I've been investigating supplements since the 1990s. I admit I get frustrated at seeing the same old do-nothing weight loss ingredients recycled again and again in so many supplements. In this review, I will reveal some of the biggest scams in the weight loss industry. These are supplements that DO NOT WORK. I know they don't work because the evidence and logic tells us they don't. But this doesn't stop companies from pumping millions of dollars into ads and fake websites to make you think otherwise. What you will read below are some of the biggest names in the supplement business. Why doesn't the supplement industry denounce these frauds for what they are? Well, if they won't, I will. Because of my commitment to help you save money and frustration on fake supplements, let me put on my “Supplement Cop” hat and expose the biggest scams in the weight loss business. Remember this list when you shop so you can save yourself disappointment and a lot of money.
Scam Weight Loss Supplements
Here are some of the most popular weight loss supplements that DO NOT work! I'm calling out the following supplements as bogus because either:
- The research proves they don't work
- The research on them stinks
- Logically, there is no possible way they could work
But this does not stop companies from using them in thousands of weight loss products.
Check your supplements and let's see if you are using any of these.
How many weight loss supplements contain this dud? Too many to count. Garcinia cambogia is hyped all over the internet on both legitimate – and scummy – websites. You may have even watched videos of it being touted as the magic weight loss bullet used by celebrities.
Garcinia combogia, also called hydroxy citric acid (HCA) has been around for decades. The idea is garcinia is supposed to block carbs from turning into fat. It's also said to reduce hunger by regulating serotonin levels. The idea sounds wonderful – except I have no faith it really works.
And neither should you.
As far back as the 1990s, researchers put garcinia cambogia to the test – and it failed miserably. In one study, researchers randomly gave 135 men and women either 1500 mg of garcinia cambogia or a placebo and followed them for 3 whole months. Both groups were given a low calorie diet to follow.
Three months is enough time to see if it worked.
The result: After 3 months, those taking garcinia cambogia did not lose more weight than the placebo group.
Since then, at least 4 other human trials have demonstrated garcina cambogia's lack of weight loss ability.
In full disclosure, yes, there have been some studies showing it works. But, in some instances, studies finding it didn't work, used more garcinia than those showing it did work.
What's up with that?
Answer: most clinical trials on garcinia are low quality. This is another reason I can't recommend it.
Based on the all over the place results from human trials – and the possibility of liver failure as a side effect – I can't in good conscious recommend anyone consider garcina cambogia as an effective weight loss supplement.
Bottom line: Until I see better proof, I remain skeptical.
Raspberry ketones is another popular weight loss supplement which falls far short of being the miracle it's portrayed on the web. On his TV show, Dr. Oz once called raspberry ketones a “miracle in a bottle that burned your fat.” Words like this shot this eunuch of a supplement to weight loss fame. There was only one little problem…
Where's the proof?
I can't find any human clinical trials showing rhaspberry ketones facilitates weight loss. The only “proof” I see for are 2 mouse studies. We are not mice, so I discount evidence like that.
Companies have made millions of dollars peddling this ridiculous supplement. Why have none of them pumped any of that money into a good quality human weight loss study?
Because it's easier to toss up a sexy website and make people think it works.
For the record, raspberry ketones have nothing to do with the ketogenic diet or being in ketosis. They do NOT raise ketone levels. If you are taking ketogenic supplements and you see raspberry ketones as an ingredient, you have been scammed.
Bottom line: I think rhaspberry ketones are a total scam.
See the raspberry ketone review for more information.
Chromium (aka chromium picolinate) stands alone as the most overly hyped weight loss supplement in recent history. Chromium is what first sparked my interest in dietary supplements in the 1990s. Back then, this mineral was promoted to help people both lose weight and build muscle at the same time.
That's a pretty good trick except neither of these claims are true.
Over the years, there have been a LOT of chromium studies. They have involved football players, military personal as well as regular men and women.
99% of those studies proved chromium is not effective.
But this does not stop companies from continuing to it to their weight loss supplements. Sometimes, it's the first ingredient listed! If it's the first ingredient, it means it's the main ingredient. A main ingredient with no evidence. Not cool.
Bottom line: Chromium has been studied many times. The studies prove it doesn't work.
See the Chromium and Weight Loss Review to see all the evidence.
HCG Slimming Supplements
HCG is is a hormone made during pregnancy. It's supposed to promote weight loss while preserving muscle and curbing appetite. Of all the supplements I have reviewed, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) stands alone as the one thing I get the most push back on from people.
Many people swear it works. They also swear they don't get hungry on the diet either.
Unlike the other things mentioned in this rundown, HCG is not just a diet supplement; it's a weight loss program. Here's the skinny on the HCG diet plan:
- Eat 500 calories per day (yes, only 500!)
- Take HCG supplements (or HCG injections)
During my original investigation into HCG program, I uncovered 8 clinical studies dating as far back as 1963. Of those 8 studies, only 1 showed it worked. The study has never been replicated.
It's worth pointing out the studies I'm referring to here involve injecting HCG.
What about taking HCG by mouth as an oral supplement?
I can't find ANY proof showing taking HCG orally helps weight loss.
I also can't find any evidence that HCG curbs appetite during dieting either.
I know some people are very passionate about how HCG helped them lose weight. To them I would say, I do believe the HCG plan will promote weight loss – but not for the reasons it's touted for.
Bottom line: I believe the evidence is overwhelming that if HCG slimming supplements really works, it's because people eat only 500 calories per day. To paraphrase Mr. Spock, that's the only logical way this diet works. The research proves it.
Bee Pollen Weight Loss Supplements
One of the biggest -and most infamous – scams in the last several years have been bee pollen weight loss supplements. Many supplements touting the benefits of bee pollen are said to come from China or other Asian countries. Some of these products even contain Chinese lettering on them which further reinforces in the minds of people that they contain some ancient Chinese secret to weight loss.
Bee pollen slimming supplements I've looked at have included:
In spite of the hype surrounding these products I can say without a doubt there is zero proof for bee pollen helping weight loss. I can find no evidence that bee pollen works. I'm not aware of any clinical study on bee pollen as a weight loss supplement.
And yet, some of these products really did work! Some people swore they lost huge amounts of weight in a short period of time.
How is this possible?
The answer is quite scary…
Several bee pollen weight loss supplements have been found by the FDA to contain weight loss drugs.
These weight loss drugs were not listed on the ingredient list of the supplements. Even worse, these drugs can be dangerous. Some of the illegal drugs found in bee pollen weight loss supplements include:
- Sibutramine (Meridia) : a weight loss drug linked to heart attacks and strokes
- Phenolphthalein: a laxative which appears to promote cancer in lab animals
It turns out the FDA has discovered a LOT of bee pollen supplements contaminated with illegal drugs.
One of the side effects of sibutramine (Meridia) is having a very dry mouth (cotton mouth). To compensate for this, people are told to drink lots of water. If you are taking a supplement where bee pollen is the main ingredient and you have a constant dry mouth, this may be a tip off that there may be more in the product than you think.
Bee pollen is pretty inexpensive and contains vitamins and minerals. So if you want to take it as a general health supplement, that's great. But when it comes to weight loss, I just don't see it.
Bottom line: Even the companies that make bee pollen slimming supplements know they don't work. The fact so many have been found to contain illegal drugs proves it.
Vitamin B 12 Injections
Giving vitamin B12 supplements and/or vitamin B12 injections may be part of the treatment at some weight loss clinics. The idea is vitamin B12 – also called cyanocobalm – will boost energy levels. By raising energy, people are supposed to be able to do more stuff. This in turn leads to burning more calories – and hence, improved weight loss results.
It all sounds great -except there isn't any evidence for it.
Over the years, I've searched for proof of vitamin B12 and weight loss. I come up empty every time.
It's important to know we can store vitamin B12 in the body. True, some people may not get enough such as:
- Older individuals
- People with anemia
- Those with liver problems (B12 is stored in the liver)
- People who have undergone weight loss surgery
- People taking certain medications (like diabetes meds)
But, in basically healthy people who are just overweight, there's a good chance they already have a 3-5 years worth of B12 in their body.
So if vitamin B12 doesn't work, why do doctors prescribe it? I have a few theories:
- It's a placebo effect. People assume anything that's injected must be serious medicine and will work
- Doctors can sometimes charge insurance companies and Medicare for B12 injections
- B12 is a pretty safe vitamin.
In other words, giving B12 injections won't hurt anyone and people take shots seriously and doctors can make money from it. It's a win-win-win for everybody.
Bottom line. I would not technically call B12 weight loss injections a scam. The placebo effect is real.
Hordenine (also called N,N-dimethyltyramine) is a stimulant found in some weight loss supplements. Stimulants have been used in supplements for decades. The idea is that stimulants will raise metabolism (the number of calories we burn) and also help people get off the couch and do something. By doing more activity, this also helps burn calories.
The big problem with hordenine is that there isn't any proof it helps people lose weight. Like most of the other things mentioned in this review, hordenine can be purchased alone or it may be a part of a proprietary blend. Either way you slice it though, it's not ready for prime time, because it lacks evidence. Like other stimulants, hordenine is ill advised for those with heart and blood pressure problems.
Bottom line. Until hordenine is proven in people to help weight loss, save your money and avoid if you have any health problems.
Collagen (also called gelatin) is the most plentiful protein in the human body. I think some believe that the abundance collagen in the body equates to it being more important than other proteins. No matter the reason, when it comes to collagen and weight loss, I just don't see it.
As proof of the weight loss ability of collagen, some experts cite a very small study of 9 older women who took both whey protein and collagen supplements, each for 15 days. But, if they actually read the study, they'd see the older women did not lose any weight when they consumed collagen supplements.
To be fair, I found it intriguing the older women did not lose weight while taking collagen supplements. In theory, this might have benefits. If this study were successfully replicated, it might mean collagen benefits sarcopenia – muscle loss which occurs as we get older. That is a topic for a later discussion though.
Another study sometimes used to promote the use of collagen supplements is this one which showed protein helps weight loss. The problem though is collagen was not part of the study. The investigation only noted protein helped weight loss. It did not single out collagen.
Bottom line: Collagen is just protein. It's not superior other proteins. While I think it's scam, if you do use it, don't pay a lot because collagen is cheap.
Weight Loss Powders That Enhance Taste & Smell
A few years ago companies were making powders that people sprinkled on foods that were supposed to improve the smell and taste of the food. If the food smelled better and tasted better, it was supposed to cause us to eat less of it.
As we ate less food, we also ate fewer calories.
The biggest player in this business was Sensa. There was a time when you could not turn on the TV and not see adds for this stuff. Sensa was so popular that even the company behind Hydroxycut, once tried to sell their own version (“Hydroxycut Sprinkles”).
On the surface, it kind of made sense and while there were some studies on Sensa, the research was not published in medical journals. That's a huge problem. The FTC also agreed that there were issues and ordered the Sensa company (Sensa LLC / Intelligent Beauty) to pay $ 26 million in refunds to people who purchased this product.
Sensa is not sold anymore but I'm including it because it's possible one day another sprinkle weight loss product will arise.
Bottom line: Sometimes things that sound too simple to be true, just might be.
Why Do Companies Use These Ingredients?
When we think about supplement companies we often conjure up ideas of some biomedical corporation where laboratory research is conducted. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Some of the companies are made up of regular people who want to get into the supplement business. There's nothing wrong with that. They like supplements and want to help others. I get that. But some of them may or may not have a nutrition background. Basically, they look at what's in other products and try to reverse engineer them so they can sell them too.
Other times, they choose ingredients because they are popular or trendy, like the stuff summarized in this review.
To make the process easy, they may go to companies offering private label manufacturing. Private labeling companies are those that blend together whatever you want, put them in bottles, etc. so you can sell it on your website, or wherever.
How do I know this goes on? Because sometimes people are smart enough to hire me to fact check their supplement ingredients first.
Hopefully, some this is of use to you as you seek weight loss supplements for yourself.