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If weight loss is on your mind, a quick Google search or swipe through social media will overwhelm you with tips, tricks, and trendy products that promise to help you shed pounds in record time. Unfortunately, though, most of these alleged weight loss game changers fall flat. One intriguing device that continues to draw major attention is weight loss patches.
Yes, an adhesive that delivers fat-burning or metabolism-boosting ingredients to your skin may sound like magic, but you should know they are not all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, these patches can cause adverse side effects, says Jorge Moreno, MD, an internal medicine physician and obesity medicine specialist at Yale Medicine. And they're not regulated by the FDA, so there's no way of knowing exactly what is in these stickies.
Can’t blame ya if you’re still curious, thanks to influencers touting their superpowers. Ahead, everything you need to know about weight loss patches, according to doctors.
Meet the experts: Dina Peralta-Reich, MD, is an obesity medicine specialist and founder of New York Weight Wellness Medicine.
Jorge Moreno, MD, is an internal medicine physician and obesity medicine specialist at Yale Medicine.
Charlie Seltzer, MD, is a weight loss physician and exercise physiologist based in Philadelphia.
First off, what are weight loss patches?
Well, they're pretty much exactly what they sound like: large adhesive patches that you apply to the part of your body that you’re hoping to reduce (such as your belly, arms, or thighs). Some patches also use “transdermal substance absorption,” which means it isn't dependent on the application site, and the patch is meant to absorb through your skin to assist in general fat burning and accelerated metabolism, explains Dina Peralta-Reich, MD, an obesity medicine specialist and founder of New York Weight Wellness Medicine.
They’re typically available through large online retailers like Amazon, as well as on brands’ individual websites and in brick-and-mortar nutrition stores. Some frequently searched products include Hukoto patches, Hibana patches, and Yasumint patches, which all share a common ingredient derived from Asian mint, adds Dr. Peralta-Reich.
These patches are intended to work transdermally, which means the active ingredients go directly into the skin, bypassing your digestive system. That's the key difference between patches and oral supplements you’d ingest, such as in pill or powder form, says Charlie Seltzer, MD, a weight loss physician and exercise physiologist based in Philadelphia.
Common ingredients found in these patches include Japanese mint, green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, and bitter orange (more on these ingredients in a minute). They also may include essential oils and other moisturizing ingredients for the skin. The instructions generally advise leaving a patch on for six to eight hours and using three to four times per week.
Do the ingredients in these patches actually have any weight loss superpowers?
Many of the most common active ingredients in these patches do rev heart rate or speed up metabolism—however, these effects tend to be *very* minimal. And because weight loss patches aren’t regulated by the FDA, it’s not possible to know the full extent of potential risks and side effects when you can't gauge how much of certain ingredients are in the patch, and what other ingredients its packing.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t substantial research showcasing that the ingredients found in these patches are effective or have any benefit, even if they were delivered through the bloodstream,” says Dr. Seltzer.
The following are some of the most common active ingredients found in these patches:
Green tea extract. Some research has suggested that caffeine may contribute to weight loss, and green tea specifically may help with weight loss and weight management, according to a 2009 study. But as with other ingredients, it’s not a magic solution. Plus, new, more current research is lacking. Additionally, while green tea extract is generally pretty safe, some supplements have been shown to cause liver damage in rare cases.
Green coffee bean extract. Green coffee bean extract comes from raw coffee beans that haven’t been roasted. These beans contain chlorogenic acid, which could significantly decrease body weight without severe adverse effects, a 2019 study published in Nutrients found. However, the study focused on daily consumption of at least 300 mg of chlorogenic acid over the course of 12 weeks, and was not administered via patch. In other words, the results aren’t necessarily comparable. And if you're considering trying chlorogenic acid in another form, always, always talk to your doctor first.
Hokuto mint. Hokuto mint (also known as Japanese mint or corn mint), contains menthol, which gives off the same minty smell that pain relief products like Bengay do. Sellers often claim that it works by blocking the body’s absorption of sugars and starches, preventing them from being stored as fat. There is no research behind this mint with regard to oral or transdermal administration for weight loss, according to Dr. Seltzer.
Ephedra. Also commonly referred to as ephedrine, this ingredient has a reputation for being straight-up dangerous, and rightfully so. In fact, in 2004, ephedra was banned by the FDA for use in diet and sports supplements because it showed to have serious health risks like heart attack and stroke, resulting in deaths. Physicians generally agree that it’s not a safe or effective treatment for weight loss, and for that reason alone, steer clear.
Bitter orange extract. Bitter orange extract is found in citrus fruits such as Seville oranges and contains synephrine, a stimulant with effects similar to ephedrine, according to a 2012 study. Because of this, makers of bitter orange extract patches have claimed it can help with weight loss by helping to burn more calories and fat, as well as by suppressing appetite. However, the study concluded that these effects are minimal and further research is still needed.
Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an ancient herb that has been shown to potentially help alleviate stress and anxiety, which can lead to mindless eating, or “stress eating,” says Dr. Seltzer. While studies have shown that it can reduce levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone), this isn’t a guarantee that it’ll help you drop pounds.
Cannabidiol. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has gained significant popularity, particularly as a method for relieving pain and anxiety, and it’s starting to pop up in patch form as well. CBD oil may have some appetite-suppressing qualities, says Dr. Seltzer, which is why people may be intrigued enough to try it. However, like CBD creams, these patches are usually intended for uses like muscle pain relief, and, as with most others on this list, more research is needed when it comes CBD for weight loss.
Garcinia cambogia. Garcinia cambogia is derived from the fruit of the Malabar tamarind tree native to Southeastern Asia. It’s typically used as a food preservative and flavoring agent, but garcinia cambogia has increasingly been used in weight loss products due to claims that it can block your body’s ability to produce fat and suppress your appetite in the short term, according to a 2010 study. That said, the study only found a minimal difference in body weight in those taking garcinia cambogia.
Potential Side Effects Of Weight Loss Patches
Again, the FDA does not regulate dietary or weight loss supplements, including weight loss patches. As a result, adverse side effects such as nausea, headache, increased heart rate (a.k.a tachycardia), and skin irritation near the application site are possible, says Dr. Peralta-Reich.
Plus, because weight loss patches are unregulated, most have not been tested for safety and may contain harmful ingredients. “The key aspect regarding these patches is their assertion of being entirely natural, however, they sometimes contain a mixture of ingredients, including substances that might lead to tachycardia and other adverse effects,” says Dr. Peralta-Reich. “No scientific evidence supports their effectiveness in promoting weight loss, and as a standard practice, I do not usually recommend them.”
Do *any* weight loss patches really work?
At the end of the day, Dr. Seltzer says no, these patches *won’t* work to help you slim down quickly, even if you’re exercising and eating well at the same time.
The main reason people tend to be optimistic about these patches is because of all the claims out there about trendy ingredients helping with weight loss, he explains. But from a physiological standpoint, a single ingredient (and in such small, sporadic amounts) simply can’t have an impactful effect on body fat and metabolism, he notes.
It’s also worth noting that the location where you apply the patch does not matter either, says Dr. Moreno. “If a transdermal patch was effective, it would work in any skin area, and location should not matter,” he explains. “If these patches had evidence of working for weight loss, I would be using them in my obesity medicine practice, however, there is no evidence that they work.”
Is there any harm in trying a patch?
First off, always talk to your doctor before trying any type of weight loss patches or other products, says Dr. Seltzer. While patches probably are not harmful in most cases (because, again, they won’t do anything), they could be, and they likely aren’t worth your money at the very least.
How *can* you effectively lose weight?
Exercise is a must for weight loss, says Dr. Moreno. “Be consistent and do what is fun for you, whether you walk, hike, swim, ski, bike, skate, or dance,” he explains. “Do any activity that raises your heart rate and start with small goals of 10 to 15 minutes and build on that.” Resistance training is also helpful, even if you just start with body weight. Then, once you get stronger, you can add some light weight or resistance bands.
In addition, Dr. Moreno recommends tweaking your diet and focusing on consuming more fiber in order to lose weight. (Think: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, apples, beans, chickpeas, and lentils, he says.)
Fruits, vegetables, and lean protein like eggs, chicken, and tofu also provide essential nutrients that support weight loss and overall health, says Dr. Peralta-Reich. These foods are loaded with nutrients and will help you feel full without adding many calories to your diet. Fish, nuts, and vegetable oils are also great additions because they contain monounsaturated fats which help lower bad cholesterol levels, in turn, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, Dr. Peralta-Reich explains. Carbohydrates are also totally okay to eat, just focus on non-processed options like multigrain bread, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oatmeal, she adds.
It’s also best to limit alcohol and avoid sugary drinks such as soda, fruit juices, and coffee packed with cream and sweetener, says Dr. Moreno. Instead, focus on increasing your water intake and aim for about two liters per day, he adds. You’re also better off avoiding processed meats like ham, sausage, and pepperoni, and saturated fats, adds Dr. Peralta-Reich.
Finally, if you are struggling to lose weight, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. From there, they can address your needs and come up with a game plan to reach your goals.
Bottom line: Do not use weight loss patches, as they are not proven to assist with weight loss and can even cause dangerous side effects.
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