What to Know About Weight Loss Patches

Medically reviewed by Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP on January 17, 2017Written by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on January 17, 2017

Introduction

People who struggle with obesity or even just an extra 10 pounds may be on the lookout for a quick way to shed some weight. A healthy diet with a good exercise program is the best option. However, certain over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss products also make many get-thin-quick promises. For example, weight loss patches claim to promote fast and easy weight loss. But do weight loss patches really work, and are they safe to use? Let’s find out.

About weight loss patches

You can find many types of weight loss patches online. The makers of these patches claim that they cause rapid weight loss by boosting your metabolism or keeping your body from absorbing carbohydrates. They also claim that the patches don’t cause side effects.

These patches are applied to the skin once per day. They usually contain herbal ingredients that enter the body through the skin and that are released over 24 hours. Some examples of these ingredients include:

  • Fucus vesiculosus
  • 5-HTP
  • guarana
  • yerba mate
  • zinc pyruvate
  • flaxseed oil
  • lecithin
  • L-carnitine
  • zinc citrate
  • acai berry
  • green tea extract
  • white kidney bean extract
  • guarana extract

Effectiveness

In most cases, there isn’t proof that weight loss patches are effective. This is because these products are marketed as dietary supplements in the United States. And dietary supplements don’t have to meet the same standards for effectiveness that OTC and prescription medications do. Therefore, weight loss patches don’t have rigorous testing done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove that they actually work.

There is little, if any, evidence showing that weight loss patches do work. Most effectiveness studies conducted by the product manufacturers have been small and do not meet typical standards for scientific studies.

In some cases, the government has had to step in. In 2004, the Federal Trade Commission sued a weight loss patch manufacturer for making false claims. The maker said that scientific research showed that their weight loss patch caused substantial weight loss and that the product’s main ingredient (Fucus vesiculosus, or sea kelp) was FDA-approved. Neither of these claims was true. As a result of the lawsuit, the maker agreed to stop making those claims.

Side effects

Because the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements like other drugs, the side effects of weight loss patches aren’t fully known. Also, different patches contain different ingredients, so the side effects will vary. The best way to find out about how a particular weight loss patch might affect you is to talk to you doctor. They can help you decide if the product is a safe choice for you.

Safety

Because they’re regulated differently than OTC or prescription medications, dietary supplements don’t have to meet the same safety standards. Many dietary supplements, including weight loss patches, have not been tested for safety.

Unknown ingredients

As a result of this lack of testing, there are many unknowns about weight loss patches, including what’s in them. In fact, the FDA has found that the ingredients listed on the label aren’t always the ones contained in the product. Some dietary supplements marketed for weight loss have even been found to contain prescription drug ingredients. This could be very dangerous. If you were to use one of these contaminated products, it could interact with other medications you take and cause serious harm.

Unsafe ingredients

Even the known ingredients in weight loss patches may not be safe. Many weight loss patches claim to have natural ingredients that come from plants. Being natural does not guarantee that they’re safe and without side effects, though. Research has shown that many of these herbal ingredients may present the same dangers as prescription drugs.

Guarana, for instance, is a berry from South America that some say can help with weight loss. Whether or not that’s true, guarana can increase heart rate and may cause abnormal heart rhythms. Another natural product called ephedra (ma huang) was once found in certain weight loss products. But in 2004, ephedra was banned by the FDA because it was found to cause serious health risks, such as heart attack and stroke. Some people taking ephedra died from these effects.

Recommendations for weight loss

Researchers don’t know for sure how safe and effective weight loss patches are, so you’re likely better off trying tried-and-true methods of weight loss. That means — you guessed it — diet and exercise. If you follow a diet and exercise program that you create with your doctor’s guidance, you have a much better chance of staying safe and actually losing weight than if you use weight loss patches.

Diet

Reducing your calorie intake has been proved to help people lose weight. To achieve a safe amount of weight loss, aim to lose one to two pounds per week. To do this, you should eat about 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than usual each day. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, such as chicken, as well as less sugar and saturated fat can help you reach your goal. For more tips on diet and weight loss, check out these weight loss strategies.

Exercise

Being more physically active and improving your diet can increase your chances of losing weight. Exercise not only burns calories, but also builds muscle. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat does.

Being physically active may also help you keep off any weight you lose. Plus, it helps increase your heart and lung fitness and provides many other health benefits.

Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan. If you’re like most people, you should do moderate exercise for 30 to 45 minutes three to five days per week. In the long term, you should try to do moderate exercise on most days of the week. Find out more about how exercise can help you lose weight.

If diet and exercise alone don’t help you lose weight, talk to your doctor. They may recommend a prescription drug that has been approved by the FDA.

Talk with your doctor

Weight loss patches have not been proved safe or effective for weight loss. You’re better off relying on improved diet and exercise.

Before starting any exercise program, though, talk to your doctor. Be sure to ask any questions you may have about diet, exercise, or weight loss in general. You can also ask about weight loss patches. Your questions may include:

  • What should I know about weight loss patches?
  • Can you help me put together a program for losing weight through diet and exercise?
  • Could you refer me to a registered dietitian for help with my diet?
  • Are there prescription drugs that could help me lose weight?

Q&A

Q:

Is obesity really as big a health problem as people say it is?

A:

Yes, and it’s a growing problem in the United States. The National Institutes of Health estimates that one-third of all children and more than two-thirds of all adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese raises your risk of many serious health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. They also include osteoarthritis, gallbladder problems, irregular menstrual periods, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and sleep apnea.

Obesity is generally diagnosed by your doctor by measuring your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is calculated based on your weight and height. If your doctor tells you that you’re obese, work with them to build a plan that will help you lose weight. Losing weight can help you avoid the serious health problems that can be caused by obesity.

Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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