Do Fat Burners Work? A Breakdown by Experts [+ Alternatives]

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 05/01/2024

The world of weight loss is full of myths and misconceptions, from fad diets to dietary supplements to vitamins and more. And sometimes separating fact from fiction on weight loss supplements can be difficult.

Let’s take fat burning pills, for example. Do fat burners work as a useful tool in weight management? Or are they a hoax? Are fat burners safe at all?

The truth is fat burners promise more than they deliver, and whether they work for weight loss is controversial. We explain why fat burner supplements may not be the best and share proven alternative solutions for weight loss.

The answer to “How do fat burners work” is not as straightforward as marketers would have you believe. Despite claims, there’s limited evidence that fat burning pills work to blast body fat, increase fat metabolism or lower BMI (body mass index).

Some small studies found that fat burners increased metabolic rate (energy levels) as well as the number of calories burned in women.

However, multiple studies found that fat burning pills were actually less effective overall at weight loss when compared to regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.

The truth is that many weight loss supplements that claim to speed up weight loss not only have uncertain results but are also strongly cautioned or outright discouraged from use.

So do fat burners really work? Some research says “yes” — but this evidence is minimal and doesn’t show beneficial results for body weight.

And what do fat burners do?

Despite also being called thermogenic supplements, fat burners don’t actually burn your fat cells to the ground. Along with speeding up weight loss, fat burner supplements claim to do a lot of things. Some of these include:

  • Increasing the use of fat for energy (fat metabolism)

  • Improving fat absorption

  • Increasing calories burned during rest (metabolic rate)

  • Increasing fat oxidation during exercise

Essentially, fat burning pills increase your energy expenditure — how many calories you burn — which may lead to weight loss over time.

These fat-burning supplements contain many different ingredients such as caffeine, carnitine, green tea extract, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), chromium and kelp to name a few.

While there’s evidence that some of the active ingredients in fat burners support their fat metabolism-boosting properties, others don’t have the same data to back up claims.

For example, the effects of chromium (an essential mineral) on weight loss and metabolism are uncertain while there’s not enough evidence around common ingredients like ginseng and green tea  and whether they’re effective for weight loss.

Similarly, ingredients like CLA and garcinia cambogia had little to no effect on metabolism or resting calorie expenditure — or at least not enough of an impact on weight loss.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

If you want to know the answer to “Do fat burners work,” the consensus is that you should look elsewhere for weight management help.

This isn’t just because there’s insufficient evidence supporting the use of fat burning pills for weight loss. There are also safety risks to consider when using fat burners.

While men use fat burners significantly less than women do, anyone who uses these supplements can experience side effects of these supplements.

It’s tough to share a list of side effects associated with all fat burners, since many fat burners contain different ingredients. The side effects of fat burner pills are linked to their specific ingredients. For example, too much caffeine (a common fat burner ingredient) can cause restlessness, insomnia, headaches and more.

One common ingredient in fat burners — yohimbine (also called yohimbe) — has been linked to nausea, anxiety and high blood pressure.

Other fat burner side effects can include chest pain, constipation, increased heart rate, panic attacks and more.

Another reason you should reconsider taking fat burners for weight loss? They’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning they haven’t been thoroughly tested for safety.

There are effective ways to manage weight that go beyond fat burner supplements.

Regular exercise, a healthy diet and weight loss medication if necessary are tried and true ways to lose excess body weight or manage obesity.

A combination of strength training and cardio like running, biking and even walking can help you lose weight and gain muscle mass.

In addition to physical activity, you’ll want to aim for a variety of nutrients to aid weight loss. Try to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates and lean protein and healthy fats — all while limiting alcohol and sugar.

Meeting your nutritional needs could be as simple as including healthy snacks like hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal with nut butter or mixed nuts.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough rest (and good quality rest, too) as sleep can also affect weight gain. Your wellness is holistic, so your wellness routine should reflect that.

If you’re struggling with weight loss, a healthcare professional may prescribe weight loss drugs like metformin or Ozempic®.

While these drugs are very popular at the moment, they’re seemingly not a fad, as they’ve been found to be effective. Metformin, for example, has several benefits beyond weight management — this medication also helps manage gestational diabetes and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Managing body weight can be a long, difficult process when done on your own or when done without the help of a trained medical provider. So it’s no surprise that many people look to fixes like fat-burning supplements that promise to speed up weight loss. But what’s true about these dietary supplements and what’s false about fat burner pills? Let’s review:

  • What are fat burners? These are dietary supplements that claim to help weight loss by increasing how many calories you burn. These pills burn fat by either stimulating the breakdown of fat or slowing fat production.

  • Do fat burners work? There’s very limited scientific evidence that suggests fat burning pills work to increase fat loss and reduce weight. They may even have adverse effects and health risks.

  • Rather than using fat burners, ask your healthcare provider about weight management tips such as a healthy diet, physical activity and even weight loss medications.

You can talk to a healthcare provider about the safety of diabetes drugs for weight loss, learn if weight loss injections are right for you or get started on a weight management plan today.

11 Sources

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