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I Tried 7 ‘Natural’ Weight-Loss Supplements

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Welcome to January, arguably the worst month of the year. The holidays are over, the weather is terrible, and we all lie to ourselves about the healthy changes we’re going to make. My perennial fantasy is: I’m going to finally lose these last goddamned eight pounds.

But this year, I was determined to make it happen. (Ha! No, seriously.) I just started the painful process of cutting out excess sugar, and have been intrigued by the so-called natural weight-loss supplements on the market.

I turned to The Natural Fat Loss Pharmacy by Dr. Harry Preuss, a medical professor at Georgetown University and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, as a jumping-off point. Dr. Preuss told me that supplements just act as the icing (mmm, icing) on the weight-loss cake and are meant to enhance what you’re already doing with diet and exercise. Don’t expect a miracle in a pill, he cautions, and don’t believe everything a supplement company tells you. 

And I’ve said this before (when I tried out “natural” sleep-aids), but it bears repeating: Natural does not mean safe. As a matter of fact, natural means absolutely nothing. The FDA does not recognize the designation “natural,” nor do they regulate supplements. You take this stuff at your own risk. According to a New York Times article published last month, dietary supplements account for about 20 percent of liver damage cases seen in hospitals. (Drugs of any type are generally processed through your liver.) That number is up from 7 percent in the last ten years. So do your research and don’t take anything without your doctor’s approval and supervision, especially if you are on other medications or have any medical conditions.

With safety in mind, I bought supplements from reputable stores (GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, and Whole Foods) and tried each supplement for five to seven days. The goal of this trial was to get a sense of how each one made me feel, and to see if they yielded any side effects — I was not expecting miraculous results. Ideally, one would use a consistent regimen of several supplements that have differing mechanisms of action. For example, Dr. Preuss recommends an appetite suppressant plus a thermogenic (a.k.a. fat-burning) supplement to maximize potential results.

Some other caveats and limitations of my “experiment:”

 • I chose to do this over the holidays, starting the week of Thanksgiving. My family’s food traditions involve something called the “bacon bun.” So — spoiler alert — my weight loss was pretty much nil.

 • I tried some compounds that weren’t in Preuss’s book, which was published in 2007, because I wanted to try newer, buzzier supplements as well as more well-known ones.

 • I veer into TMI territory. Some of these supplements affect your gastrointestinal system in, erm, interesting ways.

Click through the slideshow for the seven I tried.

Photo: George Marks/Getty Images

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