Effectiveness of herbal medicines for weight loss: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2020 Jun;22(6):891-903. doi: 10.1111/dom.13973. Epub 2020 Feb 15.


Aim: To update the available evidence on the efficacy and safety of complementary medicines to assist in weight loss by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of herbal medicines for weight loss.

Methods: Four electronic databases (Medline, Embase, CINAHL and Web of Science) were searched from inception until August 2018. A total of 54 randomized placebo-controlled trials of healthy overweight or obese adults were identified. Meta-analyses were conducted for herbal medicines with ≥4 studies available. Weight differences of ≥2.5 kg were considered clinically significant.

Results: As a single agent, only Phaseolus vulgaris resulted in a statistically significant weight loss compared to placebo, although this was not considered clinically significant. No effect was seen for Camellia sinensis or Garcinia cambogia. Statistically, but not clinically, significant differences were observed for combination preparations containing C. sinensis, P. vulgaris or Ephedra sinica. Of the herbal medicines trialled in ≤3 randomized controlled trials, statistically and clinically significant weight loss compared to placebo was reported for Irvingia gabonensis, Cissus quadrangularis, and Sphaeranthus indicus combined with Garcinia mangostana, among others, but these findings should be interpreted cautiously because of the small number of studies, generally poor methodological quality, and poor reporting of the herbal medicine interventions. Most herbal medicines appeared safe for consumption over the short duration of the studies (commonly ≤12 weeks). Some warrant further investigation to determine effect size, dosage and long-term safety.

Conclusion: There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend any of the herbal medicines for weight loss included in the present review.

Keywords: herbal medicines; meta-analysis; systematic review; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Overweight / drug therapy
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Weight Loss*