The weight loss industry constitutes a huge part of the supplement industry (an estimated $40 billion a year alone in the US). Among the plethora of diet programmes and the products they sell, fat burners are extensively marketed to people looking for quick fixes and shortcuts, but do the contents of these fat burners actually stand up to scrutiny?


In this blog I do not intend to look at the processes or mechanics behind the promotion of fat burning, that would constitute a whole blog for another time as it is a complex process dependent on many factors. 


Most fat burning pills contain caffeine as the prime ingredient, and then have a concoction of other substances added that are purported to promote fat burning.


There is wide array of substances that are claimed to burn fat. Those that have no substantial evidence include raspberry ketones, garcinia cambogia, African mango, and hoodia gordonii .


Similar to testosterone boosters there are a number of substances that produce a small fat burning effect, but this is such a small and marginal effect that they are not worth wasting your money on. These include green coffee extract, seaweed extracts, fucoxanthin, guarana, caralluma fimbriata, higenamine and coleus forskohlii.


So is there anything that does work?


Synephrine is a milder alternative to ephedrine (not recommended due to it’s serious side effects). It is safer , but also less powerful.


Caffeine is an effective fat burner, but only for those who don’t already consume caffeine regularly in their diets. It will also only work in the short trerm as it doesn’t take long to build up a tolerance to it. If you already consume caffeine containing beverages then adding extra caffeine in the form of ‘fat burners’ will have liitle extra effect on your fat levels.


5-HTP acts more as an appetite suppressant than a fat burner. It can also help reduce cravings for carbohydrates. A note of caution; it can interact with other anti-deppressants and drugs, so if you are on medication you need to consult your doctor before using it.


Green tea catechins (also labeled as epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG) can help burn fat through a mechanism where an enzyme (COMT) that breaks down nitrogen bearing molecules is inhibited. This causes a rise in serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline levels, which encourage increased fat burning. For this reason they are widely used as an added ingredient to fat burners.

Drinking green tea, which contains these catechins, is no bad idea because as well as a little bit more fat burning, it also has other health benefits.

Psyllium husk has been used as an easy way to add fibre to your diet. It has been shown to reduce both food intake and hunger pangs. Unfortunately, it won’t make a huge difference. Far easier to increase your fibre intake by just eating more vegetables and fruit.

Individual responses to all of these substances will also vary. For example, the enzyme I mentioned above is expressed very differently in people, so when taking anything this is worth bearing in mind.

So that wraps up fat burners. While fat burners may technically help you burn more fat, their effect is at best marginal and is no replacement for a sound exercise and nutrition programme. If you are not training and eating properly then buying fat burners is a waste of money.

Supplements are supposed to fill gaps in an already existing good diet. If you are not doing that, then that is the first thing to address, before even considering fat burners. Supplementation should always be targeted.

By addressing the easiest things to change in your diet and exercise regime, you will probably find that making those small changes consistently will have a bigger impact than any fat burner can.

Published by Neil Elbourne