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 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).
Supergut Fiber Mix is our top fiber supplement, because it contains three different types of fiber powder, and retails for only $1.75 per serving at a subscription rate.
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.