If you must (the skinny on weight-loss aids)

If you must … use a weight-loss aid, at least choose one that has been proven to work.  And the operative word here is “aid”.  So, yes, you still need to be exercising and eating healthy while taking an over the counter supplement (read: there are no magic pills).  Of course, you must weigh the risks and benefits of the supplement, as well as side effects and even hidden ingredients.

Glucomannan is an edible fiber from the root of the Asian knojac plant, available in capsules, powder form, and shirataki noodles.  This fiber is super dense, and when added to water it swells up to 17 times its volume.  This massive volume expansion makes you feel statisfied after eating, plus it is eliminated before it has a chance to be absorbed by your body.  One study from the journal of Metabolism showed that 1 to 5 grams a day, combined with exercise was most powerful.  The results for overweight women who took glucomannan and exercised for an hour three times a week lost 50% more fat than did women who just took the supplement.

The power of antioxidants, they reduce inflammation and some can also help you lose weight.  Alpha lipoic acid is a fatty acid found in red meats and organ meats, and available as an over-the-counter supplement.  In a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Medicine, obese people who reduced their food intake by 600 calories a day and who took 1,800 milligrams of alpha lipoic acid daily for 20 weeks lost up to 5 percent of their total body weight (significant weight loss for avoiding chronic health problems says the CDC).  Another antioxidant, green tea, is currently making its impact in the dieting world.  Green tea is a minimally processed tea that contains high concentrations of epilgallocatechin gallate (or EGCG, an antioxidant).  EGCG appears to block the body’s ability to digest fat and may boost metabolism.  A 2011 study in Obesity Reviews found that overweight/obese people who consumed at least two cups a day of caffeinated green tea lost three pounds in 12 weeks without changing their diets (imagine if you were implementing lifestyle changes, too!).  As an added bonus, green tea is also known to fight heart disease and some cancers.

The only FDA approved over-the-counter weight-loss medication is Alli Alli (orlistat).  It works by blocking the enzyme that breaks down fat in your digestive system, and can prevent about 25 percent of fat calories from being absorbed.  How effective is it?  Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that a majority of obese study participants lost five percent of their body weight in the first year (on average, about 5 to 7 pounds).  There are a few stinky side effective.  Because orlistat blocks fat absorption, food quickly traverses through your gastrointestinal tract and commonly causes loose bowel movements, flatulence, and sometimes even fecal incontinence (yikes!).  These side effects are proportional to the amount of fat consumed, perhaps encouraging a low-fat diet and thereby aiding in further weight loss.

There are a few FDA approved prescription medications for weight loss.  Lorcaserin (Belviq©) acts on the serotonin receptors in the brain, which may help you eat less and feel full after eating smaller amounts of food.  Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia©) is a of combination of two drugs: phentermine (suppresses your appetite and curbs your desire to eat) and topiramate (used to treat seizures or migraine headaches).  And other appetite suppressant which include phentermine, benzphetamine, diethylpropion and phendimetrazine.  These medications are approved for certain patients meeting specific criteria under the care of a medical provider for short-term use only, usually 12 weeks or less.  Prescription medications are often used by providers to “jump start” weight loss, but the majority of the weight loss is still left to the devotion and efforts of the patient.

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