Alternative Supplements for Diet May Prove Dangerous to Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Everyone’s looking for the magic pill to help them lose weight instantly. Often, we look to alternatives from complementary medicine to see if they can speed the process. However, many of these substances are not healthy alternatives.


    To help you know what to try and what to avoid, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided a rundown of the scientific efficacy of complementary health practices in relation to weight loss. NCCAM points out that most dietary supplements that are heralded as helping with weight loss have not been scientifically proven to be effective; furthermore, some of these supplements can be dangerous.

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    Acai berry has been marketed as a folk or traditional remedy to aide in weight loss as well as slowing aging. Indeed, no definitive scientific research that have been independently done and published in peer-reviewed journals backs up the marketing claims of rapid weight loss or other health-related purpose.  Furthermore, NCAAM warns that there is little reliable information about the safety of acai when taken as a supplement, although it is widely eaten as fruit or consumed as a juice.


    Bitter orange, which has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine as well as with indigenous people who live in the Amazon rainforest, is often used for nausea, indigestion and constipation. Current uses include heart burn, loss of appetite, nasal congestion and weight loss, as well as topical applications to deal with fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and ringworm. Only a few small studies on this substance have been published, thus providing insufficient evidence about its use for health purposes. NCAAM warns that bitter orange includes synephrine, which is a chemical that is similar to ephedra’s main chemical. Ephedra has been banned in the United States because it raises blood pressure and has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. At this point, it’s unclear whether bitter orange will trigger similar health issues, but there is little evidence that bitter orange is a safer choice. Therefore, bitter orange may not be safe when taken as a dietary supplement. Furthermore, some healthy people have experienced fainting, heart attack and stroke after taking these supplements alone or with caffeine. Avoid this supplement if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure or if you’re taking medications that speed up the heart rate. Also, pregnant women or nursing mothers should avoid this product. When used topically, bitter orange may increase the risk of sunburn, especially in fair-skinned people.


    Ephedra has a compound – ephedrine -- that can stimulate the body’s nervous system and heart. It traditionally has been used to treat conditions such as colds, fever, flu, asthma, headaches and nasal congestion. It currently is being added to dietary supplements for weight loss, increased energy and improved athletic performance. Researchers have found that ephedra’s effectiveness is limited to short-term weight loss; however, it also raises the risk of cardiac issues and stroke, thus negating its benefits. Furthermore, a study found that there was a higher rate of side effects from ephedra as compared to other herbal products based on an analysis of calls to poison control centers. Furthermore, researchers have found an increased risk of heart issues, psychiatric, issues, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure and stroke in those who take this substance. As mentioned earlier, because of these issues, the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of dietary supplements with ephedra in the United States.


  • Green tea and its extracts have been used to prevent and treat cancer, mental alertness, weight loss, lower cholesterol levels and protect skin from damage from the sun. A meta-analysis of 18 studies about obesity found that green tea preparation did not have a statistically significant role in weight loss. While green tea is generally safe when consumed in moderate amounts, the caffeine in it can cause insomnia, anxiety, irritability, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea or frequent urination. In addition, green tea extract has vitamin K, which can cause anticoagulant drugs to be less effective.

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    National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2013). Weight loss and complementary health practices: What the science says.

Published On: June 30, 2013