Popular Over-the-Counter Diet Aids

Topic Overview

There are many over-the-counter products for weight loss. Individual products often contain several ingredients. Some contain 20 or more. It’s important to read the label before you buy.

The one thing all these ingredients have in common is that none of them have been proved to be both safe and effective. And taking any diet aid makes it hard for you to listen to your hunger signals so that you can have a normal relationship with food.

Most over-the-counter diet aids don't work. And those that do work come with warnings about their safety. Doctors don't recommend any of them.

Diet aid

What it claims to do

Is there evidence that it works?

Is it safe for most people?

Alli Blocks fat from the food you eat Yes May cause side effects
Apple cider vinegar Burns calories, lowers appetite No Unknown
Bitter orange Burns calories No Probably not; related to ephedra
Caffeine Lowers appetite No Yes
Cascara Acts as a laxative so you lose water weight No Long-term use may cause health problems
Chitosan Blocks fat from the food you eat No May cause health problems
Chromium Burns fat No Yes
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) Burns fat No Mild to moderate side effects
Country mallow Burns calories Yes No; contains ephedra
Dandelion Increases amount of urine so you lose water weight A little May cause health problems
Ephedra Burns calories Yes No; banned in U.S.
Glucomannan Acts as a laxative to absorb water, so you feel full sooner A little Yes
Green tea Burns fat No Yes
Guar gum Lowers appetite No Yes
Guarana Lowers appetite No Yes
Guggul Aids weight loss No May cause side effects
Hoodia Lowers appetite No Unknown
Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) Lowers appetite No Yes
L-carnitine Burns fat No May cause side effects
Laminaria Burns calories No Unknown
Licorice Burns fat No May cause health problems
Psyllium Acts as a laxative to absorb water, so you feel full sooner No Yes
Pyruvate Lowers appetite, burns calories A little Yes
Spirulina (blue-green algae) Lowers appetite No May cause side effects
Yerba maté Lowers appetite No May cause health problems


Author Christine Wendt, R.D., L.D.
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Ruth Schneider, MPH, RD - Diet and Nutrition
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Updated December 12, 2009

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