Most ‘natural’ weight loss products available in South Africa are herbal or nutritional supplements that are formulated to assist with weight loss. The benefits are often not substantiated with clinical trials but these all natural weight loss products are among the more popular over-the-counter (OTC) products available in pharmacies and health shops. Herbal or natural weight loss products should be used cautiously and despite claims of being ‘100% safe’ or without side effects, they could cause serious medical complications.
Do Natural Weight Loss Products Work?
Herbal products for weight loss are available as tablets, capsules, alcohol solutions (tinctures) or water solutions (infusions). Nutritional supplements are available as powders, capsules, tablets and drinks.
Natural weight loss products may have one or more of the following effects on the body.
- Reduces hunger pangs (appetite suppressant).
- Increases metabolism (thermogenic).
- Increases urine output (diuretic).
Nutritional supplements may also assist with increasing protein intake, reducing calorie intake or affecting the glycaemic index of foods in your diet.
The effectiveness may vary from person to person due to individual characteristics like body weight and therefore the use of these products should always be supervised by a medical weight loss doctor or a trained consultant. As with any product, it is not a ‘magic bullet’ and should be used in conjunction with a calorie restricted diet and exercise program.
Are Natural Weight Loss Products Safe?
These weight loss products contain pharmacologically active ingredients that can have side effects. The chemicals, although sourced from plants, are usually in lower concentrations than drugs but due to the nature of some of these compounds, a host of complications are possible.
If you have a chronic condition or use any pharmaceutical drug simultaneously then there is a risk of dangerous drug interactions. Even nutritional products can be dangerous if they contain high doses of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which could lead to toxicity.
It is therefore advisable that you consult with a medical practitioner before starting any weight loss product whether it is marked as a ‘natural’ product or of herbal origin.
Regulations for Natural Weight Loss Products
Natural weight loss products, whether herbal or nutritional, should be registered with the Medicines Control Council. The regulations governing these complementary health products are not as strict as it is for pharmaceutical drugs. This allows many ineffective and poor quality weight loss products to enter the market.
In 2010, a popular natural weight loss product was taken off the market as it contained large quantities of a synthetic chemical known as sibutramine. Unfortunately products such as these have given natural weight loss products a bad name.
Should You Use a Natural Weight Loss Product?
Like weight loss drugs, a natural product should be seen as an adjunct to your weight loss program. It may be helpful but not essential and it is not a quick weight loss method. Scientifically formulated and good quality products may be effective in assisting you with your weight management goals but if you do not reduce your calorie intake and exercise, then it will have a limited effect. Despite the availability of these products without a prescription, you should always consult with a medical doctor, homeopath or dietitian before starting any natural weight loss product.