Fat Burners – Safe or Not Safe

February 20, 2012

in Blog, News, Facts, Fitness, Vitamins

Happy Monday! I hope your week is getting off to a great start.  I just had to say thanks again for all the amazing feedback on last Monday’s post about competing. I’m so glad so many of you could relate to it. Although it difficult to write those kind of posts that have negativity, I’m glad it helped so many of you.

Another topic that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about lately is fat burners.

Which ones are safe to take, and which ones should you stay away from?  I can’t say that I have a vast experience with them, as the only time I really took them frequently was before competition.  I have tried others in the past, and had some not-so-great experiences with them.  Having worked in the supplement industry for 7+ years, I am familiar with most of the major brands and what they contain.  Personally, I look for the natural alternatives that are still effective, but don’t have the harmful  or unpleasant side effects.

*NOTE: Since I am not a doctor, if you have any pre-existing health issues or concerns, consult with your doctor or naturopath before starting a new supplement regime.

Here’s a list of what would make my ‘safe’ list.  There may be more that could potentially make this list (as there are so many natural products out there), but these are a few of my standouts.

Obviously, the key is that you’re adding one of these supplements to a healthy lifestyle.  Healthy food, and exercise.  Supplements are only meant to enhance your results.  Remember to read the package to get the proper dosage.  Even if it claims to be a ‘natural’ product, doesn’t mean you should exceed the recommended dose.

1. CLA

aka. Conjugated linoleic acid.  CLA is a fatty acid that supports fat loss and lean muscle gain. It helps to increase the rate at which the body burns energy and decrease the rate at which the body converts energy to fat. CLA is naturally found in meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals, however changes in the ways livestock are raised and foods are processed have reduced the amount of CLA we consume in our diet. It takes at least 1 month of taking the supplement to notice an effect.

2. Green Tea Extract

According to a study published in an issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, green tea has been shown to activate the body’s thermogenic fat-burning activity.  In this study, an optimal amount of catechins (the active compound in green tea) ingested for 12 weeks significantly reduced the subjects’ total fat area, waist circumference, skinfold thickness and subcutaneous fat area!

3. L-Carnitine

Some studies show that oral carnitine reduces fat mass, increases muscle mass, and reduces fatigue. All of these effects may contribute to weight loss.

4. Raspberry Ketones

This ingredient has been gaining a lot of popularity since it was featured on Dr. Oz.  I haven’t tried it myself.  Raspberry ketone is a natural phenolic compound that is the primary aroma compound of red raspberries.  According to Wikipedia: “When given to mice in high doses (up to 2% of food intake), raspberry ketone has been shown to prevent high-fat-diet-induced elevations in body weight.  This effect is reported to stem from the alteration of lipid metabolism, increasing norepinephrine-induced lipolysis. Although products containing this compound are marketed for weight loss, this effect has not been studied in humans.” So, even though there is no human research, many people take it with success, so there must be something to it.

Ingredients on my Not-so-Safe List:

1. ‘Thermogen’, Heat Generating Blends or Fat Burning Metabolizers

There are a lot of marketing “buzz words” that are put on the label of fat burners to make them sound so amazing.  They really aren’t.  Any supplement that claims a thermogen effect means its increasing your body’s core temperature, which can make your body work harder than normal.  These types of supplements can make people sweat excessively and increase heart rate. Any time I’ve personally taken anything “thermogen”, it lead to a more rapid heart rate. NOT good.

2. High amounts of caffeine

Want to feel jittery and agitated?  I sure don’t.  Stay away from products that contain a lot of caffeine.  Its also called ephedrine.  It really can disturb your sleep, too.  If you want a caffeine boost before a workout, a much safer alternative is drinking some black coffee.

3. Yohimbine

Avoid products that contain this ingredients.  Common side effects of this are headaches, nausea, frequent urination and anxiousness.  There are numerous serious side effects if taken in large doses such as rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, panic attacks and renal failure.  Yohimbine should not be consumed by anyone with liver, kidney, heart disease, or a psychological disorder.

4. Complex “Formulas”

Most fat burners on the market are basically just a bunch of stimulants put in a bottle. Which a couple of the ingredients may be useful, many of the others in there can be dangerous.

I’m sure there are MANY more things I could add to the un-safe list, but its hard to gauge.  Some people feel different side effects than others.

My Advice?

Stick to products that are single or two ingredient formulas with the ingredients on my “safe” list.  That way, if you have an adverse reaction, you can pinpoint what it is.  Quite commonly, people will get a complex formula, get jitters or adverse effects from it, and you’re left feeling clueless as to what ingredient might be bothering your system.

Buy products from a store that has a return policy.  That way, if something doesn’t agree with you, you can take it back and exchange for a different product.

Hopefully this helps you to better navigate the huge “fat loss” supplement aisle!

Next Monday, I will post a list of foods that can help increase your body’s own fat loss ability.



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I'm Kristine Fretwell, busy mom of 2 little girls, author, blogger, and former pro fitness competitor. I love almost any kind of cookie, anything coconut or pumpkin flavored, and Thai food. A perfect day for me is enjoying my family, getting to the gym, and whipping up a new healthy recipe. I've got a collection of over 300 healthy recipes, and other tidbits like fitness and health tips. My recipes have been featured on websites such as Huffington Post, Savvy Mom, Shape and Skinny Scoop.
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Latest posts by Kristine (see all)

  • http://twitter.com/marketingkat Kat Anderson-Shwydky

    Great article Kristine, but I do want to clarify one thing. Ephedrine is not caffeine, it is a herb that also increases your heart rate, but is different from caffeine. 

    • http://www.busybuthealthy.com Kristine Fretwell

      You’re right Kat. I always put them in the same category as they both have the higher heart rate effect.

  • Randy

    I have also read and article in “Inside Fitness Canada” magazine that Coconut Oil has ‘thermogenic’ properties. I have made the switch from regular name brand ‘cooking’ oil to either a better quality Virgin Olive Oil or Coconut Oil. I find that everything cooked in the Coconut Oil seems to taste better. It is an excellent oil for cooking specifically Chicken, Salmon and also Eggs. Coconut Oil seems to be a staple in the Paleo type meal plans…

    • http://www.busybuthealthy.com Kristine Fretwell

      Yes, coconut oil is great stuff! Too often people get scared of it as its saturated fat, but its completely different from animal fat and is so healthy, and yes, it can help boost your metabolism.

  • http://katshealthcorner.wordpress.com/ Kathleen @ KatsHealthCorner

    I love eating spicy foods — that can really give you the burn! 😉

    • http://www.busybuthealthy.com Kristine Fretwell

      Yes! Spicy foods are great!!
      Kristine Fretwell, Busy But Healthy, http://www.busybuthealthy.com

  • Logos712

    Years ago I tried several different “fat burners”, never again. Most people that use them don’t really need them. I not only got the jittery feelings, but, nausea. Even mood/personality swings; quick temper. They can even cause/contribute to high blood pressure. There’re safer, more natural products out there, like the ones listed above. As the saying goes,”Abs are made in the kitchen”. So many susbstitute pills for proper diet.

    • http://www.busybuthealthy.com Kristine Fretwell

       Mike, you’re so right! Abs ARE made in the kitchen, and far too often, people rely on pills alone.

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