Hydroxycut is an herbal weight loss supplement available in several formulas, some of which include caffeine as the main active ingredient.
Dropping extra pounds can be challenging, and it’s tempting to believe taking a pill will help trim off what we don’t want.
Market research reports indicate Americans spend more than $60 billion annually on strategies to lose weight, including gym fees, diet programs, designer foods and other weight-loss products. (1)
Purchasers of over-the-counter weight loss supplements like Hydroxycut usually don’t discuss it with their doctors first, probably for good reasons. Professional medical opinions may well mirror the government’s position on such things: caution is recommended, especially in regard to ingredients classified as stimulants. (2)
Hydroxycut’s most popular product, marketed simply as “Hydroxycut,” sometimes including the words “Pro-Clinical” on the label, contains 400 mg of caffeine in a serving. That’s about what you’d get drinking 3 cups of coffee.
In addition to caffeine, Hydroxycut has four herbal components:
- Alchemilla vulagaris, commonly called lady’s mantle
- Olea europaea, or wild olive extract
- Cuminum cyminum, called komijn extract
- Vaccinium myrtillus, known as wild mint extract
A bit of vitamin C and calcium in low amounts are also included, along with a couple of other minor ingredients.
Hydroxycut Hardcore offers even more caffeine, along with a different set of active ingredients:
- C Canephora Robusta Blend, or green coffee extract
- Pausinystalia yohimbine, as yohimbe extract
- Cayenne pepper
Warnings include a heads-up to anyone sensitive to sulphites or caffeine, advising the discontinuation of use in the wake of “unusual” symptoms like dizziness, heart palpitations, headaches, nervousness or trouble sleeping.
The products come in shakes, pills, tablets and gummies.
The Magic of Caffeine
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant used by 90% of adults in North America to one degree or another, and is arguably the most popular legal psychotropic drug on the planet. (3) Coffee and tea are both popular sources of caffeine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s perfectly safe for adults to consume up to 400 mg of caffeine daily. (4)
At about a hundred milligrams per cup, that’s a generous allotment, even for regular coffee drinkers. It would take two cans of “energy shot” drinks to get about the same amount of caffeine.
At least until you develop a tolerance for it, which is inevitable. (8)
For those who prefer getting their caffeine from coffee, studies show it works as an appetite suppressant. Interestingly, decaf works just as well. (9) Caffeine can help people lose modest amounts of weight over the short term. (10)
One strategy is to take caffeine in cycles, like a month on and a month off, to give the body a chance to withdraw from the caffeine. When you start over, you experience basically the same initial response.
Calling in the Herbal Troops
In the manufacturer’s marketing material, reference is made to a study done with only the four main herbs in Hydroxycut, without the caffeine, so let’s take a look at the results.
In this 12-week double-blind study, 34 overweight or obese participants were divided into two groups. Half took a pill containing the herbs an hour before each of three meals, and the other half took a placebo. They weren’t asked to watch their diet or exercise, but snacking wasn’t allowed.
The average weight loss of those taking the herbal combination amounted to 21 pounds, while the placebo group dropped just under 2 pounds. None of the subjects had any adverse reactions to the herbal preparations.
The four herbs in the formula (lady’s mantle, wild olive extract, komijn extract and wild mint extract) have been used traditionally in Islamic and Arabic cultures for weight control.
Clinical studies done with animals using this herbal combination resulted in curbing weight gain in chickens by 20% and bumping up rats’ metabolic rates. (11)
Realistically, the effect of herbs and other substances don’t always translate from animals to humans.
Lovate Health Sciences International is the maker of Hydroxycut, and funded the above study, as well as another 8-week trial with subjects taking the marketed formula including caffeine. The control group was given a placebo.
Both groups were asked to restrict calories; weight loss for the Hydroxycut group averaged about 16 pounds, while the control group dropped just over 2 pounds. (12)
Yohimbine and cayenne pepper, included in the Hardcore formula, appear to have minimal effects on satiety. The possibility of a synergistic effect in combination with the other ingredients to accelerate weight loss certainly exists. (16, 17, 18, 19)
Side Effects and Dosages
On the market since 2002, Hydroxycut was among the weight-loss supplements containing ephedra, a super-stimulant that caused more than 150 fatalities in the wake of its discovery.
None of the new formulas include ephedra; caffeine is now the stimulant of choice in Hydroxycut products, although some offerings are caffeine-free.
The FDA issued a consumer warning in 2009 after some Hydroxycut users suffered liver toxicity. The manufacturer recalled the products, then put them back on the market with a new formula in 2010. (20)
Hydroxycut may have been a contributing factor to muscle tears experienced by three American soldiers in 2013; the resulting condition, called rhabdomyolisis, caused fluids to be released into the circulatory system, which can lead to blood, liver and metabolic problems. (21)
Isolated problems with ulcerative colitis and seizures have also been reported in recent years by product users. (22, 23, 24) Liver toxicity from taking Hydroxycut products is rare, but has occurred. (25)
Recommended dosage on package labels begins with one capsule three times daily for four days; double the dose on the fifth day, taking two capsules with each meal.
Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Keep in mind that the more you take, and the longer you take it, the greater chance of experiencing side effects.
Is It Worth It?
Losing weight is serious business, for dieters as well as companies marketing supplements like Hydroxycut. Most who are overweight want desperately to feel and look better.
Seizing upon a supplement to help accomplish this is understandable, and some people are more motivated to follow a sensible eating plan when investing money in products or services.
Lifestyle changes, including healthy food choices and regular exercise, are the best route for taking off weight and staying trim over the long term.
Summary: If the ingredients in Hydroxycut and the company’s history don’t put you off, using it temporarily to help reach your weight goal might be worth a shot.