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. As the obesity epidemic in America grows, so does the desire for natural solutions.
But are any herbs actually proven in research studies to cause weight loss? And if so, how much weight loss is possible? Do these herbs cause side effects? And are herbal supplements in the US contaminated?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more, as we highlight three plant-based compounds shown in clinical studies to cause weight loss.
We'll discuss safety and potential side effects, feature a video examining whether herbal supplements in the US may be contaminated, and share our clean, food-based weight loss picks.
Option 1 — 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 separate botanical ingredient commonly used in nootropics like Neuriva Plus.
A medical review on green coffee extract for obesity analyzed results from 16 clinical trials, and found that this compound was especially effective in overweight individuals starting at a higher weight.
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 caloric intake “significantly suppressed” body weight in mice, though this a relatively high dose that would be difficult to replicate in humans.
A 2018 clinical trial analyzed the effects of green coffee bean extract supplementation in 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 long-term use hasn’t yet been confirmed by medical studies. Most of the human studies have been short-term or medium-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 in humans proving so.
The botanical name for blood orange is Moro, and while this is technically a fruit rather than an herb, it's a botanical compound with significant research backing for weight loss, so we believe it's worth highlighting in this article.
Blood orange juice was shown in a 2012 animal study to cause greater weight loss than water.
Most of the clinical trials on blood orange that we came across while researching this article use an extracted version rather than regular juice, for increased potency.
A medical review published in the Heliyon medical journal cited 42 clinical trials 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 fruit is likely safer to consume than the extract because of the reduced potency.
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.
Option 3 — White Kidney Bean Extract
This botanical ingredient isn’t one that gets much attention in health media, but there’s some fascinating research on its weight loss effects.
A clinical trial published in the Food Science and Nutrition journal found that 2,400 mg of white kidney bean extract taken daily for 35 days caused weight loss of 4.94 pounds.
This is quite significant, considering that there were no other differences between the group taking white kidney bean extract and the group taking placebo.
A 2020 medical review on 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 diet.
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 in humans.
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 US supplement industry, including off-the-shelf testing that found issues with many popular herbal supplements:
Our Clean Weight Loss Picks
There are food-based nutrients which have been shown in medical studies to be effective for weight loss.
Dietary fiber was shown in a medical review published in The Journal of Nutrition to cause 16 pounds of weight loss in 6 months when combined with moderate caloric restriction (750 calories per day below baseline).
MBG Organic Fiber Potency+ is our top fiber pick because it's certified organic, provides 7 g of fiber per serving and costs under $1.85 per serving at the time of updating this article.
MCT oil was shown in a meta-study to cause more than one pound of weight loss over 10 weeks. This equates to potential annualized weight loss of 6 pounds per year with less than one tablespoon's worth of MCT oil per day.
Bulletproof MCT Oil is our top MCT oil product, because the only ingredient is MCT oil derived from coconuts. and it currently costs only $15.50 for over a month's worth of product.
Ginger intake "significantly decreased body weight" according to a 2019 meta-study on ginger and weight loss that analyzed data from 14 clinical trials.
Pique La Ginger is our top ginger product, because it's an organic tea in convenient crystallized form, and all that's needed is to pour the powder into a glass and add hot water.
All three of the products mentioned in this section are entirely free of additive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.