Are Fat Burners Safe? Why They Aren’t What They Claim To Be + What You Can Do Instead To Lose Weight Naturally

Fat Burners

We are a society obsessed with weight. We will do almost anything aside from eating well and exercising to achieve our goal weight. Putting in the work is hard and it’s easier to turn to fad diets and pills that promise quick weight loss.

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have seen many patients turn to fat burners as a way to lose weight and boost their metabolism. However, they aren’t always what they are cracked up to be, leaving many people still struggling with their weight wondering what went wrong.

So what’s the deal with fat burners? Can they actually help you lose weight or is it just another marketing ploy? Read on to learn more about fat burners, how they work, side effects, and what you can do instead to lose weight, naturally.


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What are fat burners and how do they work?

Fat burners are any supplements that claim to help you burn fat and lose weight. Some contain naturally occurring ingredients while others include man-made compounds with limited research around them.

Fat burners are designed to help you lose weight by boosting your metabolism, blocking fat storage in your body, and suppressing your appetite. While all of this sounds great, there’s no “magic pill” when it comes to weight loss no matter how much their marketing team’s want you to think there is. There is actually little to no evidence showing that fat burners do what they claim and are an effective tool for losing weight.

Some of the most common ingredients in fat burners include:

1. Caffeine

One of the most common ingredients in fat burners, caffeine stimulates your nervous system in an attempt to help you burn more calories resulting in weight loss.

2. Green tea extract

Green tea is another common ingredient because it also contains caffeine as well as antioxidants known as catechins that have been shown in studies to boost metabolism and fat burning.

3. Yohimbe

Derived from the bark of the Pausinystalia yohimbe tree, it has been used as an aphrodisiac as well as for its fat burning potential. Yohimbe is believed to be beneficial for fat loss due to its ability to block the receptors that control adrenaline, allowing it to stay in your body longer to increase fat burning.

4. Carnitine

Carnitine is naturally produced in your body and is also found in many meat and dairy products. While it is believed to be helpful at burning fat, there’s very little research to support these claims.

5. Soluble fiber

Fiber is often added to fat burners because it can help you feel more satiated and curb your appetite while also limiting the amount of fat your body absorbs from food.

So, are fat burners good for weight loss? In theory, fat burners may help you lose weight (what works for one won’t always work for you) but they do so through using ingredients that elevate your blood pressure and energy expenditure that may lead to weight loss over time. However, this comes along with its own set of side effects and isn’t necessarily a sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off long-term. 

Even if you do find that fat burners helped you lose weight, you might find yourself putting on the weight again once you stop taking fat burners because you didn’t address the root cause of why you weren’t able to lose weight in the first place. 

Are fat burners safe?

If a product is on the market, one would assume that it has been tested for safety. Are fat burners FDA approved? Not exactly.

Unfortunately, the FDA’s role in regulating fat burners is limited so the validity of products that claim to burn fat is questionable. Since brands can use whatever terms they want to market their product and enhance its appeal, it’s not always straightforward whether a product will actually do what it’s claimed.

But can fat burners be harmful? Even if they don’t always deliver the results that they claim, that doesn’t mean they are harmful, right? Not necessarily. There are actually quite a few side effects from fat burners that you should be aware of.

  • Hypertension: Since the extra caffeine added to fat burners increases your blood pressure, if you already have high blood pressure it can lead to hypertension.
  • Liver damage: Long-term use of fat burners have been associated with liver damage and failure.
  • Contraindications: Just because something can be bought over-the-counter doesn’t mean it is always safe to take. Fat burners may include ingredients that can reduce the effectiveness of your medication or interfere and result in health problems.
  • Anxiety/Panic attacks: Yohimbe has frequently been linked to anxiety, panic attacks, and nausea.

Since the FDA doesn’t fully regulate the labeling of fat burners, there may be additional ingredients that aren’t listed or listed under a different name so you can’t always be confident that you are getting what is advertised. There are also no real guidelines surrounding the terms “natural” or “all-natural” so just because a fat burner is marketed as that, doesn’t mean it actually is healthy.

Suggestions for healthy and safe weight loss

Again, there is no quick fix when it comes to weight loss. Ultimately, we have to get healthy in order to lose weight. In functional medicine, we understand that weight is a byproduct of an underlying dysfunction in the body. Whether that is a hormone imbalance or gut problems, once these are fixed weight loss tends to follow. That is also why fat burners don’t always work because they are not addressing the underlying cause of why you are gaining weight in the first place.

So what is the safest fat burner? The truth is, the safest fat burner is going to be you addressing and healing whatever dysfunction is going on underneath the surface. Try incorporating these functional medicine tools and labs to start losing weight effectively and keep it off for good.

1. Eat more healthy fats

Healthy fats are the building blocks for more even blood sugar, and steadier blood sugar often leads to easier weight loss. Your body uses glucose from sugar and carbs for energy, but once those easy-access stores are depleted, your body will start burning fat. Fat burning takes more energy than sugar-burning, and tends to preserve more muscle, so encourage that process by bringing in more fat to burn. The best ones are medium-chain triglycerides like the ones found in coconut oil because these are the most readily available for your body to use as energy.

2. Try intermittent fasting

By periodically limiting your food intake for certain stretches of time, intermittent fasting has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation and decrease insulin resistance; which can help fight off diabetes and encourage fat burning and weight loss. To learn more about how to start fasting and exactly how it can help you lose weight, listen to my podcast episode on the subject.

3. Get your hormones checked

Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells, and leptin’s job is to tell your brain to burn fat for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when your body stops recognizing this hormone and tricks your metabolism into thinking it’s starving – causing it to continually store fat instead of burning it off. A blood test can easily check your leptin levels. Your ideas range should be between 4 and 6 ng/dL.

4. Heal your gut

Science is finally starting to recognize the importance of your gut microbiome and the role it plays in your overall health, including your metabolic rate. An unfavorable balance of gut bacteria can lead to a slowed metabolism and increased weight

The takeaway

Fat burners may work in the short-term but they come along with a lot of unknowns and side effects. Instead, taking a functional medicine approach to weight loss is going to help you lose weight naturally in a healthy way that won’t risk the weight returning. While it is going to take some effort, the long-term reward of looking and feeling your best, is going to outweigh the work you put in upfront.

If you are looking to take back control of your health and get to the root of your weight struggles, take the first step in your healing journey and check out our telehealth consultations.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 


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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel