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The Latest Weight Loss Pills That Work—And the Ones That Don't

Prevention logo Prevention 11/11/2019 Kaitlyn Pirie

© spukkato/Getty Images A healthy diet, more exercise, more sleep, and better stress management are often the keys to weight loss. But what if you’re doing all that and not seeing a difference? Unfortunately, there’s no magical weight loss pill that will help you keep pounds off forever, but there may be one out there to give your body the jumpstart it needs.

Prescription Medications

“After appropriate nutrition and physical activity, drug therapy to promote weight loss in patients who are overweight or obese can often improve a patient’s metabolic health—as proven by controlled, randomized, clinical trials,” says Harold Bays, M.D., F.O.M.A., F.T.O.S., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.E., F.N.L.A., medical director and president of Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Research Center and chief science officer for the Obesity Medical Association. “What is perhaps most exciting is the number of investigational anti-obesity agents in development.” The prescription medications mentioned below are all FDA-approved, but they can come with side effects and aren’t right for everyone so you’ll want to discuss your unique situation with a physician who specializes in weight loss to figure out the best weight loss plan for you.

Liraglutide

This drug is actually an injection, not a pill. However, patients using liraglutide (Saxenda) may lose 5-10% of their bodyweight. It’s also available in a lower dose (Victoza) to treat type 2 diabetes.

Lorcaserin

Lorcaserin (Belviq) acts on the serotonin receptors in your brain to trick you into feeling fuller than you normally would after eating smaller servings. The medication can help patients lose 5-10% of their bodyweight.

Naltrexone-bupropion

A mix of these two drugs (available as Contrave) may curb hunger and help you feel full. Traditionally, naltrexone is used to treat drug addictions and bupropion is used for depression and smoking cessation. Patients taking a naltrexone-bupropion prescription may shed 5-10% of their bodyweight.

Orlistat

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 reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from food. Some people lose about 5% of their bodyweight while taking orlistat.

Phentermine

Phentermine is a stimulant that helps suppress your appetite and could lead to a drop of about 5% of your bodyweight. However, it’s only approved for short-term use (up to 12 weeks). Phentermine is also part of a combination drug called Qsymia that contains topiramate (which is used to treat migraines and seizures). That formulation can help some patients lose 5-10% of their bodyweight.

antibiotic medical drug capsule falling from bottle on orange background © ittipon2002 - Getty Images antibiotic medical drug capsule falling from bottle on orange background

Supplements

Most supplements that tout weight-loss benefits don’t have enough robust research on humans to support their claims. The FDA also considers supplements (which can be formulations of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or amino acids, or ingredients derived from herbs or botanicals) more like foods than drugs so there’s no regulation. That means it’s up to individual manufacturers to make sure their products live up to the claims on their labels.

If you’re interested in taking a supplement to boost your weight loss efforts, make sure you talk to your doctor first, especially because some can interact with medications you may already be taking. Below, we’ve compiled a list of popular ones.

Caffeine

We all love coffee because of the way it energizes us. The same way coffee stimulates our central nervous system, caffeine as a supplement can also kick our fat oxidation process into gear. Studies are mixed, but it may have a small effect on bodyweight and help prevent weight gain in the long run. You’ll just want to be on the lookout for nervousness, vomiting, and a rapid heart rate.

Chitosan

Derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans and arthropods, chitosan is a starch that binds fat in the digestive tract. Some small, poor-quality clinical trials show minimal effect on bodyweight, and side effects can include indigestion, bloating, and constipation.

Conjugated linoleic acid

Some clinical trials show that conjugated linoleic acid may work on a number of bodily processes including lipolysis, lipogenesis, and apoptosis to cause small reductions in bodyweight and body fat, but results are mixed. Unfortunately, it can cause quite a few digestive issues and throw off your glucose homeostasis.

Forskolin

Extracted from a plant in the mint family, forskolin is said to reduce a person’s appetite. The problem is that it hasn’t been studied very much on humans so it’s hard to say if it actually works. Side effects may also include indigestion, hypotension, blurred vision, pale skin, and fatigue.

Garcinia Cambogia

This is an extract from a tropical fruit that contains hydroxycitric acid. While some research has found it might promote small amounts of weight loss in the short term, side effects can include nausea as well as liver toxicity in rare cases.

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is an ingredient extracted from the roots of the elephant yam. Older studies suggest that taking glucomannan with meals may help keep you fuller longer to help you lose weight. However, more recent research shows that it doesn’t really help with weight loss. Not only that, it can leave you with bloating, gas, and soft stools.

Green coffee bean extract

This extract may work by preventing the accumulation of fat and regulating the metabolism of glucose. Some research points to small amounts of weight loss, but few high-quality clinical trials have been completed. Headaches and urinary tract infections have been reported as side effects.

Green tea extract

There’s not enough research to say green tea definitely helps you lose weight, but some studies say it may help by boosting calorie burn and fat oxidation and lowering fat absorption. The bad news is it there’s the potential for unpleasant side effects like constipation, nausea, high blood pressure, and liver damage.

Hoodia gordonii

This succulent from Africa is said to reduce appetite, but there’s very little published research on humans and it can trigger higher blood pressure and a faster pulse.

Irvingia gabonensis

Irvingia gabonensis comes from the seed of an African mango tree. It’s purported to interfere with adipogenesis and help reduce leptin, a hormone associated with obesity, but few clinical trials have been done. It can also cause gas, headache, and sleep disturbances.

Raspberry ketones

As you probably suspect, raspberry ketones come from raspberries. Some studies point to various raspberry components as helpful weight-loss aids, but there is very limited research specific to how raspberry ketones work on the human body, and some of it is funded by the National Processed Raspberry Council. While there’s potential for success, a lot is unknown.

Substances to Avoid

Steer clear of any supplements containing these ingredients, which can pose serious health risks:

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