Why You Need to Be Extra Careful With Weight Loss Supplements

Posted on | By Tod Cooperman, MD | Comments ()
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Dr. Oz Exposes the Companies Illegally Using His Name for Profit (3:46)

ConsumerLab.com recently helped Dr. Oz expose herbal weight management supplements which contained little of the key ingredients we expected from their labels. As the founder of ConsumerLab, I’ve come across many products like these, but what particularly shocked and appalled me about these weight management supplements is that the company which made them seemed aware of many of the shortcomings and appeared to have crafted labels which could mislead consumers to think otherwise – without breaking the law. I don’t want you to be fooled, and neither does Dr. Oz, so here are three important tips to help you avoid problems with supplements, especially those promoted for weight control:

Beware of “Formulas”

As well as “proprietary blends” and “complexes.” When a supplement company doesn’t want you to know exactly what’s in a product, it will use these words because, legally, it allows them to withhold information from you. The only real secret behind many of these “proprietary” formulas is that they allow manufacturers to put in only a fraction of the standard dose or to use cheap, substandard ingredients.

For example, if you were looking for a garcinia cambogia extract herbal supplement, a properly labeled product would list the specific amount per serving (such as 1,000 mg), the part of the plant used (fruit rind), and, ideally, the amount or percentage of active compound in the extract, such as 600 mg or 60% of hydroxycitric acid (or HCA). But, when a manufacture wants to hide these details from you, it will only tell you the total amount of the formula, not of specific ingredients.

If you see an ingredient listed without an amount right next to it, that's a signal that the product may not contain what you expect.

Know Exactly What You Need

Before you buy a supplement, be sure there is clinical evidence behind it because, if there is, there should also be information available describing the type and amount of ingredient that works. You need to know what this is before you buy a supplement because the law is loose: Supplement companies are pretty much allowed to sell you any dose they wish. This is different from over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs for which effective and safe dosing is specified by the FDA.

As we saw in the recent tests of products for Dr. Oz, labels may show images and use words that suggest “weight management” while the amount of ingredient is far less than is typically used for that purpose. Why? An unscrupulous supplement company can save money by giving you less than an effective dose -- particularly if it's an expensive ingredient. So take charge: If the ingredient, serving size or suggested daily serving listed on a bottle doesn’t closely match what’s been shown to work, walk away.

You need to do a little homework to know what to look for each ingredient. ConsumerLab.com provides this information in its online reports, along with results of product tests. The site requires subscription, but you can check some of our reports using the free pass for Dr. Oz viewers. You can also look at other reputable sources, such as the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.

Sold Only On the Web? Beware.

Our experience at ConsumerLab.com with herbal weight loss supplements suggests that you are more likely to get a bad product if it is sold only on the web. Products sold in stores can also have problems (we have uncovered many), but this is less likely, probably because there is an extra layer of scrutiny by stores when deciding what they will carry, and the consequences of selling a bad product may be greater, for example, for a national retail chain, than for a small web business. Products sold in mail catalogs also tend to have fewer problems than those sold only on the web. If you’re interested a supplement sold exclusively online, be particularly careful.

To find out more about the supplements you’re taking, ConsumerLab is offering a 24-hour free pass to Dr. Oz viewers. Visit ConsumerLab.com/DoctorOz now and get immediate access to ConsumerLab.com’s unbiased testing of garcinia cambogia, green coffee bean supplements and protein powders and shakes.

Article written by Tod Cooperman, MD
President, ConsumerLab.com