Diet pills: too good to be true?
If you think all those pills claiming to help you lose weight “the fast and easy way” sound too good to be true, you’re right to be suspicious. The first generation of weight loss supplements–and the ones that tend to be the most aggressively marketed–are stimulants, which work by artificially speeding metabolism, so you lose weight quickly, but as soon as you stop taking them you gain it right back.
But other types of supplements can be useful. The most promising work not by offering a quick fix, but by helping your body achieve a proper balance so that your efforts won’t be undermined by an unnaturally sluggish metabolism or any nutritional deficiencies. “The idea is not to “cause” weight loss per se, but to use judiciously selected supplements to fill in any gaps left by diet to support optimal metabolism,” say David Katz, director of
the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
A bit more research is needed on some of these supplements to determine their effectiveness; others have done well in trials and are considered safe. Here’s a rundown of the leading contenders:
Everyone knows that calcium is good for your bones, but it also plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight. When calcium levels are low, you tend to put more calories into fat tissue than into lean muscle tissue, making it very hard to lose weight. “If your doctor has ruled out any underlying medical problems and you’re doing everything else right–going to the gym and dieting–and still not losing weight, this may be one thing that can help,” says Roger Clemens, a nutritionist at the University of Southern California.
How much: “The best results have come from eating low-fat dairy foods,” says Clemens. He says to aim for a total of 1,200 mg of calcium a day, which you can get from 3 to 4 servings, or a mix of food and supplements. (Split the pills into a morning and evening dose for better absorption).
Taking this mineral may help quash Syndrome X, a common factor in obesity in which chronically high insulin levels interfere with metabolism and increase hunger. How do you know if you have Syndrome X? A tendency to gain weight around the middle coupled with high blood pressure are two good indicators.
How much: Katz recommends one or two 400-microgram supplements a day of chromium picolinate.
CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)
A fatty acid that occurs naturally in meat and dairy, CLA in supplement form appears to be of some help in making sure that dieters lose body fat instead of muscle. But the benefits are not likely to be dramatic–in a recent Scandinavian study, volunteers lost up to 9 percent of body fat, but body weight stayed about the same or dropped only slightly (though one of the treatment groups showed a small but significant weight loss).
How much: Take 3,400 mg a day. Look for “9-cis,11-trans type” on the label, the one for which there has been the best data, says Clemens.
Green tea supplements
Some research has shown that green tea capsules may suppress appetite and help people burn calories faster, but the effect didn’t necessarily translate to weight loss.
How much: The many documented health benefits of drinking green tea certainly make it worth sipping, or taking in supplement form.