The Skinny on Fat Burners

Do 'Fat Burners' Really Work?

Remember when we used to be thin? When we didn't have computers and video games and remote controls for our televisions? Me neither, but I know that time did exist and I even lived through it. New technology has made our lives so easy that we rarely have to lift a finger to get things done. All this technology is fabulous but, you know what? It's totally making us fat. As a result, many of you are searching for that magic solution, the most popular one being fat burners. Before you go that route, there are a few things you need to know.

What Are Fat Burners?

Fat burners are essentially pills which contain certain herbal ingredients such as Ephedra, HCA, Chitosan and Pyruvate, all of which claim to either increase energy, stimulate your metabolism and/or suppress your appetite.

Do Fat Burners Work?
It's hard to say. Try to find a conclusive study about just about any dietary supplement, including so-called fat burners, and you're in for a long day. What we do know is that most supplements need further study and, more importantly, the purity of supplements is definitely suspect. Supplements aren't standardized so you don't know if what's listed on the bottle is what you're getting. Plus, no one knows what the long-term effects of these supplements are and, even scarier, how they interact with other medications. So, to answer the question of whether fat burners work, I have to say...uh, I don't know.

The Dirt on Fat Burners


  • What it is: A substance derived from the external skeletons of marine animals, such as crabs (ew!)
  • What it does: Chitosan binds to fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), which prevents the body from absorbing them.
  • Where it lives: Twin Lab's Diet Fuel With Chitosan, Biotech's Fat-B-Gone With Chitosan
  • Should you take it? That's up to you. First, there's a concern that Chitosan impairs absorption of carotenoids which the body converts into vitamin A. Second, most experts agree that Chitosan simply doesn't work. A handful of studies suggest that Chitosan might help trim the fat, but these studies have not been published in peer-reviewed journals such as JAMA.


  • What it is: A powerful herb grown in Mongolia and China. Ephedrine (an extract of Ephedra) is an amphetamine-like compound which stimulates the nervous system and heart.
  • What it does: An effective treatment for asthma, allergies, and sinus problems. Usually marketed for weight loss, performance enhancement, energy, or bodybuilding.
  • Where it lives: The Original Formula One, Ripped Fuel, Muscletech's Hydroxycut
  • Should you take it? Um, not without some good research. Since 1994 the FDA has received more than 800 reports of adverse effects associated with products containing Ephedra. These include high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, nervousness, insomnia, headaches, heart attacks, seizures, strokes, and death. What's scary is that many of these problems occurred in young/middle-aged, healthy adults who used it for weight loss. The problem often stems from mixing ephedrine with caffeine, a big no-no.


  • What it is: William R. Sukala, Clinical Exercise Physiologist defines it in his article, Pyruvate Supplements: A Review of Marketing Claims: "Pyruvate is a three-carbon (triose) ketoacid produced in the end stages of glycolysis." Translation: Pyruvate is a product of sugar metabolism.
  • What it does: Marketers claim it can increase fat and weight loss, reduce cholesterol, and improve endurance.
  • Where it lives: Twin Lab's Pyruvate Fuel, Pinnacle Pyruvate 500
  • Should you take it? William Sukala says: "The minuscule doses available in commercial supplements have not been proven effective in any available research." Basically, the research that has been done doesn't support marketers' claims. It seems safe right now, but, like everything else, needs further study.

HCA (Hydroxycitrate)

  • What it is: A natural food substance extracted from the fruit of the Garcinia cambogia tree grown in southern India.
  • What it does: HCA supposedly curbs appetite and increases glycogen storage without affecting muscle or energy levels.
  • Where it lives: No-Diet Diet, Bio-Max 3000, MicroSlim, and Body Busters (among others)
  • Should you take it? Not unless you enjoy wasting your money. According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, HCA is ineffective for weight loss.


As you can see, the research on fat burners is sketchy at best. No one can say with any certainty that fat burners work or if they are safe to take over a long period of time. A proven method of weight loss is exercise coupled with a healthy, low-calorie diet. There are no shortcuts! Instead of wasting your money on something that may not work or harm your health, why not go with what you know will work? Take the time to learn about the basics of nutrition and weight loss.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Limberger RP, Jacques ALB, Schmitt GC, Arbo MD. Pharmacological effects of ephedrine. In: Ramawat K, Mérillon JM, eds. Natural Products. Springer, Berlin: Springer; 2013. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-22144-6_41

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