Serious Side Effects Linked To Fat Burning Supplements

Fat-burning supplements are sold as over-the-counter weight loss aids that claim to boost metabolism. Most of these supplements are a combination of stimulants and herbal extracts. They can contain up to ninety different ingredients, and many contain ingredients not declared on the label. For example, some fat-burning supplements have been found to contain medications that have been withdrawn from the market due to patient deaths and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Fat-burning supplements may also contain ingredients, such as phenolphthalein, that are not approved for use in the United States. Phenolphthalein has been linked to cancer. Individuals who take prescription medication are at an especially high risk of potentially dangerous drug interactions if they also take fat-burning supplements. Instead of taking these products, individuals who are concerned about their weight are encouraged to seek medical advice.

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Some of the serious side effects linked to fat-burning supplements are outlined below.


Nausea is one of the most common side effects associated with fat-burning supplements. The supplements delay gastric emptying, and this is believed to lead to nausea. In addition, several popular ingredients in fat-burning supplements are recognized as nausea triggers themselves. Currently, experts have identified carnitine, chromium, chitosan, green tea extract, and guar gum as substances linked to both nausea and vomiting. Patients who experience nausea after using any supplement or medication should talk to a doctor. Supplements should be discontinued, and it might be necessary to switch to another medicine. To reduce nauseous feelings at home, it may help to avoid strong flavors or odors and to get outside for fresh air. Taking small sips of fluids is typically easier than drinking large amounts in one sitting, and patients might find it soothing to eat bland foods such as white rice, broth, boiled chicken, toast, or crackers.

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Constipation Or Diarrhea

Stomach problems such as constipation or diarrhea are widely reported with fat-burning supplements. Many of these supplements contain very high levels of stimulants, including caffeine. The stimulants increase the rate at which the body digests food, and this can trigger diarrhea. To treat diarrhea at home, patients could consider taking an over-the-counter medication such as loperamide, and eating low-fiber food is encouraged. Patients should contact a doctor if diarrhea lasts for more than two or three days. Some fat-burning supplements cause dehydration, which is a contributing factor in constipation. To relieve this symptom, patients may want to try increasing their dietary fiber intake or taking a fiber supplement. Increasing fluid intake to at least eight cups per day could help, and some patients may need a laxative or an enema to relieve constipation. Individuals should schedule a doctor's appointment if they have rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or a fever with constipation, and they should seek emergency medical care if constipation occurs in conjunction with vomiting or abdominal distention.

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High Blood Pressure

Numerous compounds and herbal extracts in fat-burning supplements have been linked to the development of hypertension (high blood pressure). For example, doctors have currently identified phenylpropanolamine, fenfluramine, caffeine, and ephedrine as some of the major ingredients that increase blood pressure. In addition, an ingredient known as bitter orange is known to interact with the caffeine and synephrine in some fat-burning supplements, and the interaction constricts blood vessels and leads to fluctuations in blood pressure. Patients who have hypertension should not take any fat-burning supplements, and individuals who use supplements may want to monitor their blood pressure regularly at home. Currently, major health organizations define high blood pressure as a systolic measurement of 130 or higher or a diastolic measurement of 80 or higher. While high blood pressure does not usually produce any symptoms, individuals who are experiencing extremely elevated blood pressure could notice headaches, dizziness, an irregular or rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath. Patients who experience these should go to an urgent care center or the emergency room.

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Increased Heart Rate

Stimulants, herbs, and undeclared ingredients could trigger an increased heart rate in patients who use fat-burning supplements. For adults, a normal resting heart rate ranges from sixty to one hundred beats per minute. Patients can check their heart rate by manually measuring their pulse at the wrist or neck, and many fitness trackers automatically calculate this. Patients who have an increased heart rate above one hundred could notice heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, vision changes, and fatigue. Increases in heart rate could be the beginning of major heart problems associated with fat-burning supplements. Several case reports have detailed incidences of previously healthy patients in their twenties who suddenly experienced heart attacks after taking the supplements for a short period. Some fat-burning supplements contain acetylsalicylic acid. Combining this with caffeine or natural, non-prescription blood thinners (both of which could be in some supplements) is known to trigger a heart attack. Individuals who have used any fat-burning supplements in the past should consider having a cardiac exam to check for any heart damage. The doctor will check the patient's pulse, blood pressure, and heart rhythm, and tests such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram may be used to obtain more detailed information. Patients currently using supplements should discontinue use and seek medical advice if they notice their heart rate is increased.

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Liver Or Kidney Damage

In recent years, several fat-burning supplements have been banned after being linked to liver and kidney damage. In 2014, researchers found conjugated linoleic acid, an ingredient in a popular fat-burning supplement, was linked to almost one hundred cases of hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) across the United States. Although the supplement was removed from the market, forty-seven of the patients required hospitalization, and three liver transplants were necessary. Signs of liver damage include jaundice, swelling in the legs or ankles, abdominal pain, and pale or bloody stools. Aristolochic acid and heavy metals may be present in some supplements, and these are directly linked to kidney damage. Case studies have documented direct links between kidney diseases and the use of chromium picolinate, creatine monohydrate, germanium, Yohimbe, and chaparral. Many of these cases developed in patients who were previously healthy. Potential signs of kidney damage include fatigue, frequent urination, insomnia, and dry, itchy skin. Individuals concerned about their kidney health may want to see a doctor for an evaluation. Doctors can perform blood and urine tests to detect kidney damage.

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