Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice. All statements are merely the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to weight loss.
With some pharmaceutical weight loss medications having a risk of significant side effects, many consumers are turning to herbs to supplement their weight loss efforts.
But are any herbs actually medically proven to cause weight loss? And if so, are they safe?
In this article we’ll seek to answer these questions by reviewing several botanical compounds that have promising weight loss benefits based on clinical trials published in legitimate scientific journals.
Green Coffee Extract
Coffee beans are typically roasted, which creates the brown color consumers are used to seeing, but prior to roasting the beans are green. Green coffee extract is more potent than raw green coffee beans, and is made through an extraction process that increases the levels of the active chemical compounds like chlorogenic acid.
Green coffee extract is often confused for coffee fruit extract, which is a totally separate botanical ingredient commonly used in nootropics like Neuriva Plus.
A medical review of green coffee extract for obesity found that it was effective for weight loss in overweight individuals, and even more effective for patients starting at a higher weight. The study authors analyzed 16 different medical trials on green coffee extract and weight loss to come to those conclusions.
Trial participants supplementing with green coffee extract lost an average of 1.29 pounds, and most trials lasted 8 weeks.
An animal study found that green coffee extract at 0.5% and 1% of dietary intake “significantly suppressed” body weight of the mice, though this a relatively high dose that would be difficult to replicate in humans.
A third study analyzed the effects of green coffee bean extract on patients with metabolic syndrome, which is a grouping of conditions that increase overall risk of chronic health problems. A patient with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity would be considered to have metabolic syndrome.
The study found that green coffee extract at a daily dose of 800 milligrams (mg) caused twice as much weight loss and Body Mass Index (BMI) reduction as placebo.
One downside to green coffee bean extract for weight loss is that the safety of its use long-term hasn’t yet been confirmed by medical studies. Most of the human studies have been medium or short-term, and even though animal studies have shown no toxicity even at very high doses, we can’t definitively say the compound is safe for consistent long-term use until there’s research on human subjects proving so.
The botanical name for blood orange is Moro, and it’s been studied in medical trials for its effect on weight loss.
Blood orange juice was shown in an animal study to improve weight loss compared to water alone.
Most of the medical trials on blood orange use an extract version rather than juice due to the increased potency. An incredibly thorough review published in the Heliyon medical journal cited 42 individual studies on blood orange extract, and concluded that the compound “stimulates the oxidation of fatty acids.” The researchers also noted that blood orange extract has “an important role as a nutraceutical in the prevention of obesity.”
Like with green coffee bean extract, there is unfortunately lacking safety and toxicity data on blood orange extract. The juice or whole fruits are likely safer to consume than the extract because they’re less potent.
Blood orange extract has an increased concentration of chemical compounds like synephrine compared to the whole fruit, and consumption of these compounds may increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular events as outlined in the above-linked review. The increased potency which makes blood orange extract more effective for weight loss than blood orange juice may also make it riskier to take.
White Kidney Bean Extract
This botanical ingredient isn’t one that gets much attention in popular health media, but there’s some fascinating research on its weight loss effects.
A study published in the Food Science and Nutrition journal found that 2400 mg of white kidney bean extract taken daily for 35 days caused weight loss of 4.94 pounds. This is quite significant considering there were no other differences between the group taking white kidney bean extract and the group taking placebo.
A medical review of white kidney bean extract for weight loss explained how the compound is effective: it limits carbohydrate absorption. This suggests that its benefit as a weight loss aid is greater in the context of a high-carb diet than a low-carb one. Patients on a ketogenic (keto) diet may see little benefit from white kidney bean extract, though this should be studied to confirm.
White kidney bean extract seems safe to use for short periods of time, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stating that few safety concerns are reported in use up to 12 weeks.
Like with the previous two weight loss botanicals, there is lacking long-term safety research. This doesn’t necessarily mean that white kidney bean extract is unsafe when used over longer durations, just that there unfortunately isn’t much funding for years-long human trials for botanical ingredients.
Are Herbal Supplements Safe?
We published an animated video to YouTube explaining some of the issues in the U.S. supplement industry, including off-the-shelf testing that found issues with many popular herbal supplements:
Our Weight Loss Supplement Recommendations
There exist several weight loss supplements with significant clinical backing in terms of both efficacy and safety. Neither are herbs.
We recommend dietary fiber as a safe and effective weight loss supplement, especially when combined with caloric restriction.
A landmark medical study found that moderate caloric restriction (750 calories per day below baseline) combined with dietary fiber intake (a minimum of 20 grams per day) caused an average weight loss of 16.03 pounds over 6 months. That’s a pace of 32 pounds per year of weight loss in overweight individuals simply by adding fiber to a moderately-restricted-calorie diet.
The fiber supplement we recommend is SuperGut Fiber Mix. It contains a clean and effective formulation: a blend of three different types of unflavored dietary fiber and zero additive ingredients. It can be mixed into liquids or foods. Interested consumers can buy SuperGut fiber at this link.
We recommend using two fiber mixes per day, which provides 16 grams (g) of total fiber. Diet should provide the remaining fiber necessary to meet the 20 g minimum threshold.
Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is another dietary supplement which has been shown in clinical trials to cause weight loss.
MCT oil is quickly absorbed by the body and increases metabolic rate, which causes fat loss. A meta-study on MCT oil documented weight loss of 1.12 pounds over 10 weeks. This equates to a potential annualized weight loss of 5.84 pounds with MCT oil supplementation.
We recommend Bulletproof MCT Oil as our top MCT oil product, because it has a clean and effective formulation. The only ingredient is MCT oil derived from coconuts, and the product has no questionable additives. Interested consumers can buy Bulletproof MCT Oil at this link.
The effective dose range of MCT oil for weight loss (based on the medical review) is 1.7 g to 10 g per day. Bulletproof's MCT oil provides 14 g in one tablespoon, so around two-thirds of one tablespoon should be a maximally-effective dosage.