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The Harm of Natural Fat Burners and Their Side Effects: What Makes Natural Supplements Dangerous?


  • The Harm of Natural Fat Burners and Their Side Effects: What Makes Natural Supplements Dangerous?

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    Fat burners seem a convenient means of losing weight for those who do not want to change something in their lifestyle.

    A systematic but steady increase in the number of overweight people in modern society creates the necessary conditions for the prosperity of the market for these and similar tablet solutions.

    The idea of "eating what you want and in what quantities you want, and at the same time losing weight or, at least, not gaining weight" looks very tempting.

    But think logically and answer yourself honestly: does this look realistic?

    Unlikely... but people really want it to be so.

    Driven by this desire, those who lose weight very often use fat burners in high dosages, combine several drugs to enhance the effect, without realizing that the active ingredients have a systemic effect on the body, and not only "burn fat".

    In this article, we will talk about exactly how the "fat-burning" diet pills can be dangerous, even when their packaging says "natural" or "from natural ingredients".

    "Natural" fat burner does not mean "safe" and "effective"

    A large number of weight loss products are made from natural ingredients. It's true.

    Most often, the composition of fat burners includes caffeine, ephedrine, and green tea extract - natural substances.

    Scientific studies do confirm that they are somewhat effective for weight loss... as well as side effects that are typical primarily for cases of use in high doses.

    The main active ingredient of the vast majority of fat burners is caffeine, which has a stimulating effect on the nervous system, one of the positive side effects of which is weight loss.

    An overdose of caffeine can even lead to death.

    As for the positive effects (weight loss, energy boost), they are usually short-lived and disappear as the body gets used to the active ingredients.

    Moreover, the effect of taking any fat burners is not as strong as we would like: even in the case of the most effective drugs, it is equivalent to only a few hundred kilocalories a day, which in the language of products is equivalent to a few slices of bread, cookies or a can of Coca-Cola.

    The website of the US Food And Drug Administration, the main regulatory body for the food, nutritional supplements, and medicines market, states: "many so-called “miracle” weight loss supplements and foods (including teas and coffees) don’t live up to their claims. Worse, they can cause serious harm".

    The FDA has hundreds of facts about the detection of hidden active ingredients in fat burners. Among them:
    • components of medicines that make them effective against certain diseases
    • dangerous ingredients that were part of products already withdrawn from the market
    • substances that are poorly understood

    James P. Smith, an FDA spokesman, says that when a product contains a drug or other substance in a hidden form, without indication on the packaging, it is a special signal for the FDA to carefully check it for harm.

    Known side effects of fat burners

    Some likely side effects of fat burners are briefly listed below.
    • Effects on the cardiovascular system

    One of the most common side effects of fat burners is the effect on the functioning of the cardiovascular system, which is expressed in increased blood pressure and increased heart rate.
    • Poisoning and death

    Especially dangerous is an overdose of caffeine, which can lead to intoxication and even death.

    For example, if you are a fan of energy drinks before training, wake up with a cup of coffee and cheer yourself up with it several times a day, and also take weight loss pills - the risk of caffeine overdose is quite high since it is the active ingredient in all the drinks and supplements described above.

    The risk of harm to the body, poisoning, or death is increased even more by hidden dangerous ingredients, which will be discussed below and about the content of which you, as a consumer, most often do not suspect.
    • Allergy

    Some ingredients in sports fat burners can cause allergic reactions.
    • Dependence

    When used for a long time, fat burners can lead to the development of addictions, both psychological and physiological.

    Psychological dependence is manifested in the fact that it begins to seem that if you stop drinking weight loss pills that helped you lose a few pounds, the weight will return to its "abnormal" norm.

    Physiological dependence is an addiction to the effect of energy stimulation, tone, and increased mental activity when taking caffeine-containing supplements. After refusing to use, there is a desire to return to the previous state.
    • Mental disorders

    many fat burners have a stimulating effect on the nervous system, which can manifest itself in irritability, hyperactivity, and insomnia.
    • Problems with the digestive system

    Regular consumption of fat burners can cause gastrointestinal side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, belching, impaired defecation, increased flatulence, and loose stools.

    They can also interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals (typical for fat blockers, which prevents the absorption of not only fat but also useful substances), increasing the risk of micronutrient deficiency.
    • Other side effects

    Also, common side effects that accompany the use of fat burners are headaches, abdominal pain, dry mouth, and throat.

    The most common reasons for the harm of fat burners

    Like all dietary supplements, fat burners can have side effects and interact with other medications.

    In some cases, manufacturers of weight loss supplements use active ingredients of plant or other origin in their products that are not known to science and have not been studied. [3]

    In addition, very often the composition of fat burners contains ingredients that are not tested for compatibility with each other. The active substances can enter into interaction with drugs.

    Scientists note that if any ingredients do not have strong evidence of effectiveness, then "even minor proven harm makes their use unjustified" [8].

    The reasons for the potential harm of fat burners are listed below.

    1. Lack of evidence of safety and control of the fat burner market

    Most weight loss supplements are not tested in clinical trials. Moreover, manufacturers are not required to conduct thorough research on new ingredients before they are released to the market, or even indicate possible side effects on the product label.

    Remember that you can never be sure what you are taking with each fat burner pill.

    In the United States, weight loss supplements, like all sports nutrition, do not require approval from the regulatory authority represented by the FDA before launching sales.

    The manufacturer is responsible for the absence of harm and truthfulness of any statements about the effectiveness of its products.

    This means that:

    "But just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does not mean it is safe," says an FDA spokesperson.

    The FDA constantly receives complaints about various side effects of fat burners, including increased blood pressure, palpitations, strokes, seizures, and death.

    And here's what's interesting: the FDA starts investigating the health safety of a fat burner or other dietary supplement only when numerous facts about its harm begin to come in.

    In 2014, the FDA made more than 30 public statements and withdrawals from sales of fat burners with hidden dangerous ingredients in the composition.

    The agency has also opened criminal cases against those responsible for distributing harmful weight loss products.

    Fat burners do not pass quality and safety checks in public institutions before being released to mass sales. Only if there are numerous facts of harm they are sent for examination

    2.Hidden health-threatening ingredients in fat burners

    The US Department of food and drug administration warns against being naive and not giving in to the high-profile claims that often fraudulent manufacturers of weight loss pills use on the packaging of their products.

    As a rule, they sound too good and tempting to be true. At best, such products will not give the stated result, at worst - you will be able to lose weight quickly and significantly, but cause serious harm to health 7.

    There are a huge number of cases of detection of pollutants in the composition of fat burners (pesticides, toxic metals, bacteria), as well as prohibited ingredients that pose a serious health hazard.

    Often, unscrupulous manufacturers deliberately add prohibited or untested poorly studied pharmaceutical substances to the composition of fat burners, which give a quick effect in weight loss, but are life-threatening.9

    Let's give an example.

    Between January 2004 and December 2012, 237 dietary supplements were withdrawn from sale at the initiative of the FDA, which clearly indicates their serious harm to health.

    27% of these recognized dangerous products were fat burners [5]. In most cases, the ban on distribution was caused by the content of hidden ingredients that are not indicated on the package.

    In 2013, the FDA publicly warned consumers 30 times about the dangers of purchasing and consuming specific weight-loss supplements because they contain a hidden ingredient, sibutramine.

    This ingredient was previously approved by the FDA as a drug but later withdrawn from the market in October 2010, as its use led to heart attacks and strokes.

    Not so long ago, FDA experts discovered a number of products sold as fat burners that contained fluoxetine (fluoxetine) - which is intended to treat depression and other diseases.

    In another case, weight loss pills contained triamterene, a powerful diuretic that can cause serious side effects and should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

    There are also cases of detection in the composition of fat burners of amphetamine (BMPEA) - a dangerous synthetic psychoactive substance with anorexic effect that can cause mental dependence.

    Amphetamine was found, in particular, in the herbal drug Acacia rigidula - part of many fat burners.

    Hidden substances dangerous to human health were also found by the FDA in "natural" and "safe" fat burners, such as bee pollen or Garcinia cambogia.

    A common cause of harm to fat burners is the content of heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria in their composition, as well as the deliberate addition of dangerous ingredients by manufacturers that give a quick effect in weight loss

    3. Interaction with medications or other food additives

    Another risk associated with the use of fat burners - most often they are taken independently without consulting a doctor.

    The active ingredients of fat burners can interact with other medications and dietary supplements that a person takes.
    • glucomannan and guar gum may reduce the absorption of certain medications taken orally 6;
    • glucomannan lowers blood glucose [6] and therefore may interact with diabetes medications;
    • chitosan may enhance the anticoagulant effect of warfarin (warfarin) [8];
    • green tea may interact with chemotherapy drugs [2];
    • Garcinia cambogia is associated with serotonin toxicity [4];
    • some ingredients, such as caffeine and bitter orange, may have an additive effect when taken with other stimulants;
    • bitter orange suppresses the activity of a certain enzyme, which increases the concentration of certain drugs in the blood, such as cyclosporine and saquinavir (saquinavir) [7].

    These are just some examples of the interaction between the active components of fat burners and medications. If you take (or are going to take) any medications and fat burners all the time, be sure to consult your doctor.

    Often the cause of harm to fat burners is the interaction of their active ingredients with medications taken with them. This is manifested in blocking or, on the contrary, strengthening their action

    4. Overdose of caffeine or other stimulants

    Caffeine is the most popular ingredient in most fat burners; it is part of not only coffee and green tea but also mate and guarana tea; the content of several such ingredients in a fat burner tablet, as well as the presence in the diet of other caffeine-containing products (coffee, energy) can lead to an overdose of caffeine.

    The effectiveness of caffeine for weight loss is proven, it suppresses appetite, increases energy and internal metabolism.

    However, an overdose of caffeine can lead to side effects: nervousness, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, diarrhea, poisoning, and even death.

    The popularity of caffeine as an active component of many sports nutrition products (energy drinks, fat burners) and not only (coffee, tea) increases the risk of side effects of fat burners based on it due to overdose

    5.Signs of "hidden" harm in fat burners

    how to recognize potentially dangerous health supplements for weight loss:
    • promise of a quick result, for example, “11 pounds (5 kg) per week”;
    • use of the words “guaranteed", “advanced scientific development”;
    • marking in a language you don't know;
    • sales via mass spam e-mail newsletters;
    • the product is advertised as a plant-based analog of "something that is approved by the FDA" (or other competent authority) or "has an effect similar to a certain prescription drug."

    Recommendations for buying safe fat burners

    If the above facts seemed unconvincing to you and you are still going to experience fat burners for yourself, then take into account the following recommendations:
    • consult your doctor about any weight loss supplement that you are going to take;
    • ask yourself, “doesn't what I'm being offered sound too good to be true?”;
    • be wary of products whose sellers' claims are clearly exaggerated and unrealistic, and whose ads contain phrases such as “fast and effective”, “absolutely safe for health”, "without dieting and exercise";
    • be skeptical of reviews about the incredible effectiveness and benefits of a particular product: remember that 90% of reviews on the Internet are written by copywriters "for money", and not by real users.

    Let's sum up
    • Side effects of fat burners: cardiovascular problems, poisoning, and death, allergies, addictions, mental disorders, problems with the digestive system, headaches, abdominal pain, dry mouth, and throat
    • Fat burners do not pass quality and safety checks in public institutions before being released to mass sales. Only if there are numerous facts of harm, they are sent for examination.
    • A common reason for the harm of fat burners is the content of heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria in their composition, as well as the deliberate addition of dangerous ingredients by manufacturers that give a quick effect in weight loss
    • Often the cause of harm of fat burners is the interaction of their active ingredients with medications taken with them. This manifests itself in blocking or, on the contrary, strengthening their action
    • The popularity of caffeine as an active component of many sports nutrition products (energy drinks, fat burners) and not only (coffee, tea) increases the risk of side effects of fat burners based on it due to overdose

    Recommendation: do not buy weight loss products that promise fast guaranteed results and are distributed through mass e-mail newsletters.


    1. Huang SS, Sung SH, Chiang CE. Chitosan potentiation of warfarin effect. Ann Pharmacother 2007;41:1912-4.

    2. Shin SC, Choi JS. Effects of epigallocatechin gallate on the oral bioavailability and pharmacokinetics of tamoxifen and its main metabolite, 4-hydroxytamoxifen, in rats. Anticancer Drugs 2009;20:584-8.

    3. Dwyer JT, Allison DB, Coates PM. Dietary supplements in weight reduction. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105:S80-6.

    4. Lopez AM, Kornegay J, Hendrickson RG. Serotonin toxicity associated with Garcinia cambogia over-the-counter supplement. J Med Toxicol 2014

    5. Harel Z, Harel S, Wald R, Mamdani M, Bell CM. The frequency and characteristics of dietary supplement recalls in the United States. JAMA Intern Med 2013;173:926-8.

    6. Sood N, Baker WL, Coleman CI. Effect of glucomannan on plasma lipid and glucose concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:1167-75.

    7. American Herbal Products Association. Botanical Safety Handbook. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2013.

    8. Pittler MH, Ernst E. Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:529-36.

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