When you think of weight-loss supplements, the dreaded "diet pills" probably come to mind. Unfortunately, these can come with a wide range of side effects that may make the trade-off of weight loss slightly less appealing.
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Lucky for you, there are supplements that can help you lose weight that don't come with the physical and mental drawbacks of some popular weight-loss pills.
Weight Loss for Women Over 40
If you're a woman over 40, then you know things are changing with your body, and you may even feel a little out of control of your health. This can make it especially difficult to lose weight. That's why many weight-loss supplements are targeted directly to women and promise a quick-and-effective solution to your over-40 weight-gain woes.
It can be tempting to reach for that quick-fix diet pill, but if you take a step back, know that your overall health and wellness should be priority number one when you're ready to lose weight.
If you are considering any type of supplementation, it's important to have a conversation with your doctor or a registered dietitian. If you are on any type of medication, it is imperative that you get a double check to ensure interactions won't be a problem.
Women's health physician Angela Marshall, MD, promotes "good food first," when it comes to losing weight. If you've got your diet in check and you're exercising regularly — the two "must-haves" of sustainable weight loss — then here are some supplements Dr. Marshall suggests to help support your efforts.
1. Probiotic Supplements
Nutrition science is pretty fascinating, and one of the most recent revelations is the link between gut health and weight. Without sounding too sci-fi, it's important for you to know that you have a population of microorganisms living within your gut. This is called your microbiome. Think of it like your own little colony, and its job is to keep you healthy.
Your microbiome is most effective when it is a diverse mix of bacteria eating the right types of food. Any alterations or reduction in the diversity of your gut could have pretty big implications on your health, and that includes your weight.
"There is some research suggesting that optimizing the microbiome leads to weight loss," Dr. Marshall says, which is why she recommends trying probiotics when you're looking to lose weight.
People with overweight and obesity seem to have an imbalance in their microbiome, which can lead to changes in the metabolism, according to an October 2021 review in Nutrients. The authors conclude that certain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can aid in weight loss for those with higher BMIs.
A March 2020 double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard in research) in Nature found that probiotic supplementation was effective in reducing weight in the study subjects. The study was conducted on both men and women, but there were greater reductions in weight in women.
If you're wondering how probiotics can help you lose weight, here's a rundown: Diet and lifestyle factors influence the diversity of the gut. When there is an imbalance and one type of bacteria overpowers the other, this can cause chronic inflammation, which is an optimal environment for weight gain, according to June 2020 research in Preventative Nutrition and Food Science.
When you balance out your gut bacteria, it helps reduce the inflammation and may create a more suitable path for weight loss.
There are multiple ways you can supplement with probiotics — through food and over-the-counter dietary supplements. Yogurt is a popular choice for a food source of probiotics (make sure it has live active cultures), but there are many dietary probiotic supplements that will introduce new strains of bacteria into your gut just the same.
There are so many strains of probiotics, so look for a multi-strain supplement to cover all your bases. If you choose a refrigerated probiotic, make sure it stays refrigerated to keep the bacteria alive.
No safety concerns
More research needed on specific strains for weight loss
Can benefit your overall health
Some supplements require refrigeration
Try These Probiotic Supplements
2. Protein Powders
Protein has always been the darling of the diet world, but for good reason: It can help with your weight loss. A common practice in weight loss is to reduce the number of total calories you eat. You're not wrong if you think this — in order to lose weight, you need to increase the amount of energy your body burns relative to the amount that you eat.
However, you can play around with your calories to add a little more from protein — and less from carbohydrates and fat — and this can help you lose weight.
When you restrict calories and lose weight, you often lose muscle mass as well, and this accounts for some of the weight loss. Bumping up your protein can help preserve that muscle mass while you lose weight.
Protein also helps burn energy through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), or often called thermic effect of food (TEF). This is the energy expended by your body with digestion. (Yes, that's right, you burn calories simply by digesting and absorbing nutrients.)
Out of the three macronutrients — carbohydrates, protein and fat — protein has the highest calorie burn for DIT, according to a September 2020 review in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome.
So, where does the supplement come in? Getting enough dietary protein from animal and plant foods can be challenging, especially if you follow a special diet or are trying to stay within a specific calorie range. Currently, the RDA for protein to avoid deficiency is set at 0.8 g/kg of body weight.
With the RDA, it equals roughly 10 to 15 percent of your daily calories from protein. According to the review study above, you may want to increase that to around 25 percent of your calories. So that means if you eat a 2,000 calorie diet, you need about 500 calories from protein, or 125 grams per day. You may be able to get close to that number with food, but if you need a little help, a protein supplement can get you there.
"The protein helps with making people feel more full (satiety)," Dr. Marshall adds. She also recommends that if you have kidney issues, it's best to get a daily protein amount from your doctor.
Be mindful of the protein powder you choose. Stay away from sugar-laden protein bars and read the labels to make sure you aren't getting any added sugar. If you are sensitive to certain alternative sweeteners, that will be something to watch for as well.
No safety concerns (unless you have kidney issues)
The taste and texture doesn't work for everyone
Some may come with added sugar, alternative sweeteners or fillers
Fits into animal- and plant-based diets
Easy to mix into drinks or food
Try These Protein Powders
3. Fiber Supplements
Fiber may be the coolest nutrient that no one is talking about. Fiber is not digested by the body, but it does all sorts of helpful things while it's just hanging out in there.
There are two types of fiber in foods and in supplements — soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like consistency when it hits your gut. It also slows down transit time and ferments in your gut, helping out all those good bacteria. Insoluble fiber doesn't stay long in your gut and helps move things along your digestive tract.
To be very clear, you should never use fiber supplements to induce a laxative effect for weight loss. Fiber helps with weight loss by helping to fill you up and to keep your gut in amazing shape. Abusing fiber supplements can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Fiber can help you lose weight regardless of the type of diet you're following. In a two-year clinical study, called the POUNDS (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study, researchers found that simply increasing fiber intake helped study participants lose weight, according to October 2019 research in the Journal of Nutrition.
What's impressive about this study was that the effect of fiber was seen as early as six months. The average intake of fiber at baseline was about 17.5 grams per day. At six months, the average had increased to an average of 21.2 grams per day. With that small increase, there was an average weight loss of 7 pounds.
This is still below the recommended amount of fiber for adults. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories in the diet. This usually comes out to about 25 to 38 grams per day.
So, how do you supplement with fiber to lose weight? If you're not able to get enough fiber in your diet, choosing an off-the-shelf fiber supplement can help get you to the recommended amount.
Here are some things to remember:
- Choose a supplement containing both soluble and insoluble fiber, if possible.
- Start slowly. Increasing fiber too quickly can cause some major discomfort.
- Increase your water while you increase your fiber.
Dr. Marshall adds that you could add chia seeds or flaxseeds to your foods to add extra fiber, which will help provide extra feelings of fullness.
You must pay attention to dosing
The research on its health benefits are strong
May cause digestive issues like bloating
Easy to take
Try These Fiber Supplements
4. Green Tea
Green tea is widely consumed throughout the world and there has been much research done on the benefits of tea and effects on weight.
There are many weight-loss pills — aka diet pills — that use high doses of green tea extract to induce weight loss, and the results of many research studies are also based on these high doses.
The research is inconclusive on the benefits of weight loss and green tea, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition, some diet pills containing green tea may also contain laxatives, which could produce a weight-reducing effect, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In addition, high doses of green tea found in diet pills have been known to cause liver injury, according to the NIH.
So, how can green tea help you safely lose weight? "Green tea and caffeine are appetite suppressants and also increase metabolism and reduce inflammation," Dr. Marshall explains, and agrees that green tea is safe and may be beneficial to those trying to lose weight. She adds that it may be a good substitute for sugar-laden coffee beverages.
Green tea may help reduce overall inflammation in the body, according to June 2017 research in Nutrients. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, it's possible that inflammation is high in your body. Reducing that inflammation will be a key step in helping you reduce your weight.
Green tea also contains caffeine, which is a stimulant and helps your body burn more calories. Don't go crazy with caffeine though, as too much can cause shakiness, heart palpitations and irritability. The NIH gives the OK for up to eight cups of green tea per day.
Research on weight loss is inconclusive
Safe in adequate amounts
Too much can cause harmful side effects
May help reduce inflammation
Try These Green Teas
5. Turmeric/Curcumin Supplements
Turmeric is the spice used in traditional Indian cooking that gives a dish a bright yellow hue. Actually, that yellow hue comes from a compound in turmeric called curcumin, which is also responsible for all the spice's health benefits. Turmeric has been known as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic, according to October 2018 research in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
In this review, the authors analyzed the effect of curcumin on body weight, body mass index and waist circumference. They concluded that curcumin supplements had a significant effect — aka reduction — on body weight and body mass index, but not on waist circumference.
The dosages given in the studies ranged from 70 to 1,900 milligrams per day. Researchers have not been able to nail down the exact mechanism behind why curcumin may work for weight loss, but they hypothesize that it interacts with enzymes and hormones that promote obesity.
If you're considering a curcumin supplement, speak with your doctor first, especially if you have kidney or liver issues, or are on any type of blood-thinning medication.
Need the OK from your doctor if you have medical conditions
Safe if you choose a reputable brand
Research is inconclusive on dosing
Try These Curcumin Supplements
What to Look For in a Supplement
1. Third-Party Testing
The supplement world can be treacherous, and the endless options may leave you feeling helpless. Luckily, there are labs that help to sort out the good from the bad when it comes to supplements. When considering any supplement, first look to see if it has been third-party tested.
This means that an independent lab has tested the product to ensure that it contains what it claims on the label, nothing more, nothing less. Most labs will also test for heavy metal contamination.
There are many third-party testing labs, but the most common three are Consumer Lab, NSF and USP. The USP and NSF (also NSF for Sport) will be displayed on the label of the supplement if they have been tested. You can find Consumer Lab testing on their website.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has a program called Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP), which is a quality-control program for the supplement industry. If a supplement company is CGMP compliant, it will be noted on their website.
Many diet pills contain ingredients that could be harmful to your health, especially if you have any other medical conditions or are taking medication. Always be mindful of ingredients you don't recognize. Just because it's on the label doesn't mean it's safe for you.
In addition, if you follow a special diet — vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, etc. — watch for the addition of unwelcome ingredients on the label. You can also look for added sugar or alternative sweeteners if this is something you watch in your diet.
Cautions and Concerns
As with any supplement, speak with your health care provider when looking to supplement for weight loss. If you want something stronger than dietary supplements, there are prescription weight-loss medications, but these are only taken under the supervision of your doctor.
The above supplement recommendations are not for children looking to lose weight, nor are they recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Nutrients: "Effects of Probiotics and Synbiotics on Weight Loss in Subjects with Overweight or Obesity: A Systematic Review"
- Nature: "A Randomised Controlled Study Shows Supplementation of Overweight and Obese Adults With Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria Reduces Bodyweight and Improves Well-being"
- Preventative Nutrition and Food Science: "The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss"
- Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome: "Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "Tea"
- Nutrients: "Chronic Inflammatory Diseases and Green Tea Polyphenols"
- NIH: "Green Tea"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "The Effects of Curcumin Supplementation on Body Weight, Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Medical Science Monitor: Experiences With Three Different Fiber Supplements in Weight Reduction
- University of Michigan Health Center: Glucomannan
- Harvard Health Publications: Supplements: A scorecard
- Harvard Health Publications: Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements?
- British Journal of Nutrition": Calcium plus vitamin D3 supplementation facilitated Fat loss in overweight and obese college students with very-low calcium consumption: a randomized controlled trial