Weight Loss Pills That Work… and Those You Should Avoid

8 min read
Weight Loss

If you’ve been considering taking weight loss pills, you’ll want to read this article to know which ones work and which ones you should avoid.


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5. Liraglutide

Liraglutide (Saxenda®) is an FDA-approved, prescription injectable medicine that may help some adults to lose weight and keep it off, including those who suffer from weight-related medical problems (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes). According to Prevention magazine, patients using liraglutide may lose 5-10 percent of their bodyweight.

NOTE: Saxenda® is not to be confused with Victoza, a lower dose of liraglutide that is used to treat type 2 diabetes. In fact, the makers of Saxenda® warn that the two medications should not be taken together.

4. Lorcaserin

Lorcaserin (BELVIQ) is a weight-loss prescription that acts on your brain’s serotonin receptors to trick you into feeling fuller than you normally would after eating smaller servings. So, just how well does it work? According to NBC News, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the drug could lead to consistent and sustained loss of more than five percent of weight in nearly 40 percent of patients at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and death from cardiovascular disease. Not only that but it could also do all of this without increasing the likelihood of those illnesses. A five percent weight loss may seem minor, but it’s not. “That is the point where there is a very significant reduction in the risk of diabetes,” Dr. Louis Aronne, a professor of metabolic research at Weill Cornell Medicine, told NBC News. “A five percent loss of weight is associated with a 50 percent lower risk of diabetes and a 10 percent loss is associated with an 80 percent lower risk.”

3. Naltrexone-Bupropion

Naltrexone-Bupropion is actually a mix of two different drugs — naltrexone and bupropion, available as Contrave. And, when you mix these two drugs together, they work to help curb your hunger and keep you feeling full longer. According to Prevention magazine, patients who take naltrexone-bupropion may lose 5-10 percent of their body weight.

INTERESTING FACT: On its own, naltrexone is used to treat drug addictions. Bupropion on its own is used to treat depression and to help people stop smoking.

2. Orlistat

Orlistat is available in a higher dose as a prescription (Xenical) as well as over-the-counter in a lower dose (Alli). Orlistat is a lipase inhibitor that helps patients reduce the amount of fat their bodies absorb from food. The undigested fat gets passed out of your body in your bowel movement. It’s important to note that Orlistat does NOT block the absorption of calories from sugar and other non-fat foods, so you will still need to watch what you eat.

1. Phentermine

Phentermine is a stimulant that helps suppress your appetite. The good news is that it could lead to a loss of five percent of your body weight. The bad news is that phentermine is only approved for short-term (up to 12 weeks) use. Here is some more good news: phentermine is sometimes paired with topiramate to treat obesity. The two drugs combined are sold under the brand name Qsymia. Patients using Qsymia could lose 5-10 percent of their body weight.


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11. Caffeine

Studies suggest that caffeine may in fact have a small effect on body weight and even help stop you from gaining weight in the long run. It’s believed that caffeine can kick our fat oxidation process into gear. But, that’s when caffeine is consumed as a supplement. In other words, don’t start downing 20 or more cups of coffee a day. There can be some serious side effects of ingesting too much caffeine, including nervousness, vomiting, and a rapid heart rate.

10. Chitosan

Here is another supplement that targets the fat you consume. Derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans and arthropods, chitosan binds fat in the digestive tract. If, however, you are looking for a supplement that will produce maximum results, chitosan is not for you. The reason is that this supplement has been shown in some clinical studies to have a minimal effect on body weight. Plus, there are some side effects to consider when taking chitosan, including bloating, indigestion, and constipation.

NOTE: The clinical studies were small and of poor quality, so perhaps more research needs to be conducted on the subject before coming to any conclusions.

9. Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Small clinical trials have shown that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) causes small reductions in body weight and body fat by working on a number of bodily processes, including lipolysis, lipogenesis, and apoptosis. This is true even in people who don’t change their eating habits or lifestyle. The results of these clinical trials, however, are mixed. Not only that, but conjugated linoleic acid can also cause a number of digestive issues and throw off your glucose homeostasis, that is, the balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain blood glucose.

8. Forskolin

Forskolin is an extract from the root of a plant in the mint family. It is said to aid weight loss by reducing a person’s appetite. Unfortunately, the use of forskolin in human diets has not been studied much, so no one really knows for sure if it actually works. What is known, however, are the side effects it produces. These include indigestion, hypotension (or low blood pressure), blurred vision, pale skin, and fatigue.

INTERESTING FACT: Forskolin has been used to treat glaucoma and idiopathic congestive cardiomyopathy.

7. Garcinia Cambogia

Research has shown that Garcinia cambogia, an extract from a tropical fruit native to Indonesia, promotes small amounts of weight loss in the short term. According to an article published by WebMD, it’s supposed to work by blocking your body’s ability to make fat — some studies show it stops an enzyme that turns sugar into fat — and by suppressing your appetite. But, as with any medicinal agent, it has its side effects. These include nausea and, in rare cases, liver toxicity.

6. Glucomannan

Does glucomannan really help with weight loss? Well, it depends on who you ask. Older studies suggest that this ingredient extracted from the root of the elephant yam may help keep you feeling fuller longer. More recent studies, however, say that it doesn’t really help with weight loss at all. But, if you do choose to use glucomannan, you need to be aware of its side effects, which include bloating, gas, and soft stools.

FUN FACT: The dietary supplement Lipozene boasts glucomannan as its primary ingredient.

5. Green Coffee Bean Extract

Green coffee bean extract may aid in weight loss by preventing the accumulation of fat and regulating the metabolism of glucose. But, research shows that it’s only a small amount of weight loss. Not only that, but green coffee bean extract can also lead to side effects, ranging from minor headaches to more serious issues like urinary tract infections. On a positive note, green coffee bean extract does help lower blood pressure, and it has anti-aging effects due to its antioxidant properties.

4. Green Tea Extract

Studies say that green tea may help you lose weight by boosting your calorie burn and fat oxidation while simultaneously lowering your fat absorption. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research to determine if green tea is indeed a helpful weight-loss aid, although many people claim that it does in fact suppress their appetite. And, if that’s the case, then one can assume that weight loss will follow, especially if a change in diet and lifestyle accompanies the use of green tea.

3. Hoodia Gordonii

Hoodia Gordonii is a succulent plant native to Africa that is said to reduce appetite. But, like so many of the other weight-loss aids on this list, there is very little published research on Hoodia Gordonii’s effect on humans, aside from the fact that it can trigger higher blood pressure and a faster pulse.

FUN FACT: Interest in the use of Hoodia Gordonii as an appetite suppressant arose from reports of native Africans using it to reduce hunger during long hunts.

2. Irvingia Gabonensis

Here is another supplement that comes from a plant native to Africa. According to the few clinical trials that have been done, Irvingia gabonensis aids weight loss by interfering with adipogenesis and helping to reduce leptin, a hormone associated with obesity. Side effects include gas, headache, and sleep disturbances.

FUN FACT: Irvingia gabonensis seeds are the main staple for many tribes in Nigeria and Cameroon and are frequently consumed in parts of Nigeria in six to seven meals per week.

1. Raspberry Ketones

Raspberry ketones, as you would have guessed, come from raspberries and are responsible for the fruit’s distinct smell. And, because studies show that various raspberry components aid in weight loss, many people believe that raspberry ketones will also help with it. Unfortunately, “reliable research on the use of raspberry ketone for any health condition in humans is currently lacking. Further high-quality research is needed,” Catherine Ulbricht, senior pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and co-founder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration, which reviews evidence on herbs and supplements, told Live Science.

FUN FACT: Raspberry ketones are also found in blackberries and cranberries.


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Avoid any supplements containing the following ingredients, as they can pose serious risks to your health:

4. Bitter Orange

According to the Mayo Clinic, the bitter orange fruit and peel are often used in weight-loss supplements and other supplements. And, while bitter orange does help with modest weight loss, its risks far outweigh its benefits. Bitter orange contains synephrine, a chemical that can cause your heart rate to speed up and raise your blood pressure as well. Some patients who used bitter orange even reported having a heart attack or stroke. This held true when using bitter orange alone or in combination with caffeine or other stimulants.

3. Ma-huang

Ma-huang is a traditional Chinese herb derived from ephedra sinica. It’s composed of two active compounds — pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “ephedrine has been found to be effective in inducing weight loss in diet-restricted obese patients. However, indiscriminate consumption of ma-huang-containing products has resulted in many cases of poisoning, some of which were fatal.” That’s why the FDA banned ephedra years ago. Its decision was based on extensive research involving tens of thousands of reports of adverse effects from products containing ephedra. At the time of the ban (December 2003), 155 deaths, including that of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, had been blamed on the stimulant.


DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) is an amphetamine derivative that has been marketed in sports performance and weight loss products. But, according to the FDA, products containing DMAA that are marketed as dietary supplements are illegal. Although DMAA, also known as methylhexanamine or geranium extract, has long been touted as a “natural” stimulant, the FDA says that there is no evidence that DMAA exists naturally in plants. Not only that, but DMAA, especially when used in combination with other stimulants, can also raise your blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular problems like shortness of breath, tightening in the chest, and heart attacks. It can also lead to seizures and other neurological and psychological conditions.

1. DNP

“The Killer Weight Loss Drug DNP Is Still Claiming Young Lives,” reads the headline from an article published by VICE. According to the article, DNP pills have killed both bodybuilders and people with eating disorders by cooking them from the inside. “DNP heats you up. It stops the mitochondria in your cells from absorbing the energy that has just been released from your body breaking down your food. That energy needs to go somewhere. So it becomes heat,” the article said. It, in turn, slowly raises your body temperature, and unfortunately, “there is no antidote, no treatment, no amount of cold compress that can take you that deep into the body.” The only option is to lie there helpless until your body eventually cooks itself.


Your turn! Have you tried any of the pills on this list? Did you have any success with them? Let us know in the comments below.