Do Weight Loss Supplements Work? Here’s What You Need To Know

Published on January 06, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Do weight loss supplements work? 

It’s a controversial topic that public health officials, industry watchdogs, and medical experts have debated for years.

The consensus is that supplements should not take the place of a healthy diet and lifestyle during weight loss or any season of life.

As an herbal supplement company that’s been in business for over 30 years, we couldn’t agree more. 

Traditional wisdom and modern science have shown herbs work best when combined with a holistic approach to wellness and lifestyle.

Additionally, some weight-loss supplements, such as Fen-phen, Ephedra, and other appetite suppressants, fat blockers, or muscle builders, can be dangerous due to the addition of pharmaceuticals and/or the risk of contamination from poor manufacturing practices.REF#207

Even some protein powders marketed for weight loss or muscle enhancement have been exposed for containing high levels of heavy metals.REF#208

However, what’s often lost in this conversation is that certain herbal supplements can support your weight-loss efforts combined with good nutrition, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.

In this article, we’ll share which herbal supplements may support a holistic approach to weight loss and how to take them.

How Can Herbal Supplements Potentially Help With Weight Loss?*

Herbs have been used for centuries to support the body in achieving and maintaining optimal health.*

They provide broad-spectrum support to specific organs and systems so they can function normally.

So, how can supplements potentially help with weight loss?

Different herbs have unique properties that may support organs and systems involved in weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

New research provides a reason for scientists to believe a person’s weight is not always the result of just calories in and calories out. 

This explains why some people can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound, while others who watch their diet and exercise regularly may struggle to lose weight.

Some of these organs and systems involved in weight include:

  • The digestive system: Responsible for breaking down food into usable nutrients and detoxification.
  • The gut microbiome: Resides in the digestive system and influences mental health, digestion, immunity, inflammation, metabolism, and obesity risk.REF#209
  • The liver: Plays a crucial role in metabolism, fat burning, hormone conjugation, and detoxification.REF#210 REF#211
  • The metabolic system: is involved in sugar regulation, calorie burning, and converting food and drink into energy.REF#212
  • The endocrine system: governs our hormones, including the thyroid (which can be a big player in weight issues) and reproductive system, and plays a role in stress response, metabolism, sleep cycle, and more.REF#213

Now that we understand some of the leading players involved in weight loss and management, let’s look at some herbs that can support these organs and systems.

How Adaptogens Can Support Your Weight-Loss Efforts

Did you know frequent stress can cause weight gain and prevent weight loss?

This topic deserves its own article, but in a nutshell, consistent stress causes a cascade of issues that may hinder weight loss or weight maintenance.

Stress has been connected to weight issues in various ways, includingREF#214

  • Interfering with cognitive function, such as self-regulation
  • Disruption of appetite-regulating hormones such as leptin and ghrelin
  • Influencing behavior which can lead to unhealthy food cravings
  • Creating an overproduction of cortisol (your body’s master stress hormone), which makes it harder to lose weight
  • Negatively impacting sleep (another risk factor for weight gain and obesity)
  • Triggering HPA (hypothalamus pituitary adrenal) axis dysfunction, which has a downstream effect on the hormonal system, sleep cycle, and stress response.
  • Creating an imbalance in the reward-processing system of the brain
  • Causing digestive problems, which can lead to gut health issues

Enter adaptogens, a classification of herbs that help the body adapt and thrive during physical, mental, and emotional stress.*

Adaptogens have been used for centuries in nearly every type of traditional wellness system, including:

  • Traditional Chinese medicine utilizes Mushrooms, Schisandra, and Eleuthero
  • Ayurveda, the traditional wellness system of India, relies heavily on Tulsi (Holy Basil), Turmeric (curcumin), and Ashwagandha
  • Native Americans used American Ginseng and Mushrooms
  • Traditional Russian herbalists relied on Rhodiola Rosea
  • Natives of the Andes Mountains used Maca Root extensively as a food and plant medicine

Adaptogens are prized for their traditional use in supporting energy, sleep, stress response, hormonal balance, mental and physical stamina, and focus.*

Which, as previously discussed, can all play a role in weight.

Modern science has validated these traditional uses of various adaptogens. Here’s how they work:

Adaptogens regulate homeostasis through their actions on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.*

The HPA axis is the communication center of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands and governs many aspects of our endocrine (hormonal), cardiovascular, and metabolic systems, as well as behavior and reproduction.REF#215

It’s also the primary mediator of our central stress response system, which controls vital mediators of the stress response, such as stress hormone production.REF#101

Therefore, when the HPA axis becomes imbalanced due to chronic stress or illness, it can negatively impact various organs and systems that can affect weight.REF#62

Which Adaptogen Should You Take To Help Support Weight Loss?

Although any adaptogen can provide HPA axis support, which will help with chronic stress, sleep, and more, specific herbs may provide a more significant benefit to some people.*

For example:

Ashwagandha has been shown to:

  • Support the normal production of thyroid hormone*REF#60
  • To help with sleep* REF#67 REF#68
  • Promote normal cognitive function*
  • Support normal cortisol production*REF#61
  • Promote exercise performance and recovery*REF#94

Maca Root has been shown beneficial for: 

  • Male and female hormone balance*REF#9 
  • Supporting normal testosterone in men*REF#28
  • Exercise performance*REF#216
  • Menopausal symptoms*REF#217 REF#218 REF#219

These are just two examples of the unique benefits of adaptogens. Check out: All About Adaptogens to learn more about these incredible herbs.

In summary, adaptogens may promote healthy weight loss by supporting the following:

  • The nervous system, which is involved in stress response and sleep*
  • The endocrine system, which governs our hormonal system (including the thyroid) and plays a role in metabolism*
  • The metabolic system, which is responsible for converting food into energy, blood sugar balance, and calorie expenditure*
  • Sleep is essential to weight loss and maintenance due to its effects on cortisol levels, stress, hormones, etc.*
  • Stress response, which affects all of the above, plus the digestive system and microbiome*

Are you interested in trying out adaptogens?

Gaia Herbs has various choices, including Everyday Adaptogen, Maca Pills, Turmeric Gummies, Holy Basil SupplementsAshwagandha Gummies, and Ginseng Supplements.*

Liver-Supportive Herbs Cleanse, Detoxify, and Support Normal Fat and Sugar Metabolism*

The liver gets a lot of attention for its role as a central organ of detoxification. 

What’s lesser known is the liver also plays an essential role in the breakdown of fats and sugars.

Regarding fat, the liver interacts with the intestinal tract and adipose (fatty) tissue and plays a key role in fat metabolism.REF#220

One of these roles is the production of bile, which contains essential enzymes that break down fats.

Regarding sugars, the liver rapidly absorbs excess glucose taken in from eating. It then stores that glucose and releases it into the bloodstream as needed, which helps keep blood sugar balanced, or converts it into triglycerides to be stored in fatty tissue.

The liver also plays a crucial role in regulating cholesterol, which is important for anyone concerned about heart health or obesity.REF#221

Traditional herbalists understood this, which is why they recommended liver-supportive herbs to help aid digestion (think bitter greens), support bile flow, and keep energy stable.*

As you can see, liver health can significantly influence weight.

As previously mentioned, herbs have been used across cultures for centuries to promote normal liver function.*

Some of the most well-known liver-supporting herbs include:*

If you feel your liver could use some support, check out the following herbal supplements:

  • Liver Cleanse: A blend of Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Dandelion, and Burdock designed for short-term use when your body needs a reset*
  • Liver Health: A combination of Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Schisandra, and Licorice formulated for everyday use*
  • Liver Cleanse Herbal Tea: With Licorice, Dandelion, and Peppermint is a comforting way to support your liver and digestion*

To learn more, check out: The 6 Best Herbs for Gallbladder and Liver Health.

Nervines Promote Relaxation and Healthy Sleep*

For some, adaptogens are all they need to support a healthy sleep cycle.*

However, if you occasionally need extra sleep support during your weight loss journey, turn to nervines.

As indicated by the name, this classification of herbs supports the nervous system, promotes relaxation, and may impart a mild sedative effect.*

Some popular nervines found in supplements and teas include:*

Gaia Herbs offers several ways to enjoy nervines—including some adaptogen/nervine combination formulas:

  • SleepThru® with Ashwagandha, Passionflower, and Jujube Date supports sleep quality and helps calm a busy mind.*
  • Sound Sleep® with California Poppy, Skullcap, and Passionflower is especially helpful for those who occasionally struggle to fall asleep.*
  • Sleep & Relax Herbal Tea® is a delightful and soothing floral blend of Passionflower, Lemon Balm, and Chamomile designed to set the stage for relaxation and peaceful rest.*

To learn more about nervines and herbs for sleep, check out: 5 Best Herbs for Sleep to Help You Rest Well and Wake Up Feeling Refreshed.

Helpful Herbs For Digestion and Microbiome Health*

Since we are what we eat, or more accurately, we are what we absorb from our food, digestion is paramount to good health.

The digestive system and the gut microbiome also play an essential part in our ability to gain, maintain, and lose weight.

For example, a 2017 study published in the journal Gastroenterology noted that the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is a key interface between ingested nutrients and the rest of the body and plays a critical role in regulating energy homeostasis.REF#222

The GI tract also emits hormonal, neural, and nutrient signals that are believed to play a role in controlling feeding behavior.

Additional research has shown that the health of the gut microbiome can also influence our weight via their influence on the metabolic system and the presence or absence of specific gut bacteria that can increase our risk of weight gain or developing obesity.REF#223

Researchers from a 2016 review published in the Journal Current Oncology Reports, entitled: “The Gut Microbiome and Obesity,” even suggested: “Modulation of the gut microbiome through diet, pre- and probiotics, antibiotics, surgery, and fecal transplantation has the potential to majorly impact the obesity epidemic.”REF#224

The research on all of this is still relatively new. However, there does appear to be a strong link between digestive and gut health and weight.

Most everyone has taken herbs for occasional digestive complaints, like ginger ale or mint tea for an upset stomach or fennel seeds after enjoying an Indian meal.

These herbs can help support digestion, promote cleansing and detoxification, and support microbiome health when used regularly.*

Some of the best herbs for supporting digestion and microbiome health include:*

Other herbs, such as Black Walnut and Sweet Wormwood, may also promote cleansing and detoxification.*

If you’d like to try out herbs to support digestion, check out the following Gaia Herbs supplements:*

How To Start Taking Herbs as Part of a Healthy Weight-Loss Strategy

As previously stated, supplements are not a cure-all for weight loss, and some should be avoided altogether.

A little research will quickly show you which supplements to avoid for weight loss; however, here’s a quick reference list:

  • Supplements high in caffeine: Which can cause caffeine toxicity, resulting in an erratic heartbeat, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death.REF#225
  • In general, supplements marketed explicitly for weight loss or appetite suppression. These can cause a variety of symptoms including increased blood pressure, addiction, malabsorption of critical fats and fatty acids, headache, dizziness, and upset stomach.REF#226 Some bodybuilding supplements may be safe, depending on the ingredients—which vary widely. In addition, do your research to see how the manufacturer tests for heavy metals in protein powders.
  • Yohimbe
  • Fen-Phen (the FDA banned this ingredient in the United States in the late 1990s, but some websites still claim to sell it)
  • Ephedra (Ma Huang)
  • Guarana
  • Pai You Guo

However, certain herbal supplements like those discussed previously in this article may support your weight loss efforts when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle.*

Always consult your healthcare practitioner for individual recommendations based on your weight loss and health goals.

Finally, like a successful weight-loss program, results from herbal supplements require consistency and a bit of time.

So don’t be discouraged if it takes a couple of weeks or more to start seeing a difference in your stress levels, sleep, energy, cravings, and more.

If you aren’t seeing the results after a few weeks, check with your healthcare practitioner about dosage.


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