Common Ingredients in Weight Loss Supplements (and what they do)

Losing weight can be incredibly hard. Healthy diet and exercise require commitment and discipline and so many people look for a little help with the process. Weight loss supplements are popular options for those looking for a little help in their weight loss journey.

While there are plenty of weight loss supplements on the market, actual scientific evidence for their efficacy remains scant. Despite this, many people still find these supplements helpful.

Weight loss supplements tend to work in one of three ways:

  1. Reducing appetite and making you feel more full so that you eat less
  2. Reducing absorption of nutrients such as fat, making you take in fewer calories
  3. Increasing fat burning, making you burn more calories

The extent that the individual supplements actually work or have any basis in science will differ greatly depending on the products. Some may also come with significant side effects. You should always discuss any diet or supplement changes with a doctor or registered dietitian.

With that said, let’s have a look at a few ingredients or additives commonly found in weight loss supplements.


Caffeine is a common ingredient in weight loss supplements. It boosts the metabolic rate, helping to burn fat. It also stimulates the central nervous system, increasing thermogenesis and fat oxidation.

Caffeine is also believed to help dull the appetite, which can be beneficial for those trying to lose weight. However, studies of this have been inconclusive.

Over time, people can build up a tolerance to caffeine, meaning long term use as a weight loss supplement will likely be ineffective.


Diuretics, also known as water pills, are generally used to treat conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney disease.

Diuretics are also used in some weight loss supplements, as they promote rapid (but short term) weight loss. The substances help your kidneys release more sodium into your urine, which in turn draws water from the blood, excreting it as urine. This means that urine volume increases resulting in a loss of water weight. While the results can be rapid, any weight loss is only water weight that will be quickly put back on when you start drinking water again.

Long term use of diuretics can lead to chronic electrolyte imbalances and kidney disease, and are not recommended as a healthy means of losing weight.

Laxatives & Fibre

Weight Loss Supplement

Laxatives are available in chemical form or as natural fibre laxatives and are commonly used to treat constipation. The work by helping the gut absorb more water from the body, helping soften the stool and making it easier to excrete.

Some weight loss supplements will include laxatives or fibre supplements. As with diuretics, these supplements can lead to rapid but short term weight loss that is mostly due to losing water, not fat.

Long term use of harsh laxatives can result in serious health problems and, therefore, are not recommended for weight loss.

According to a study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, eating 30 grams of fibre each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body’s response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet.

Fibre refers to carbohydrates that cannot be digested by your gut. Fibre promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria while also helping to keep you regular.

Viscous fibre can help to slow the emptying of the stomach, which increases digestion and absorption times. This can help you to feel fuller for longer, thereby reducing appetite.


Capsaicin is an extract from chilli peppers and is the active component responsible for the burning or spicy sensation associated with chillies.

Capsaicin is believed to increase metabolic rate, thereby increasing energy expenditure and lipid oxidation. It is also thought to help reduce appetite, cutting calorie intake.

While capsaicin has few side effects, there is little evidence to back up claims about its efficacy for weight loss.


Catechins are antioxidant compounds most commonly found in tea, particularly green tea, which is a rich source of the compound. Catechins are compounds that can help regulate blood pressure and protect the brain from disease.

Studies have also suggested that catechins may also be beneficial for weight loss. As a result, some weight loss supplements use green tea extracts as an active ingredient.

Green tea, which is the primary source of catechins, does come with some minor side effects, especially in high doses or as a concentrated extract. Side effects can include upset stomach, headaches, sleep problems (due to the presence of caffeine) and anaemia. Long term, high dose usage can also lead to liver problems and irregular heartbeat.


Probiotics are microorganisms, or friendly bacteria, that are found in a range of fermented and cultured foods, as well as in supplements. They alter gut microbiota, affecting nutrient and energy extraction from food and altering energy expenditure.

Studies have shown that healthy and diverse gut bacteria can help to regulate body weight and promote digestion.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a natural fatty acid found in meat and dairy products… While it’s not an essential nutrient, it’s often taken as a weight loss supplement. CLA is believed to increase lipolysis, reduces lipogenesis, and promotes apoptosis in adipose tissue.

However, while a number of studies have looked at the effects of CLA on fat loss, results show that its fat-burning potential is much higher in animals than in humans. Human trials have shown only minor benefits for weight loss.

When considering weight loss supplements, it’s important to understand what you’re taking and what the potential benefits and side effects may be. You should also consult your doctor before starting a weight loss program or starting a supplement routine.

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Davinder Kaur Deol

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