CAM and Weight Loss: Does It Work?

Désirée A. Lie, MD, MSEd


March 27, 2013

In This Article

A Review of Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Weight Loss

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin

Studies have disproven the notion that hCG, administered orally or via injection, has any effect on appetite, fat mobilization, or satiety.[8] In addition, it has been associated with serious adverse effects, including ovarian hyperstimulation, hypercoagulability, and multiple pregnancies.[9] However, hCG continues to be promoted on a variety of Websites as a potential solution to obesity. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings to manufacturers and consumers noting that these products are unapproved for use. There is no human evidence supporting the use of hCG for weight management.

Green Coffee Beans

Green (unroasted) coffee beans have likewise received plenty of attention and are sold as extracts and capsules on multiple Websites. Green coffee beans are reported to provide lower levels of caffeine and higher amounts of chlorogenic acid than do roasted coffee beans. Chlorogenic acid is believed to affect glucose metabolism and to inhibit fat accumulation by altering adipokine levels.[10]

Published human studies on green coffee beans are of short duration and poor quality, reporting weight loss of around 1.5-2.5 kg over 1-2 months using extracts at doses ranging from 80-1000 mg of extract daily.[10] Orally, green coffee bean is well tolerated, and adverse effects are those caused by excess caffeine intake, including headache, diuresis, gastric distress, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, and arrhythmias. Use of green coffee beans concomitantly with other caffeine-containing products, such as cocoa or tea, may increase the risk for caffeine-related adverse effects. High caffeine intake in postmenopausal women has been linked to osteoporosis.[11] There is currently insufficient evidence supporting the use of green coffee beans as a weight-loss product.

Green Tea

Compared with green coffee beans, more robust evidence, including clinical trials of at least 12 weeks' duration, is available on the effects of green tea for weight loss. A recent Cochrane systematic review[12] examined 8 studies conducted in Japan (1030 patients) and 6 studies conducted in other countries (532 patients). Green tea was provided either as a beverage or as catechins (purified extract from green tea) and compared with placebo. The studies were considered to be of moderate quality.

In aggregate, weight loss in obese patients over an average of 12 weeks of daily ingestion was minimal and did not achieve statistical significance. The authors concluded that it was not likely to be clinically important. Adverse effects were mild. However, green tea has been associated with other beneficial, mainly cardiovascular, outcomes because of its antioxidant effects.

Açaí Berry

Açaí is a palm tree growing in the north of South America; its berry is consumed raw or as a juice. Its antioxidant content is believed to be higher than that of other berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.[13] Because of this, it has been advocated for use in inflammatory conditions and prevention of cardiovascular disease. In food manufacturing, the açaí berry is used as a colorant.

Açaí berry has been marketed as a weight-loss product in the form of pills, capsules, and juice. A small recent pilot study suggests a benefit for metabolic syndrome.[14] However, there is no clinical evidence supporting its efficacy in weight loss.[10]

Raspberry Ketone

Raspberry ketone is one of the most expensive flavoring agents in the food industry and is found in low concentration in red raspberry fruits.[15] It is extracted from such sources as peaches, grapes, apples, and rhubarb, which have higher concentrations.[16] There is no dose standardization for raspberry ketone. It has been promoted widely as a weight-loss agent owing to celebrity endorsement.

Raspberry ketone has been reported to have antioxidant effects in rats, as well as to promote lipolysis in vivo.[17,18] It was reported to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in an animal model.[17] However, antilipemic and antiobesity effects on humans have not been demonstrated in clinical trials.[10]


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.