Top 5 Supplements You Wouldn’t Expect to Use for Weight Loss

You’ve all looked at them in the pharmacy. Or seen them on television. Or heard about them from that friend at the gym. Diet pills. They generally have bright, bold names like MEGA BURN or THERMO FUSION, and the bottles generally contain some sort of really bold claim about how you could lose 185 pounds in just three weeks! or something like that. Some may even have some fancy charts on the side of the box explaining how a group of subjects in one trial lost more weight than those taking a placebo. Seems enticing, right?

You’d be correct in thinking that these may be a surefire way to increasing your potential for weight loss. But are they healthy?

Yes and no. When taken correctly, thermogenics (read: fat burners) can be pretty useful to lose weight if you’re working out. However, most of these products are loaded with stimulants and should only be used in moderation (and that’s for those who are already healthy, if you have any sort of heart/blood pressure/autoimmune issue you should absolutely stay away). For those of you who don’t know how to pick out common stimulants in a weight loss product, I’ll list the most popular ones here:

1. Caffeine (the obvious one, proven to be okay when taken in moderation)
2. Synephrine (sometimes also labeled as bitter orange extract or citrus auriantium)
3. Ephedrine (an outlawed ingredient- if your product contains ephedrine chances are it isn’t technically legal to sell)
4. Yohimbine (or yohimbe, a natural stimulant with common interactions with medications and other supplements)
5. Guarana (plant extract containing caffeine)
6. Yerba Mate/Green Tea/Black Tea/White Tea (all plant extracts containing caffeine)
7. Theobromide (found in cocoa beans and kola nuts)

Not that I’m saying these are “dangerous”, but it’s something to consider avoiding when shopping weight loss products. They tend to raise the heart rate, increase blood pressure, and give certain people “jitters” and sort of a shaky sensation after consuming them. If you choose this route, then simply make sure you follow the directions very strictly in order to avoid problems.

Now, the point of this article was to provide alternatives. The following are supplements found very easily in a vitamin/health store which have been used in conjunction with weight loss regimens. And the best part is, every one of these has other benefits in addition to losing weight. Here goes:

1. L-Carnitine. Derived from amino acids in the liver, L-carnitine is a compound your body is already familiar with, as it produces it in trace amounts. When you supplement with it, it stores up in fat cells and helps to metabolize fat as an energy source for the muscles to feed off during exercise. And for those of you who remember anything from biology in college, fat is more than twice as effective an energy source as carbohydrates and protein (which your diet likely consists mostly of). So you get an increase in metabolism, an increase in stored fat burned during exercise, as well as some other benefits: it promotes healthy circulation, helps stave off neuropathy in diabetics, and is shown to improve cognitive function. Supplement with 1500-3000 mg daily, best absorbed on an empty stomach.

2. Alpha Lipoic Acid. An antioxidant fatty acid also found in your system, it helps convert sugar into energy in the body. This can help in the dieting sense in making better use of your carbohydrate intake. The theory is that anything good for the metabolism can help with weight loss, as the faster your metabolism is, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories. Other benefits to ALA: protects cells from free radical damage, assists anti-aging, good for diabetics, and protects brain and nerve tissue. Take 600-1200 mg in divided doses daily.

3. Protein. It’s thought by many that protein is only for bodybuilders and athletes looking to get “jacked”. Well, toss that misconception in the trash right now. Protein is a necessary part of your diet that frequently gets overlooked. Muscles are made up of proteins, and without adequate protein intake, your muscle mass cannot be maintained. Therefore, your body cannot burn fat as efficiently. The FDA says you should have 50-60 grams of protein daily based on a 2000 calorie diet. However, if you’re looking to lose weight and maintain muscle, your intake should be 1 gram per pound of body weight per day (based on your goal weight). Example, you weigh 180, and want to weigh 150, take in 150 grams of protein daily. Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? That’s where protein shakes come into play. Shakes are a very cost-effective and simple way to add large amounts of protein into your diet. 

Most people just need to learn how to shop for protein. First off, if weight loss is your goal, skip the Muscle Milk. It has too much fat, too much sugar, and while it seems like the obvious choice because it tastes good and you can buy it anywhere, it’s not. Weight loss requires something much leaner. A good protein should have at least 25-30 grams per scoop, less than 5 grams of carbohydrate, less than 2 grams of fat, and little to no sugar. Look for whey isolate as the primary form of protein in the mix, as it absorbs quickly and is optimal for use after exercise. Avoid casein and soy isolate as they absorb slower. 

When to take it is really up to you. The most important time is right after you work out, as your body needs nutrients to recover from the workout. You can also use it to complement a balanced breakfast, in between meals, or as a snack after dinner. DO NOT USE AS A REPLACEMENT FOR EVERY MEAL. Many people become obsessed with losing weight, that they replace every meal with protein to reduce calorie intake. Do not, as it is not only unhealthy to deprive your body of the nutrients you get from real food, it will in time reverse the effects of your weight loss efforts when your system goes into caloric shock and starts storing everything you eat. Other benefits: improved immune function, increased metabolism, and increased HDL (good cholesterol) production.

4. 5-HTP (or 5-hydroxytryptophan). An amino compound which acts as a precursor to serotonin in the brain. Aids in reducing stress levels, sleeplessness, and anxiety issues. Well, it’s also shown in trials to help with weight loss. How? Reduced stress = lower cortisol levels = weight loss. Everyone has some sort of stress problem, whether it be work, kids, money, or all of the above. Take 100-300 mg a day (if 200 or more, in divided doses). Avoid if you take antidepressants.

5. Cayenne pepper. An herb containing capsaicin, which aids in increasing the metabolism. Remember what I said previously, whatever helps with energy can help with weight loss. It is also shown to decrease appetite. You have two options for supplementing with it: buy the fresh pepper whole or ground up, or purchase in capsules. Either way can be effective, and it is shown to be very useful for weight loss when combined with a healthy diet. Other benefits: promotes healthy blood flow, increase in sex drive, and helps maintain blood pressure. Caution: it is a pepper, it is spicy, and it can burn going down and in the stomach, which is normal but may be unpleasant for some. 

So there you have it. Just remember that diet and exercise is always important when it comes to weight loss, diet being of the utmost importance. The more you contribute to your weight loss, the better results you will get.

A Brief Guide to Buying Supplements

The very first thing I will provide to my readers is something I can probably talk for days about: how to go about purchasing supplements. This guideline will serve as a foundation for any mention I make about supplements. These are things to look out for when selecting a supplement, whether a vitamin/herb/protein/etc.

The company should:

- Follow GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). Any reputable company will follow these practices, and what GMP covers includes but is not limited to workplace conditions, clear controls on manufacturing processes, and thorough records kept on all processes within their facilities. All pharmaceutical companies are required to follow these guidelines, and any quality supplement manufacturer will as well.

- Be regulated by the USP (United States Pharmacopeia). This organization is a non-profit which sets standards for quality and purity of dietary supplements. The USP randomly audits batches of supplements to ensure that the label on the product accurately matches the product for purity, potency, and quality of ingredients.

- Be tested by third-party companies for quality. is a great example of a third-party lab that does reviews for all major supplement companies. Check that the company you’re purchasing from has a passing review with them. If they find a batch of products that doesn’t match the label, they post it on their website. And in some cases, the companies that fail their tests claim to their customers that the products are okay. It never hurts to have a third-party recommendation.

Now for the products themselves:

- Research your dosages. Know why you’re taking something, and how much you’re supposed to take for that purpose. And if you’re using it for general maintenance, know what the limit is for that, too. Watch your fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, + K). Those shouldn’t be taken in dosages higher than 100% of the RDA, except for vitamin D, which in some cases, can be.

- Know in which form it’s best absorbed. There is enough study to support the use of timed-release multiple vitamins over regular ones (read: Centrum, One-a-Day, anything you get in the supermarket/pharmacy). The studies are showing that while there is still controversy over the absorption rates, the companies that manufacture timed-release multiples are generally higher quality brands to begin with, so no harm done even if you spend more on the timed-release formula and in the end it doesn’t aid absorption (on a related note, the company I work for sells mostly timed-release multiples, and my customers very rarely report that they didn’t notice a difference between the two types, so take that however you wish). Vitamin complexes generally fall into the same category as multiples for absorption, including B-complexes, “greens” complexes, and multiple-antioxidant formulas. For most supplements, especially when you’re shopping for an ingredient sold individually (i.e. Vitamin C, Ginkgo biloba, etc.), look for rapid release capsules or tablets.

On that note, if someone ever tells you that a certain form is better absorbed (referring to capsule vs. tablet vs. softgel vs. liquid vs. powder), they aren’t entirely correct. While the liquids, powders, and even softgels may be faster absorbed, that doesn’t equate to a better absorption.  It simply means you may notice the effects quicker, but chances are you will pay more for one of those faster absorbing forms. That institution I mentioned (the USP) ensures that all forms of supplements are broken down in stomach acid well enough to be absorbed by the time it gets to the intestines. Truth be told, however, capsules and softgels are easier to swallow and generally don’t taste as lousy on the tongue, so aim for these forms if you mind that sort of thing.

- Look for natural fillers. A good company will generally list all possible allergens and any artificial ingredients used, or on the contrary, what it doesn’t use. Fillers are a necessity in most supplements, whether it be for substance, or to construct the capsule/softgel itself, or a color to protect the ingredient from UV damage. Just ensure that the company uses natural fillers (gelatin, magnesium stearate, cellulose, titanium dioxide color and caramel color are examples of common fillers).

- Read the labels. If you want to take fish oil, make sure you’re taking the proper dosage. Common brands of fish oil will advertise “1000mg Omega-3 Fish Oil” nice and big on the front of the label. What most people miss is that out of that 1000mg, only 200-300mg is active in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is the only reason to take fish oil, so you’re either going to end up taking three or four pills a day or shopping for a new product with a better concentration per pill. 

- Beware the “all-in-one” magic complex. Aside from multiples, keep your eye on the product labels when it comes to complexes of supplements. Many companies will sell combinations of supplements that are commonly purchased together. Weight loss products are famous for this practice, and they may seem pretty enticing when you bring that one lonesome bottle to the register. Unfortunately, they also generally come with a slight price hike and a lower dosage than what you wanted to take. In most cases, taking the individual ingredients may benefit you more in both dosage and price. 

- On proteins, watch your value per scoop. Many proteins will boast a certain amount of protein per serving on the front of the package. A “serving” on a typical protein container may require up to four scoops! In this case, you’ve likely just dropped $35-50 on a product that will last you only a week if you use it daily. First off, know what you need to be taking, and second, make sure the advertised amount is per one scoop. A solid protein supplement should have at least 20 grams of protein per scoop. 

                     fish oil pills

This kind of provides the basics for purchasing supplements. As I said, I could go on for days with this subject, but here is at least a broad outline for that trip to the vitamin store. Further questions, feel free to comment.