National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Time to Talk Tips

7 Things To Know About Complementary Health Practices for Weight Loss

More than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. Achieving a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active can help you control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar—and may also help you prevent weight-related diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Although dietary supplements marketed for weight loss or appetite suppression are available in pharmacies, grocery stores, health food stores, and on the Internet, most of these products haven’t been proven effective and some have been proven to be dangerous. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering a complementary health approach for losing weight.

  1. Ask yourself if a product sounds too good to be true. Be cautious if the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic and use phrases like “quick and effective” or “totally safe.” Be skeptical about information from personal “testimonials” about the product’s benefits. Keep in mind that testimonials, anecdotes, unsupported claims, and opinions are not the same as objective, evidence-based information.
  2. Be aware of the possibility of product contamination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found weight loss products sold as dietary supplements that contain hidden prescription drugs or other compounds. These tainted products can cause serious harm to unsuspecting consumers.
  3. There is no definitive scientific evidence to support the use of acai berry, bitter orange, and green tea supplements for weight loss. There is little reliable information about the safety of acai as a supplement, and there have been reports of serious side effects from taking bitter orange supplements and concentrated green tea extracts.
  4. Ephedra is dangerous, and the increased risk of heart problems and stroke far outweighs any potential benefits. In 2004, the FDA banned the U.S. sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra. The FDA found that these supplements had an unreasonable risk of injury or illness—particularly cardiovascular complications—and risk of death.
  5. There is some emerging evidence suggesting that some mind and body approaches are generally safe and may be useful as complements to other weight-loss interventions. Research in this area is in its early stages, but results of studies on yoga and mindful eating are promising.
  6. Make lifestyle changes that work for you, including a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity. The key to achieving a healthy weight (NHLBI) is making changes in your eating and physical activity habits that work for you and that you can maintain for the rest of your life.
  7. Talk with your health care provider. If your doctor does not ask you about healthy eating, physical activity, and weight management during your regular check-up, you can start the conversation. Your health care provider can assess your weight and health risks, determine whether you need to lose weight, and provide information that will help you make informed decisions about a weight-loss program. You may feel uncomfortable talking about your weight with your health care provider, but remember that he or she is there to help improve your health.