Everything has side effects. Any drug you take, any supplement, any medication, is going to do something to your body outside of the intended function. Sometimes the side effects are minor, like a bit of muscle ache, some minor drowsiness, and so on. Other times your side effects are harsher, like headaches or jitters.
Some weight loss supplements fall into this second category. Jitters are a semi-common problem with some weight loss supplements, and it leaves you faced with a tough question. If the weight loss is working, that's great, but the shakes are very difficult to deal with. Do you value the weight loss enough to work through it, or should you drop the supplements to regain your health?
Here's the thing about supplements and medications: everyone is different. Different people react differently to chemicals and medications. Even common pain medications don't work for some people, and as many as 10% of people may be allergic to penicillin, a common antibiotic.
It stands to reason that some people react poorly to some supplements the same way. A weight loss supplement that works for thousands of people might leave you with jittery limbs and a fast-beating heart. Why does it happen?
Some Weight Loss Supplements Contain Amphetamines
Probably one of the biggest causes of jitters involved with weight loss is simply that a lot of weight loss supplements are amphetamines or amphetamine derivatives.
This isn't surprising. After all, amphetamines do spur on weight loss. Even meth causes weight loss, it just causes a lot of other negative side effects as well. No one would recommend methamphetamine as a weight loss pill, at least not in good conscience.
A large part of what weight loss supplements do is increase your metabolism to encourage your body to burn stored fat for energy. Amphetamines are stimulants, they stimulate the body into burning that fat to produce that energy.
Where, then, does that energy go?
In a well-regulated system, with a low level of stimulant, you gain energy. You find it easier to get your day started, you don't flag as early, and you can keep going through a long work day more easily. Caffeine, the stuff you find in your coffee or energy drinks, is a stimulant as well.
Stimulants are not inherently bad, or at least no worse than any other psychoactive chemical. Used in small doses, used properly, and when studied to make sure they're relatively safe, any stimulant can have valid uses. This applies both medically and in daily living. Caffeine isn't purely safe either, but it's regulated to limit the amount that can be present in any one item. Drink down six pots of coffee in a few hours, or drink more than a couple energy drinks in the space of a morning, and you'll have the jitters too.
Many Weight Loss Supplements are Not Well Regulated
Most weight loss supplements are drugs, make no mistake about it. Drugs, chemicals, supplements; these are all words for the same kinds of substances. All natural supplements still contain chemicals, they're just chemicals derived from plants instead of synthetically processed in a lab somewhere.
There's nothing wrong with wanting natural supplements. The trouble comes with testing. Medications of all sorts take a long time to go from being created to being tested to being available on the market. The reason for this is that it takes time to test different scenarios, different doses, different medication interactions, and long-term health effects. Some medications that would be excellent are kept off the market because, when used long-term, they cause heart failure.
This is why there's a divide between medications and supplements. Supplements are often brought to market from less qualified sources, and are given much lower levels of testing. They aren't regulated or approved by the FDA. The side effects have not been verified, the long-term health effects are not known in many cases.
Thus, older weight loss supplements like DMAA and Sibutramine have been banned in some regions of the world. They may have some benefits for weight loss, but they have drawbacks that can include life-threatening diseases, long-term health issues, and death.
The prevailing belief is that some supplements are good for you, are healthy, and while they may have side effects, they aren't damaging in the long term. And, in some cases, this is true. By bringing them to the market before they're fully tested, people can start getting benefits from them without waiting for a decade-long testing cycle.
The issue is simply that many supplements are more dangerous than they appear. Public health authorities end up banning them eventually due to the proliferation of life-threatening side effects. Even if you, personally, aren't affected by the supplement, other people you recommend it to might be, and that's dangerous.
Some Weight Loss Supplements Aren't Truthful
At this point, we have to mention that some supplements simply aren't being truthful about what they contain. We all know that weight loss is a billion-dollar market, and as such, there's a ton of competition to sell the next best thing. Selling new, upcoming weight loss supplements is a way to make a lot of money very quickly, particularly if you can write the right kind of marketing to convince people it's new, safe, and healthy.
The problem is, some of these chemicals are coming from much less savory sources. Somewhere five steps up in the chain, a chemical producer in China or Russia is creating these supplements, and you have no idea what sort of process they're using. Some of them are cut with known dangerous chemicals. Some of them are known dangerous chemicals with a different name attached to them. Some of them simply don't list their full ingredients list. After all, the average person has no way to verify what's actually in their supplements.
This is why, whenever you're considering purchasing a weight loss supplement, you should buy from a reputable source. Simply purchasing from a pharmacy that advertises via spam email and that operates out of Russia isn't a good idea. Buy from companies you can trust, based in locations you know and can visit. Do what you can to make sure they, too, are buying from reputable sources.
Not All Supplements Cause Jitters
Now for some good news: not all supplements cause jitters. In fact, it's generally only the stimulant class of supplements that cause a jittery, anxious, or restless feeling. Other supplements work in other ways. Some of them work as fiber supplements, which help suppress appetite and absorb water to minimize water retention. Some of them react with your body to help induce ketosis, the act of burning fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates, which in turn helps you lose weight. Some supplements even claim to inhibit the conversion of food into fat, which would lead to decreased weight gain and increased effectiveness of weight loss, though it's unclear how effective these are.
One thing to remember is that, in the weight loss industry, there are a lot of snake oil salesmen looking to make a quick buck through dishonesty. If you've ever wondered why there are so many different names for caffeine – like guarana, mate, and kola – that's all marketing. People want to avoid caffeine but will happily buy a product with guarana instead, not realizing the active ingredient in guarana is just caffeine. This is why it's so important to research the supplements you intend to try.
How to Properly Use Weight Loss Supplements to Avoid the Jitters
Weight loss supplements can be used in a healthy, safe way. You simply need to be a smart, savvy consumer to avoid the side effects. Here's how.
Use supplements in moderation. Remember that supplements are meant to be just that: supplemental. You should always use supplements in moderation, not as your sole means of losing weight. Most active ingredients in supplements are safer in small doses, but also don't have a huge effect on their own. They may be enough to tip the balance in your favor when you're struggling to lose weight, or may be able to keep you at your current weight when you're gaining, but they aren't miracle pills. No weight loss supplement will dramatically decrease your weight on its own without side effects. That's a sign of a dosage that is much too high.
Never combine more than one supplement at once. You're already dealing with supplements that have not been fully tested, and the interactions between then can be very dangerous. You don't want to accidentally overdose on something and cause yourself serious problems.
Use supplements as an addition to diet and exercise. Again, supplements are meant to be supplemental. They can help make the difference between struggling to lose weight and smoothly losing a few pounds a week. However, to maximize the effectiveness of any weight loss supplement, you need to combine it with healthier eating, reduced caloric intake, and proper levels of exercise. Even if that just means going on regular walks, spending some time at the gym, or adapting to a new diet.
The principles of weight loss never change. To lose weight, your body needs to take in less energy than it expends. Supplements help by reducing your desire to eat, by increasing the amount of energy your body burns, or by reducing the amount of energy your body stores. You still need to tip the scales towards a deficit to lose weight effectively.
Make sure to research the source of any supplements you want to take. You want to make sure that any supplement you take has ingredients you can identify, a manufacturer you can locate, and is sold by a reputable retailer.
We recommend checking any supplement against a list of known banned drugs. Good retailers avoid carrying anything that contains a banned substance, for health and legal reasons, but sometimes names change and it can be difficult to keep track of what is and isn't banned. Do your due diligence to make sure you're safe! Weight loss doesn't do you any good if you damage your heart along the way.
Make sure to research the safety and potential side effects of supplements you take. Again, every supplement, every drug, and every medication is going to have side effects. That's just how complex and interconnected the human body is, and how little we fully understand it even after centuries of study. Look up any supplement you're considering taking, and look for side effects. Don't let them scare you away, of course; just because some people have a side effect doesn't mean you will. Just be aware of the potential side effects so you can recognize them if you start to experience them.
Monitor your body and, if you experience potentially dangerous side effects, take appropriate action. Some side effects, like dry mouth or bloating, can be uncomfortable but are not necessarily dangerous. Others, like heart palpitations or extreme digestive issues, deserve greater attention.
- Stop taking the supplement that is causing you issues. While some drugs require an extended weaning period, most supplements do not contain such high levels of active ingredients that going cold turkey is dangerous. Stop taking supplements that are causing you issues and see if your symptoms persist.
- See a doctor to make sure you haven't suffered permanent damage. In some cases, supplements can cause long-term damage to your cardiovascular system in particular. If you're experiencing heart-related issues, see a doctor as soon as possible.
- Consider another class of weight loss supplement. If you experience jitters with a particular kind of supplement, you may be sensitive to the stimulant class of supplements. Consider trying an appetite suppressant instead.
At the end of the day, the key is awareness. Make sure you're aware of the substances you're consuming, the potential side effects they can cause, and your body's reaction to them. Used properly and carefully, weight loss supplements can help your weight loss journey quite a bit.
Have you used weight loss supplements? Did any of them make you feel jittery, light-headed, or shaky? Did it change when you ate it with food, versus an empty stomach? Let us know in the comments below!