8 Weight Loss Supplements That Actually Work (Burn Fat & Build Muscle)

Wouldn't it be nice if you could take some supplements to lose weight?

While weight loss is not quite that easy, there are many supplements that may help you burn fat and build muscle mass. 

The combination may result in weight loss and an improvement in your body composition. 

The trick is to use the right supplements at the right dose and try to target them to your body and your needs. 

This post will teach you how I use supplements in my practice and which supplements I think are the best for weight loss

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Will Supplements Help With Weight Loss? 

We'd all like to lose a little bit of weight, right?

The problem is not that we have a desire or an interest in losing weight but more about how to go about doing it. 

Because of this interest, many people seek alternative ways to lose weight. 

Some of these are scams or fads and don't really work, but that doesn't mean all of them are. 

Today we are going to explore some over the counter supplements and discuss how these supplements may actually be helpful in weight loss. 

The supplements we are going to discuss have all been studied in some capacity and have literary studies showing that they can potentially be effective. 

The keyword here is "potentially". 

Just because a study shows that people lose weight while taking it doesn't mean that it's going to work for you (or that you should take the study seriously)

We live in a time where everyone is trying to push their own agenda and this thinking and logic extends into the field of science as well. 

In addition, you always need to be mindful of the cause of obesity. 

Traditionally, we think of obesity as an "energy imbalance". (1)

conventional weight loss strategy

(If only it were that easy!)

That is...

If you want to gain weight you need to eat more calories than you burn. 

If you want to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. 

The problem with this thinking is that experience, and many studies, show that it isn't quite this simple. (2)

Over the last several decades, we've seen a rise in the number of hours people exercise each week in addition to a rise in obesity rates

At the same time, we also see a reduction in the number of calories that people consume. 

What does this mean?

It means that, despite using the eat less exercise more weight loss advice, people are still gaining weight! 

Is it possible that we are approaching the treatment for weight loss in the wrong way?

Is it possible that we don't quite understand obesity as much as we think we do?

The fact that 99% of diets fail may be a clue that we should look at the cause or etiology of obesity. 

I think the idea that obesity is always caused by an over-consumption of calories is definitely not as true as we once thought. 

We now know that many different problems can cause obesity including the food that we eat, hormone imbalances, stress, dietary patterns and so on. 

What I want to focus on here is that we are going to be discussing supplements that may help with weight loss and each one works in a slightly different way. 

Scientifically Proven Supplements

Supplements, like other weight loss medications, all target different pathways, and mechanisms in your body. 

But the end result may be the same:

Weight loss. 

We can break down weight loss supplements into several main categories:

  • Supplements that alter your appetite
  • Supplements that help you burn fat
  • Supplements that help you build muscle
  • Supplements that target insulin, leptin, and other fat storing hormones
  • Supplements which reduce inflammation

Each one of these pathways has been, at the very least, involved in some way with weight gain and obesity. 

The idea here is that if we target these pathways (the more the better) we may be able to impact body weight. 

And this idea may work for many people but there are a few other things you should consider:

  • Supplements should never be used in isolation and as your only "weight loss therapy"
  • Supplements should always be combined with diet and exercise
  • Supplements will be more effective if you use more than one type (combine them together)
  • Don't expect immediate results (it may take weeks to kick in)
  • They don't work for everyone
  • Stick to supplements which have at least some studies which show that they are effective

With this out of the way, I think we are ready to talk about the supplements that may help you with weight loss: 

#1. Protein Powder

First on the list is protein powder. 

I'm not going to differentiate between which type of protein powder you should or shouldn't use (but my preference is plant-based forms of protein for weight loss) because how they work is basically the same. 

Protein, as a macromolecule, may help promote weight loss through several different mechanisms:

First, through its ability to help promote satiety and reduce the amount of food that you consume. (3)

And second, through its ability to help promote the production of lean muscle mass (4) (remember that protein is required for muscle growth and development). 

Protein powder is especially effective when combined with diet and exercise programs. 

The idea in combining these therapies is that the more muscle mass you can produce, the higher your metabolism will be and the more calories you can burn at rest. 

Don't overdo it on the protein powder, though, as high levels may promote or worsen leptin resistance. 

You want enough protein to help maintain and build your muscle mass (based on your activity level) and no more. 

For best results make sure to use a clean protein powder which does not contain added fillers, dyes or preservatives. 

#2. Collagen

Collagen is really a sub-type of protein powder which contains an array of amino acids not commonly found in the standard American Diet. 

The use of collagen, as a protein supplement, can be accomplished through either collagen peptides or through hydrolyzed collagen. 

Collagen is extremely high in the amino acids proline, glycine and glutamic acid which play an important role in tissues in your body such as muscles, skin, and hair. 

Collagen is sometimes used as a beauty supplement because it is known to help improve the quality of hair and the quality of your skin. 

It may also be effective in helping with weight loss as well. 

Some studies have shown that resistance training, when combined with collagen, may promote an increase in muscle strength and a reduction in fat mass. (5)

I don't think that collagen is necessarily more effective than protein powder for weight loss, but it might be considered if you also want to gain the "beauty" benefits to your skin, nails, and hair. 

#3. Berberine

Berberine is a plant-based alkaloid which has been shown to have a powerful impact on insulin. 

Because so many people have insulin resistance (up to 2/3rds of people in the United States), berberine may be effective in the majority of people who take it. 

Berberine has been shown to help improve blood glucose levels while also reducing insulin. (6)

The net result is a decrease in fat mass which may promote weight loss. 

The reason for this is simple:

As insulin levels increase, the foods that you consume are shunted into your adipose (fat) cells. 

The higher your insulin level the more calories that your body will shunt into your fat cells. 

You can break this cycle using low carb diets, supplements such as berberine and an exercise routine. 

#4. Fish Oil

Fish oil, as a supplement, may also help promote weight loss. 

It most likely does this through its ability to reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and by enhancing thyroid function. 

As you may or may not know, obesity results in an inflammatory condition in your fat cells known as adiposopathy. (7)

The idea is that as fat cells increase, not only do they become larger but they also become dysregulated. 

This dysregulation results in changes to the hormones that they secrete and conditions such as leptin resistance. 

If you want to keep your body weight in check you will need to make sure that you keep your fat cells happy and inflammation free. 

Fish oil may promote weight loss by reducing this inflammation and by improving insulin levels in the body. (8)

To get these benefits you may need to use doses as high as 2-3 grams of fish oil per day for at least several months at a time. 

#5. CLA

CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid and it's actually a group of fats defined by their shape. 

CLA has been shown to improve cholesterol levels, help with weight loss and improve immune function. (9)

The reason CLA may help with weight loss probably has to do with how it impacts the burning of fuel in your body and how that impacts your metabolism. 

Studies have also shown that using this fat may also suppress your appetite and reduce the number of calories that you consume each day. 

You can compare the benefits of CLA to something like MCT oil, which is another supplement and fat which may promote weight loss. 

To get these benefits you may need to consume up to 4,000mg (or 4 grams) per day. 

CLA should be used in conjunction with diet and exercise for best results. 

#6. Glucomannan

Glucomannan is a viscous type of fiber. 

The idea behind this supplement is that it helps to expand after ingestion and help send signals to your body that you are full. 

Glucomannan absorbs water and expands after ingestion and it is recommended that you take it with a full glass of water to improve your results. 

It works to help regulate your appetite, help you consume less food (10) and by slowing down the absorption of nutrients and carbohydrates that you consume. 

Believe it or not, this supplement has a few studies which show that it can be effective for weight loss. 

It's worth considering, especially if you suffer from insulin resistance or have issues with binge eating or controlling your appetite. 

#7. Probiotics

One of my favorite supplements to use for weight loss are probiotics. 

Probiotics are not always thought of as weight loss supplements but studies have shown that they may actually help. (11)

The idea behind how they work has to do with how the bacteria in your gut process and mediate the absorption and break down of foods. 

Certain bacteria species help you increase and absorb more nutrients when compared to other species. 

By doing this, you may be absorbing more calories from the foods that you eat, compared to healthy adults, just because you have unhealthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. 

Other bacteria species send out secondary messengers into your body which interact with your brain and may alter your appetite and cause cravings for foods (usually unhealthy foods high in sugar and starches). 

Taking probiotics may help improve the composition of bacteria in your gut and therefore help with weight loss. 

#8. Caffeine

Lastly, it's worth mentioning the stimulant caffeine. 

While caffeine can be effective for weight loss in some instances (12), it's well known and already widely used. 

So, if you drink coffee or caffeine already each day it's unlikely that using more caffeine will help you lose weight. 

But, if you don't use caffeine on a daily basis, it may be worth a small trial to see if it works for you.

You do need to be careful with caffeine, however, because it can impact your sleep and may lead to insomnia in some people. 

If you take it and it impacts your sleep negatively then you may be shooting yourself in the foot as lack of sleep is a potential cause of weight gain. 

If you decide to give caffeine a trial make sure you use no more than 50-100mg per day (at the most). 

Doses higher than this will result in diminishing returns and will not help. 

You can also combine caffeine in pre-exercise supplements to enhance the effectiveness of your work-out. 

Be careful with this as well, though, because you don't want to put extra stress on your body unnecessarily. 

Remember:

Stress increases cortisol and cortisol may lead to weight gain. 

Conclusion

One last thought...

Several other issues can cause you to gain weight but may not be effectively treated with the supplements I listed above.

Examples include:

  • If you have a problem with stress then you will need my basic supplements plus daily stress reduction techniques like meditation, or yoga to help reduce your cortisol levels.
  • If you have an issue with your thyroid you may need thyroid support supplements and ultimately you may need bioidentical hormone therapy to kick your metabolism back on.
  • If you suddenly gained weight after menopause then you may need support which includes hormone replacement therapy.

The list goes on...

The use of supplements may potentially help you with weight loss provided that you use them correctly and with other weight loss therapies. 

Do your best to avoid gimmicky or over-hyped therapies that sound too good to be true (because they most likely are). 

Instead, focus on the fundamentals that you know will work long-term. 

Things like altering your diet to the point that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle, consistent exercise routines that you can keep up with and supplements which target the problems you are facing

Now I want to hear from you:

What supplements have you been using? 

Which do you find work the best for you and why?

Which supplements DIDN'T work for you?

Leave your questions or comments below! 

References and citations:

Kreisberg, Joel. "Learning from organic agriculture." Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 2.5 (2006): 450-452.

Fairfield, Kathleen M, and Robert H Fletcher. "Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: scientific review." Jama 287.23 (2002): 3116-3126.

Wolff, Tracy et al. "Folic acid supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects: an update of the evidence for the US Preventive Services Task Force." Annals of Internal Medicine 150.9 (2009): 632-639.

Kelly, GS. "Insulin resistance: lifestyle and nutritional interventions." Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic 5.2 (2000): 109-132.

Yin, Jun, Huili Xing, and Jianping Ye. "Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus." Metabolism 57.5 (2008): 712-717.

Yang, Jing et al. "Berberine improves insulin sensitivity by inhibiting fat store and adjusting adipokines profile in human preadipocytes and metabolic syndrome patients." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2012).

Hu, Yueshan et al. "Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats." Phytomedicine 19.10 (2012): 861-867.

Howarth, Nancy C, Edward Saltzman, and Susan B Roberts. "Dietary fiber and weight regulation." Nutrition reviews 59.5 (2001): 129-139.

Crawford, Paul. "Effectiveness of cinnamon for lowering hemoglobin A1C in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial." The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 22.5 (2009): 507-512.

Venables, Michelle C et al. "Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans." The American journal of clinical nutrition 87.3 (2008): 778-784.

Singh, Uma, and Ishwarlal Jialal. "Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and diabetes." Nutrition reviews 66.11 (2008): 646-657.

Mijnhout, Gerritje S et al. "Alpha lipoic acid for symptomatic peripheral neuropathy in patients with diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." International journal of endocrinology 2012 (2012).

"A scientific review: the role of chromium in insulin resistance." 2008. 21 Jul. 2015 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15208835>

Takaya, Junji, Hirohiko Higashino, and Yohnosuke Kobayashi. "Intracellular magnesium and insulin resistance." Magnesium research 17.2 (2004): 126-136.

Mallappa, Rashmi H et al. "Management of metabolic syndrome through probiotic and prebiotic interventions." Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism 16.1 (2012): 20.

Chuengsamarn, Somlak et al. "Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes." Diabetes Care 35.11 (2012): 2121-2127.

Minich, Deanna M, and Jeffrey S Bland. "Dietary management of the metabolic syndrome beyond macronutrients." Nutrition reviews 66.8 (2008): 429-444.

Zittermann, Armin et al. "Vitamin D supplementation enhances the beneficial effects of weight loss on cardiovascular disease risk markers." The American journal of clinical nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1321-1327.

This post was most recently updated on August 9th, 2018

Dr. Westin Childs

Dr. Westin Childs is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He provides well-researched actionable information about hormone-related disorders and formulates supplements to treat these disorders.He is trained in Internal Medicine, Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine. His focus is on managing thyroid disorders, weight loss resistance, and other sex hormone imbalances.You can read more about his own personal journey here.

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