Losing weight is hard. And it’s especially an issue for people with diabetes. That’s why people are willing to try different things that might help. Among them: herbal supplements. One U.S. study reported that 16% of people trying to lose weight turned to herbal products. But do they work?
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
Recently, researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia looked into the matter by analyzing the results of 54 randomized controlled trials conducted around the world and involving 4,331 participants. They published their report in the journal Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism. As they pointed out, “Despite the many supplements available, few have scientific support for their safety and efficacy. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs that require approval before being marketed, clinical evidence is not required for supplements.”
The researchers focused on nine of the most popular herbal supplements: green tea (Camellia sinensis), Malabar tamarind (Garcinia cambogia), white kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), ephedra (Ephedra sinica), African mango (Irvingia gabonensis), yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), Veld grape (Cissus quadrangularis), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and a combination of East India globe thistle (Sphaeranthus indicus) and mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana).
The results indicated that although some of the herbal products showed “statistically greater” weight loss than a placebo (inactive treatment), the weight loss was less than 5 1/2 pounds (2.5 kilograms), a number considered “not clinically relevant.” As for safety, the researchers said that because safety reports are not required before herbal products can be marketed, they could not ascertain their safety based on their review. With one exception: they reported that ephedra “can lead to pronounced cardiovascular and central nervous system‐stimulating effects,” especially if used in combination with caffeine. Therefore, they concluded, ephedra “is not recommended as a weight-loss supplement.”
Nick Fuller, MD, senior author of the review, summed it up: “This finding suggests there is insufficient evidence to recommend any of these herbal medicines for the treatment of weight loss. Furthermore, many studies had poor research methods or reporting and even though most supplements appear safe for short-term consumption they are expensive and are not going to provide a weight loss that is clinically meaningful.”