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Dietary Supplements in Weight Reduction


      We summarize evidence on the role of dietary supplements in weight reduction, with particular attention to their safety and benefits. Dietary supplements are used for two purposes in weight reduction: (a) providing nutrients that may be inadequate in calorie-restricted diets and (b) for their potential benefits in stimulating weight loss. The goal in planning weight-reduction diets is that total intake from food and supplements should meet recommended dietary allowance/adequate intake levels without greatly exceeding them for all nutrients, except energy. If nutrient amounts from food sources in the reducing diet fall short, dietary supplements containing a single nutrient/element or a multivitamin-mineral combination may be helpful. On hypocaloric diets, the addition of dietary supplements providing nutrients at a level equal to or below recommended dietary allowance/adequate intake levels or 100% daily value, as stated in a supplement’s facts box on the label, may help dieters to achieve nutrient adequacy and maintain electrolyte balance while avoiding the risk of excessive nutrient intakes. Many botanical and other types of dietary supplements are purported to be useful for stimulating or enhancing weight loss. Evidence of their efficacy in stimulating weight loss is inconclusive at present. Although there are few examples of safety concerns related to products that are legal and on the market for this purpose, there is also a paucity of evidence on safety for this intended use. Ephedra and ephedrine-containing supplements, with or without caffeine, have been singled out in recent alerts from the Food and Drug Administration because of safety concerns, and use of products containing these substances cannot be recommended. Dietitians should periodically check the Food and Drug Administration Web site ( for updates and warnings and alert patients/clients to safety concerns. Dietetics professionals should also consult authoritative sources for new data on efficacy as it becomes available (
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      J.T. Dwyer is senior nutrition scientist and P. M. Coates is director of the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland


      D.B. Allison is a professor in the Section on Statistical Genetics, Department of Biostatistics, and Clinical Nutrition Research Center, Department of Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham