Stimulants – For Weight Loss and the Effects on the Body - 14 Things You Need to Know

By Summer Banks on Sep 27, 2017

Among the many dietary products on the market, you’ll find weight-loss stimulants.

Ever since weight-loss supplements hit the shelves, their effectiveness has come into question. Research shows that some provide support for weight management, while others are nothing more than a placebo.

Use this guide to learn everything you need to know about weight-loss stimulants. [1] [2]
Weight-Loss Stimulants

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are medications or supplements that act on neurotransmitters in your brain. The increased neurotransmitters accelerate your autonomic nervous system (ANS) which results in increased awareness and energy. The effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants seems to boil down to the combination of medications used and the lifestyle choices you make. [2] [2] [3]

What do stimulants do?

Stimulants make you more alert and heighten your attention-span and energy-level. Because they act on your ANS, it means they also increase your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

Stimulants were developed for the treatment of numerous health conditions—including asthma, breathing problems and neurological disorders. When addiction became a rising issue, the use of stimulants in medicine began to decrease.

Today, stimulants are used sparsely in medicine. You will find them used in the treatment of narcolepsy, some forms of depression and ADHD.

How do stimulants work?

Stimulants operate in your brain where they increase your neurotransmitter dopamine. As the level of dopamine gradually increases in your brain, your ANS accelerates. The acceleration of your ANS results in the therapeutic effect of the stimulant. [4]

Bottom line: Stimulants increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain, which increases your alertness, attention and energy levels.

Weight Loss Stimulants

Stimulants for Weight-Loss

The idea is that stimulants can be used to assist you with modest weight loss, but there are conflicting studies on the effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants. [2] [3]

Stimulants can suppress your appetite and rouse your metabolism—which increases fat-burning. Though this was shown in scientific research by Wellman and Sellars, other studies have shown that the effectiveness of weight-loss supplements is inconclusive, minimally significant, or worse yet: they are not effective. [2] [1]

Melinda Manore—who holds a doctorate in nutrition and is affiliated with the Oregon State University Nutrition Department, School of Biological and Population Health Sciences and the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families—”reviewed the evidence surrounding hundreds of weight loss supplements…and said no research evidence exists that any single product results in significant weight loss.” [2]

For now, the jury remains out on the effectiveness of weight loss stimulants, but there is a wide array of over-the-counter and prescription weight loss stimulants on the market.

Bottom line: The idea is that stimulants provide you with energy, boost your metabolism and increase satiety to help you achieve your weight-loss goals, but there are conflicting studies on the effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants.

Over the Counter Weight-Loss Stimulants

Types of Weight-Loss Stimulants

There are two types of weight-loss stimulants: over-the-counter and prescription.

Over-the-Counter Weight-Loss Stimulants

There are little regulation and requirements to purchasing over-the-counter weight-loss stimulants. However, there are strict regulations when purchasing prescription stimulants for weight loss.

A lack-of-proof for the effectiveness or safety of the supplement will not stop the product from hitting the market. This leaves the research up to you, the consumer. You will need to find innovative methods to learn about the product before you make your purchase.

Luckily, the FDA will ban a supplement if it proves to be dangerous. That’s when you’ll start hearing about “recalls” for the product through the media.

Prescription Weight-Loss Stimulants

Now, prescription weight-loss stimulant medications are heavily regulated by the FDA and providers are cautious about prescribing them.

You must have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher to receive a prescription weight-loss stimulant. But, providers will also prescribe weight-loss stimulants to individuals who have a BMI of 27 or higher if you have additional weight-related conditions—like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. [2] [5]

Regardless of your BMI, before the provider hands you a script, they will ask you about your full medical history because there are side effects and health risks involved with taking weight-loss stimulants.

To be safe, be honest with your provider about any pre-existing conditions. [2] [6]

Notably, whether you use an over-the-counter or prescription weight-loss stimulant (should you choose to use a weight loss stimulant): you have your pharmacist. People tend to forget what a wealth of knowledge the pharmacist is!

Your pharmacist can compare your current medications against the weight-loss stimulant you are interested in and let you know about the risks or side effects you might face when combining the drugs. [7]

Bottom line: The two types of weight-loss stimulants are over-the-counter and prescription. Over-the-counter and prescription weight-loss stimulants are not equally regulated or accessible. You can talk to your provider or pharmacist about either type of weight-loss stimulant.

Available Weight-Loss Stimulants

There is an array of over-the-counter and prescription weight-loss stimulant products available, including:

Over-the-Counter Herbal Stimulants


This is commonly found in diet pills and it contains caffeine, among other stimulants. It has shown to be effective for weight loss, but it has dangerous side effects. You’ll find this in a lot of energy drinks. [8]

Yerba mate

This is commonly consumed as a tea and contains caffeine and phytochemicals that help weight loss by suppressing your appetite. Using yerba mate long-term has been associated with cancers. [9]

Green tea

This tea leaf increases your metabolism and fat oxidation which aids your weight loss. Moreover, it contains caffeine. [10]

Green coffee bean extract

This contains chlorogenic acid which has shown to inhibit the accumulation of fat and control glucose metabolism to aid weight loss.

Other Over-the-Counter Stimulants


This was developed to treat bronchial asthma, especially in COPD patients. However, it is a stimulant that increases your body’s thermogenesis (you heat up) and metabolism which increases your calorie burn and supports weight loss. [11]


This can suppress appetite to aid weight loss.


All other stimulants are based on caffeine. According to Katherine Zeratsky, a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, it may increase your calorie burn and cause appetite suppression which may have a minor positive impact on weight loss. [12]
Prescription Weight-Loss Stimulants

Prescription Stimulants


This reduces your hunger and is intended to supplement an overall weight-loss plan for people with a BMI of 30 or higher. [2]


This is a combination of phentermine and topiramate. It decreases your appetite and makes you feel full. However, it comes with serious side effects.

A 2013 drug trial did show that when coupled with a healthy lifestyle, Qsymia is effective in increasing your weight loss. [2] [2] [13]

Bottom line: There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription weight-loss stimulant products available. Each product offers unique weight-loss benefits and risk-factors.

Are Weight-Loss Stimulants Safe?

The Department of Pharmaceutics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences provided that safety concerns are lessened when you consume a drug in the recommended, moderate dosage. [14]

They also noted that people should not assume herbal or natural stimulants are safe. Moreover, there’s little research and regulation to dietary supplements.

Drug interactions are a cause for concern. There are increased safety risks when you combine a stimulant with other stimulants or other medications. Negative drug reactions and negative side effects can occur.
Weight-Loss Stimulants Side Effects

Additional Safety Concerns About Weight-Loss Stimulants

The NIH urges you to talk to your healthcare provider before taking stimulants. Following the recommendations of your healthcare provider will reduce associated safety concerns.

“The FDA and FTC warn consumers to beware of fraudulent claims about weight-loss dietary supplements,” said the NIH. [15]

You can check-in for public notifications about and recalls on weight-loss products on the FDA website. They maintain a specific webpage for this purpose—it’s called “Tainted Weight Loss Products.”

The Mayo Clinic provides a safety warning for short-term weight loss drugs. A short-term drug is one that you will consume for 12 weeks or less. These stimulants are controlled substances that have possible severe side effects and an increased risk of abuse and addiction. [16]

Bottom line: Talk to your doctor about safe and effective stimulants for weight loss.

Benefits of Weight-Loss Stimulants

Benefits of Weight-Loss Stimulants

There are benefits to using weight-loss stimulants. Moreover, it’s a best practice to accompany a weight-loss stimulant with diet and exercise.

Dr. Jill Jin, an internal medicine provider with the Northwestern Medical Group in Chicago, said “The benefit of these medications is that they help move weight loss along more quickly than diet and exercise alone, thus encouraging patients to stick to their lifestyle changes.” [17]

By combing a healthy lifestyle and the support of medical professionals, with the use of stimulants, you will be more likely to lose weight and maintain your weight loss. [18]

A healthy lifestyle can also improve your mood and increase your energy level—so it is the best practice to follow.

Do Weight-Loss Stimulants Increase Energy?

MedlinePlus says yes—weight-loss stimulants will boost your energy level. [19]

Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system (CNS). Moreover, a stimulated Central Nervous System increases your alertness, attention and energy.

Ephedrine is an over-the-counter weight loss stimulant. It stimulates the CNS which increases certain chemicals, like dopamine. The increase in chemicals results in short-term appetite loss and increase in energy.

A study at Vanderbilt University found that individuals who were taking ephedrine, a stimulant, experienced a moderate increase in energy expenditure of 3.6% compared to those who were not. [20]

Bottom line: Doctors provide that the right way to use weight loss stimulants is in combination with a healthy lifestyle. Stimulants accelerate your CNS to increase your energy level. A study with ephedrine showed it to be true that weight-loss stimulants do give you energy.

Weight-Loss Stimulants Safety

Do Weight-Loss Stimulants Really Work?

The effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants is dependent on the product. Moreover, the effectiveness also depends on lifestyle choices.

Scientific research shows that some weight loss stimulants have a positive effect on weight loss. Other studies show there is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of stimulants for weight loss. And some studies have proven that weight-loss stimulants are effective only when coupled with other stimulants or diet and exercise.

The combination of ephedrine and caffeine for weight loss is effective. However, there are risks connected to this combination.

Department of Human Nutrition, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark has hosted multiple studies on the combination. Various positive results include statistically significant weight loss, preservation of lean body mass and the reduction body fat. [10]

Be aware when combining multiple stimulants and other medications.

Bottom line: Scientific research is conflicting on the effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants. Some studies have shown that stimulants have a positive effect on weight-loss.

Weight-Loss Stimulants Side Effects

According to Narconon Drug Rehabilitation, “Stimulants are very destructive to the brain and the nervous system.”

The CDC urges using only the recommended or prescribed dosages to reduce negative side effects and reactions as well as to prevent death. [2] [21]

The CDC has reported deaths associated with over-the-counter stimulants including eight deaths due to Ephedra and three deaths due to Ephedrine. [11]

Possible negative side effects associated with taking stimulants include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

Bottom line: Negative side effects are more likely when you consume stimulants in higher dosages than recommended.

Weight-Loss Wraps Stimulants Effects

Weight-Loss Stimulants and Substance Abuse

“Stimulant medications have significant abuse potential,” said the CDC. [22]

Stimulants cause alertness, increase attention and suppress appetite. People use and abuse stimulants for weight loss. [23]

Without stimulants, when the neurotransmitter dopamine increases in your brain, it does so gradually. That’s why when you take stimulant supplements it’s important to start with a small amount of stimulant and gradually increase it—and that’s how providers prescribe it.

If you start with a higher dosage and rapidly increase, you disrupt the normal functioning of your brain cells. However, you’ll create euphoria and increase your risk of substance abuse and addiction.

To reduce the risk of substance abuse, be sure to take the stimulant in the quantity and manner prescribed by your provider, as recommended by the pharmacist, or as stated on the label.

Bottom line: There is a risk for abuse and addiction associated with consuming stimulant medications. By consuming stimulants in a quantity and manner higher than recommended, your risk for addiction increases.

The Bottom Line About Weight-loss Stimulants

Some studies show weight-loss stimulants to be effective, while others do not. The specific stimulant, as well as combinations with other stimulants and lifestyle choices, seem to dictate the effectiveness of weight-loss stimulants.

Various studies have shown that weight-loss stimulants have positive effects which help with statistically significant weight loss, preservation of lean body mass and reduction of body fat.

Your health situation, including your BMI and additional medical conditions, will affect whether your provider thinks weight-loss stimulants are right for you.

Weight-loss stimulants come with concerns. Regardless of whether you choose over-the-counter or prescription weight-loss stimulants, you should consult your healthcare provider using weight-loss stimulants.

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About the Author:

Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.