Do fat-burning supplements actually decrease fat mass & overall body weight?

The supplement industry is constantly expanding. You walk into health food stores, sports sports and even your local grocery store to be faced with a towering wall full of pill bottle and concoctions promising to fix all your problems. New products are being developed in an attempt to meet every consumers’ desires. Recent areas that have experienced significant growth are products marketed for purpose of promoting fat-loss (1). The promise of a short cut by taking a pill to melt that fat away and reach your body goals in no time at all.
What are fat-burners?

Fat-burners are supplement that are a combination of various ingredients with the goal of increased rate of fat loss. The products are formulated to achieve this through increasing the amount of calories burned from fat relative to other energy sources in our bodies. Getting a little scientific on you, it achieves the above accelerated fat loss by increasing the release of fatty acids from our adipose (fat) cells, or acting on fat cells through hormone release like adrenaline (think ‘fight or flight’). Many fat burners tend to be stimulatory, baring exotic names to draw the consumer in.

Taking fat-burning supplements will result in reduced fat mass and decrease overall body weight.

Myth or Fact?

Answer: MYTH

Evidence: The human body is a finely tuned machine, having developed the ability to store extra calories as adipose tissue (fat) for times when food is scarce. Metabolism and fat burn are fairly controlled in our bodies, so it’s no wonder that few legal options exist to burn any substantial amount of body fat. Be wary! Most of the research on these supplement’s effectiveness have been performed on animals, not proving results in human trials. Even the handful of mildly effective fat burners (such as caffeine) lead to much less weight loss than eating less calories each day, or doing daily activities. The truth is: diet makes up 80-90% of the weight loss battle. These supplements are completely ineffective if a proper diet is not in place.
Cautions: Most of the time, the labeling and advertising of these products are unregulated. The use of celebrities, and photo-shopped before/after pictures do NOT tell the truth about the product. Fat burners have a high likelihood to have side effects such as sleep disruption (which can mean higher stress and overeating), cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure, dehydration, and mental effects. With all these side effects, they pose the potential to even cause weight gain, the opposite of what is desired.
Bottom line: Most fat burners are a waste of money, full of things that have zero proof that they work and may actually set you back by disrupting your sleep cycle.

  • Diet is always best! It’s important to ensure you focus on dietary strategies first to reach your goals before considering adding supplements
  • Some supplements can be beneficial to people who workout regularly, but misinformation can cause wasted money or decreased performance due to possible side effects
  • Between different individuals there are variations in terms of how the body responds to different compounds, influencing the effects seen & side effects that occur
  • Just because a product is labelled “natural” does not automatically assure safety and may still cause side effects. Safety depends on many different aspects.

National Institute of Health. (2011). Dietary supplements: what you need to know. Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from (2015). Fat burner. Retrieved from

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