weight loss supplements

The Dangers and Risks of Weight Loss Supplements and Healthy Alternatives

October 31, 2022

Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for the body to function at its best. But how you get there can also impact your body’s wellbeing. While weight loss supplements have helped many people shed pounds and reach a healthier weight, they’ve also been known to harbor shocking side effects and hidden dangers.

Before you start popping pills for weight loss, make sure you’re informed! After all, it’s your body, and there’s no such thing as having too much knowledge. You may also want to give alternative remedies a try. Considered more natural and wholesome than multi-mineral supplements, these alternatives can help you reach goals in your weight loss journey – without as many risks.

How Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?

In general, most weight loss supplements are designed to 1) create a sense of fullness so you eat less, 2) burn fat and/or block fat absorption, or 3) speed up metabolism. A single supplement may target one or more of these effects to promote weight loss. In theory, it makes sense! But in reality, meddling with the body in this way is not as clear-cut as it sounds.

While weight loss supplements may have good intentions, their means of making progress often come at the expense of other factors. Kidney failure, liver damage, and elevated blood pressure have all been linked to certain weight loss supplements, prompting the FDA to create a list of banned products. Though not everyone reacts to supplements the same way, it’s important to note that there is an established link between certain weight loss pills and adverse health effects.

FDA Regulation? Nope!

But weight loss supplements wouldn’t be made available if they were dangerous, right? Sadly, that’s not the case. Though the FDA does have the power to ban certain ingredients and issue warnings to consumers, it does not actively test or regulate every single over-the-counter supplement that goes on the market. Typically, warnings and bans are initiated only after they've caused numerous health issues in enough people that a probable link can be established.

The FDA keeps a running list of dietary supplements that are considered ‘tainted,’ or contain surprise ingredients that aren’t listed on the label. In other words, these weight loss products are laced with hidden active ingredients that can be harmful (controlled substances, prescription drugs, and untested pharmaceutical agents). Sibutramine, rimonabant and phenytoin are a few examples of risky ingredients that have been slipped into supplement formulas while bypassing the labels.

But again, the FDA warns the public that they can’t catch every harmful product out there! This means there are many weight loss supplements on the market that have not been fully vetted as safe by the FDA.

Reported Risks & Side Effects

Some of the risks associated with weight loss pills are concerning. Here’s a brief list of the health effects that have been most widely reported with various weight loss supplements:

  • Cardiovascular damage– Increased heart rate and high blood pressure can be extremely dangerous. Ephedra has been banned in the US since 2004 because of its links to heart attack and stroke.
  • Liver, kidney & other organ damage – Several cases of organ damage triggered a Hydroxycut recall in 2009.
  • Digestive Issues– Diarrhea and rectal bleeding have also been reported by patients taking weight loss supplements.

Some of the active ingredients used in weight loss supplements can actually be helpful for particular individuals – when prescribed by a doctor who has considered all the other factors at play and is familiar with the person’s health history. Blood pressure, contraindications, other prescriptions, underlying health conditions, drug intolerances, genetics, and many other elements play a role in determining the safety of an ingredient for a particular patient.

One of the problems is that most over-the-counter weight loss pills are just picked up on a whim, without all of those considerations or physician consultations. Combine that with the fact that there isn’t much regulation with these products, and it’s no surprise that so many risks are associated with weight loss pills.

Holistic Alternatives

Weight loss supplements aren’t the only option available. For those looking to get an edge on their weight loss journey but not willing to roll the dice with weight loss pills, here are a few holistic alternatives to consider.

  • Green tea and flaxseed can help slow down the body’s production of fat and facilitate digestion – and they’re both delicious! Flax seed can be mixed into oatmeal or baked into bread for a nutritional boost.
  • Caffeine and guarana are two ingredients that can provide a short-term metabolism boost.
  • Chickweed, bee pollen and fennel are good for curbing cravings of certain foods, allowing you to reduce overall calorie intake. This is particularly helpful for those who struggle with overeating.

Combined with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, as well as mentoring from a nutritionist or primary physician, you can embrace a more natural weight loss journey without the wild card of risks that come with unregulated weight loss supplements.

Dr. Candice Seti, Psy.D., of Me Only Better is known in the community as "The Weight Loss Therapist." 

weight loss supplements
Candice Seti


Dr. Candice Seti, Psy.D., of Me Only Better is known in the community as "The Weight Loss Therapist." Dr. Seti is renowned for her expertise in applying cognitive therapy to weight loss and weight management and extensive knowledge of nutrition and exercise applications to a weight management program. This is an area Dr. Seti has been passionate about for many years after her own weight loss experience. Read more articles by Dr. Seti!