods such as bariatric surgery, the long-term cost to your health is substantial -- and potentially fatal if you have a heart condition.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, classifies herbs as dietary supplements, although the supplements should not be used as a substitute for foods such as whole grains, vegetables and lean meats since they do not provide your body with the same health benefits, says FamilyDoctor.org. While medications undergo scientific testing to determine safety and effectiveness, manufacturers of supplements can sell the products without offering proof that they help you lose weight and won't threaten your well-being.
Many inexpensive weight-loss supplements contain ingredients that can trigger harmful side effects, especially when combined with some antidepressants and blood pressure medications, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Botanicals, minerals, caffeine, vitamins -- even laxatives -- are typically present in pills, powders or liquid supplements. The products work by stimulating your nervous system or increasing chemicals in the brain that give you a feeling of fullness; some cause frequent bowel movements and urination.
Go Ask Alice!, a health resource from Columbia University, reports that users of weight-loss supplements with pyruvate may experience diarrhea and upset stomachs. Supplements with ephedrine often trigger seizures, strokes and nervousness, while abdominal cramping is a common side effect of oral aloe supplements, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Avoid glucomannan supplements if you have diabetes, as the tablets affect your blood sugar levels. Supplements with guar gum -- a diet fiber found in the Indian cluster bean -- can also cause sudden changes to your blood sugar, and may result in gastrointestinal blockages. Your risk increases for negative side effects from weight-loss supplements if you are breast-feeding or pregnant, are scheduled for a surgical procedure or take medications for a serious health condition.
Although the government does not require makers of weight-loss supplements to prove the safety of the products, the FDA maintains an online list of supplements that have been shown to cause harmful side effects, and in some cases takes action to recall or ban the products, according to MayoClinic.com.