Published on November 05, 2019

closeup of a scale

Is There a Weight-Loss Miracle?

It’s a weight-loss miracle! Said no one ever.

The fact is weight loss is REALLY hard. But even I, someone who should know better, found myself reading an article about this miraculous new pill that was featured on “Shark Tank.” It was said to slow the production of fat, eliminate cravings, increase metabolism and improve energy levels.

But the truth? “CLA Safflower Oil” was never on “Shark Tank.” The image included in the article was of sisters who were on the show with their women’s swimwear business, and somewhere on that bottle it reads “This product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

That disclaimer along with the one reading “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease” allows manufacturers to produce and market their product without any validating research or empirical evidence that it will in fact do any of those miraculous things.

The bottom line is, due to limited regulations around supplements, there are countless products on the market with unrealistic claims, high prices and no evidence of function. Keep in mind that even the FDA-regulated, highly researched prescription weight loss medications only see about 5% weight loss.

So if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS! Here’s a review of some popular quick-fix weight-loss approaches:

Garcinea Cambogia

A fruit native to India and Southeast Asia. The rind of the fruit contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which was thought to help with weight loss. The higher-quality research (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies) has shown that HCA failed to promote significant weight loss. One very small study of overweight women showed it may help to reduce triglycerides; however, larger studies are needed.

  • Recommendations: If you can find the fruit in the U.S., try using the rind in a fish curry much like they would in India or Southeast Asia. The supplement however, doesn’t appear to be worth the money.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

This is a fatty acid found naturally in meat and milk from cows, goat and sheep. Supplement forms, however, are made by chemically altering a fatty acid found in vegetable oil. Studies on CLA are very inconsistent, likely because dose and type of CLA can vary significantly. Some research shows no effect, some shows modest weight loss of approximately 3 pounds. Research has shown that large doses of CLA can cause fat to build up in the liver which often leads to metabolic syndrome and/or diabetes.

  • Recommendation: Try switching to grass-fed beef and dairy products as the CLA content has been shown to been 300-500% higher.

Apple Cider Vinegar

A small study of 175 people from 2009 showed modest weight loss (2-4 pounds) in the participants who drank 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar (not apple cider vinegar) per day compared to the control group who drank none. Several animal studies also exist, but that’s about it. Overall the research does not seem compelling enough to outweigh the risks: the high acidity can cause tooth enamel damage if not diluted properly and drinking vinegar may cause drops in potassium levels.

  • Recommendation: Use a mix of oil and vinegar to dress a salad every day.

Cayenne Pepper

Much of the research is focused on chemesthesis, or chemical irritation. Sounds pleasant, right?! In a study of 25, normal weight, young people, consuming a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper at a meal helped participants burn an extra 10 calories. Those participants that reported not liking spicy food ate less at their next meal. Likely because their GI system was still irritated! Conclusion from the study was that results were subtle and seen only in people who did not regularly eat spicy food.

  • Recommendation: If you like spicy food, that is great but 10 calories is not worth choking down half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Trying leaving one bite of food on your plate.


If you are following the keto craze I am sure you have heard of this one. When you are eating a high fat, very low carbohydrate diet your body produces ketones, such as beta-hydroxybutyrate, to use as a fuel source. These ketones are also available in supplement form (exogenous ketones).

Studies using supplement ketones are minimal; however, they may help suppress appetite. The trick with this supplement is it must be used in conjunction with a ketogenic diet. Ketones are a fuel source so if you simply add beta-hydroxybutyrate to a standard American diet, you are spending significant money to add an extra 100 calories per dose, with the potential of GI discomfort and making your urine highly acidic. Not to mention most forms are ketones salt, so the three daily doses recommended can exceed daily sodium recommendations.

  • Recommendation: AVOID this!

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. Get more insight on nutrition and health.

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