Maybe you want to drop a few pounds fast or fit into an old dress for an upcoming event, and so you are considering turning to weight loss supplements to speed up the process. The manufacturers of these products make extravagant claims and we often see these messages reiterated with retouched photos on our social media fees. With celebrities like the Kardashians promoting diet pills and fit-fluencers touting teas that will supposedly help you shed pounds, it comes as no surprise that roughly 76 percent of US adults consume dietary supplements.
While it seems like a simple solution, before you start popping pills or sipping transformative teas, you should carefully consider the health risks. Over-the-counter products that claim to curb food cravings, speed up your metabolism, or burn through fat often contain stimulants that can cause serious harm. What’s more, according to the US Food & Drug Administration, many dietary supplements contain unsafe ingredients hidden on lists or ones that have not been adequately studied.
In fact, a recent study published in Clinical Toxicology found dangerous ingredients hiding in six common weight loss and pre-workout supplements. Researchers at NSF International, Harvard Medical School, the United States Department of Defense and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands (RIVM) identified two DMAA-like stimulants that were previously banned by the FDA and two unapproved stimulants in products including Game Day, Simply Skinny Pollen, and Triple X.
The stimulants found included 1,3-DMAA and 1,3-DMBA, both of which are banned in the US, as well as octodrine and a newly identified DMAA analog. According to the authors of the study, these stimulants “pose a significant health risk to consumers.” Their effects are similar to Ephedrine, a compound banned by the FDA in 2004 due to side effects such as dehydration, high blood pressure, heart attack, cardiac arrest, and sudden death. What’s most concerning, though, is that the compounds were not listed as ingredients in the products, some of which were even disguised as harmless extracts.
“Consumers need to be careful when taking supplements, especially pre-workout and weight-loss products. You can’t always trust what’s on the label,” writes Pieter Cohen, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and a co-author of the study. "These hidden stimulants are drugs, not natural ingredients, and have no place in over-the-counter supplements."
While such supplements do show increases in short-term weight loss and temporary spurts of energy, they may also hold hidden dangers to your health. If you have any doubt, steer clear. “Most supplement manufacturers are committed to ensuring quality and safety, but there are a few irresponsible and unscrupulous companies out there and their actions are putting consumers at risk,” John Travis, Senior Research Scientist at NSF International and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. He encourages consumers to familiarize themselves with labels and to seek NSF-certified dietary supplements if you are committed to using them for weight loss or performance. But your best bet is to always maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle.