Dietary supplements are not the best way to lose weight

Helena V Berbie

Cher performs at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, May 16, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Cher performs at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, May 16, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)


An old quote from Cher still resonates with me.

As she sat for a gym commercial, she said, “If it came in a bottle, everyone would have a great body.”

Many people ignore Cher’s wisdom since dietary supplements for weight loss are a billion-dollar business. The U.S. weight loss market hit a record $78 billion in 2019, but declined by 21% during the pandemic. A strong rebound is expected in the next few years.

Do nonprescription dietary supplements work? Are they worth the expense?

A few answers emerge from an article in the July 2021 issue of Obesity. The researchers report that of adults trying to lose weight, 34% used dietary supplements for weight loss. Popular press, influencers, celebrities and people in white coats most often market weight-loss supplements.

The researchers reviewed the literature for articles including weight loss and alternative therapies. They ended up with 315 articles.

The most striking finding was that the studies were not of high quality, with many of them having small sample sizes, short duration and incomplete results.

The researchers identified 52 studies as having low bias, meaning they would have the most credible results. Of the 52, only 16 had significant weight loss results in the pre- and post-study period. The weight lost ranged from .6 pounds to 10 pounds.

Their overall conclusion is that there was not high quality evidence of efficacy for any of the weight-loss products.

The potential problems with weight-loss supplements are more than financial. Some folks might think the pill is the magic bullet and thus do not need to focus on nutrient-rich meals.

Health comes from food, not a pill. Others might look to a pill as a way to avoid movement. Yet vitality and stamina come with activity.

And then there’s the disappointment when the pill doesn’t work.

I would listen to Cher.

Sheah Rarback MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in Miami.

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