Hydroxycut is nothing if not a survivor. And for some—especially in the medical community—it is nothing but a scam, packed full of caffeine and questionable plant-based ingredients, with dubious claims. But the diet pill has weathered legal challenges and federal cases, re-formulations, even the deaths of people that used the dietary supplement and still, it remains extremely popular. 
Canadian- and New York State-based Iovate Health Sciences, the makers of Hydroxycut, claims its product is the “#1 selling weight loss supplement brand in America.” The Hydroxycut line includes Clinical Hydroxycut, Hydroxycut Gummies, Hydroxycut Max, Hydroxycut Hardcore and Hydroxycut Black.  
“Formulated to help people reach their weight loss goals with diet and exercise. Formulated with scientifically researched key ingredients, the Hydroxycut brand has been around since 1995. It’s a brand that really works,” says Iovate, pointing to AC Nielsen FDMx sales data. I could not locate the Nielsen numbers—regardless, it is wildly popular; otherwise this brand would have been killed off years ago. On the site under the tab, “Is Hydroxycut safe?” it reads “yes,” as long as used by “healthy adults when used as directed on the label. Please read the entire label before use.” 
A little background: Hydroxycut was first created by brand MuscleTech Research & Development, and sold to Iovate in 2004 when the manufacturer reformulated the diet pill. The original formula contained ephedra, which had recently (2003) been banned by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of more than 150 U.S. deaths related to the stimulant. Ephedra was an ingredient in dozens, if not hundreds, of weight loss potions. MuscleTech—which Iovate still uses as branding—had claimed from the mid-1990s that Hydroxycut was clinically proven, but was sued time and again for false claims and even tried to hide science that proved their claims were bogus. 
New owner Iovate reformulated Hydroxycut but the new formula, like its predecessor, made similar claims about efficacy and clinical studies—many of which were again called into question. In 2008, the FDA began looking at the second iteration of the supplement and by 2009, the FDA warned the public about serious health risks associated with Hydroxycut use.
FDA has received 23 reports of serious health problems ranging from jaundice and elevated liver enzymes, an indicator of potential liver injury, to liver damage requiring liver transplant. One death due to liver failure has been reported to the FDA.
So another new formula was created—this one with caffeine (the only remaining ingredient from the second formula) and a bunch of herbs. Iovate maintained its claims that this third version of Hydroxycut was “clinically proven” effective for weight loss: “Scientifically researched,” it declares on the label, in a badge-like graphic that looks pretty official.
So does Hydroxycut work? One thing you’ll note is that the brand does discuss exercise and the role of exercise in weight loss. In fact, it says Hydroxycut products provide you the energy you need to make “workouts better, longer (and) maybe more efficient.” And in addition to energy—and lots of it, based on the amount of caffeine—it’s also an appetite suppressant. Hydroxycut users on the website also claims there’s no jitters and no “crash:” it’s “clean energy.” 
Hydroxycut says when you follow the instructions to the letter, with its “key ingredient” of green coffee bean extract coupled with “diet and exercise” will have you lose weight. With diet and exercise.
“People using the key ingredient in a 60-day study lost an average of 10.95 lbs. with a low-calorie diet, and an average of 3.7 lbs. in a separate 8-week study with a calorie-reduced diet and moderate exercise.”  (emphasis added)
Hydroxycut suggests users first assess their tolerance for the diet pills by beginning with 1 caplet twice a day for the first three days, 30 to 60 minutes before meals. After the third day, double the dose: 2 capsules two times a day. A rapid-release formula, there are 30 caps in one bottle of Hydroxycut, so we’re talking less than a 2-week supply if taken as directed. These pills are packed with coffee bean extract, caffeine anhydrous, papaya, blackberry saffron, Maqui berry and alma berry.
With a special code, you can get a bottle of 60 Hydroxycut capsules for the price of shipping and handling ($9.99). Or for free, if you write an amazing review. On the site you’ll find activity tips, meal ideas, and a fitness blog.
Caffeine compounds and herbs, remember?
The “key” ingredient is C. canephora robusta—coffee bean extract. Known by many other names, this flowering coffee plant contains high concentrations of chlorogenic acid (CLA) because it’s coffee before the beans are roasted. 
Only a few clinical trials have examined the effects of green coffee bean on weight loss, and all are of poor methodological quality. Onakpoya and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of three trials in which overweight participants received either 180 or 200 mg/day green coffee extract for 4 to 12 weeks… The researchers concluded that green coffee extract has a moderate but significant effect on body weight (mean weight loss of 2.47 kg more than placebo), but they noted that the methodological quality of all studies included in the meta-analysis was poor. … Green coffee extract appears to be well tolerated, but its safety has not been rigorously studied. Reported adverse effects include headaches and urinary tract infections 
Then there’s the “other” caffeine: caffeine anhydrous, a lab-created version, which stimulates the central nervous system, increases thermogenesis, and fat oxidation. There are short-term clinical studies which show “possible modest effect on body weight or decreased weight gain over time” according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, as long as the doses is less than 400 mg per day, Safety concerns, the NIH says, are not usually reported at doses less than 400 mg/day for healthy adults, but there are significant safety concerns at higher doses with reported adverse effects include Nervousness, jitteriness, vomiting, and tachycardia.
Papaya is a vitamin A-, C-, and B-rich diuretic and antioxidant with a lot of great plant fiber and few calories. So it’s great, if you actually eat the papaya.
Similarly, blackberries—again when you actually consume the berries—are helpful in that they too are high in nutrients and antioxidants. When you consume blackberries you feel satiated.
The whole Maqui plant—not just the berries—were eaten or made into a fermented drink by Chilean and Argentine indigenous peoples for energy. Today, like Acai, it’s called a superfood. Whether or not it is, and whether or not is helps with weight loss, there’s no solid, peer-reviewed clinical research I could find.
The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Hydroxycut
The U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that “little is known about whether weight loss supplements are effective, but some supplements have been associated with the potential for physical harm.” 
Irony alert: a number of overweight people looking for diet pills to help them shed pounds are advised to talk to their doctor because of the potential of diet pill ingredient effects on people with conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. And we know that many overweight people, if they don’t already have a condition, may be on their way. A Catch-22. How would a doctor say it’s okay to consume such high levels of caffeine and other substances to lose weight when the very pills you’re taking could put you at risk?
WebMD says there’s “insufficient evidence” that “key ingredient” coffee robusta is effective for weight loss, unless you’re talking about a possible 4 to 6 pounds in 8 to 12 weeks of taking it regularly. So the research does back up the claim it may help you lose weight: 4 or 5 extra pounds in a 2-to-4 month clinical trial in participants who took it, over those given a placebo—but only when taken four times a day, as the Hydroxycut label and the website say to. 
The side effects, according to WebMD and the NIH include “insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing.” Too much can also cause anxiety, nervousness, jitters, and agitation. And there are myriad drug interactions and for people with certain medical conditions high doses of any caffeine chemicals might be cautioned against.  
NIH says of the few clinical trials on the efficacy of coffee bean extract on weight loss, “all are of poor methodological quality.” But regardless of study quality, Hydroxycut relies on the study from Italian researchers from an obesity clinic. 
One small clinical trial claimed green coffee extract was great for losing weight, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued them in 2014 in Florida for a number of “critical flaws” in the study, which resulted in two of the three study researchers retracting the study. 
Bottom line: From a meta-analysis of all the available information to date, published in the 2011 Gastroenterology Research and Practice:
The evidence from [Randomized Clinical Trials] RCTs seems to indicate that the intake of GCE can promote weight loss. However, several caveats exist. The size of the effect is small, and the clinical relevance of this effect is uncertain. More rigorous trials with longer duration are needed to assess the efficacy and safety of GCE as a weight loss supplement. 
The thing is this: for some, green coffee extract in doses up to 400 milligrams a day may be tolerable, but its overall safety “has not been rigorously studied.” And, since it’s a stimulant, when you combine it with other stimulants like caffeine—a double shot, I suppose you might call it—and you take that four times a day…zoom.
Word on the Street About Hydroxycut
The Hydroxycut VIP Reviewer Program couldn’t be more blatant. If you have an Amazon or Sam’s Club account, an actual street address, email and “a passion for supplements” you can become a “VIP reviewer.” And in exchange for the reviews you write for the company, “it means free supplements.” They buy their reviews.
This is no great shock, but I was surprised to see it said so openly. It really makes me wonder about the reviews I’m about to quote from Amazon, but I have tried to be as judicious as possible and weed out what reads like a bought-and-paid-for review, though I cannot be certain. One never can be 100 percent sure if a review is honest. 
There are a staggering 2838 reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating of 3.8 stars. 
This recent review from “Hammy” (Feb 2017, 4 stars) seems pretty legit.
Great way to take the edge off your hunger, but take the claims with a grain of salt.
The Good: I have a disability that makes meaningful exercise impossible, so I REALLY have to watch what I eat in order to avoid problems arising from weight gain. I have found these pills to work very well to curb acute cravings and to help me feel a bit more satisfied when I know I'm only going to allow myself a small meal. The main ingredients, like the caffeine, are a natural appetite suppressant, but as long as you take this with plenty of fluids, you should notice the affects.
The Bad: I really dislike the advertising surrounding these pills because it is not at all as simple as they make it seem, and I'm sure they sell a lot of partially used bottles to people who aren't given realistic expectations. If you are already counting calories or trying to avoid specific foods and need a little help, this is a good supplement [sic], but otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it. 
Hundreds of people found “Brittany Ulanf’s” (Feb 2017, 5 stars) review helpful. She posted a collage of before-and-after images, and it’s clear she lost a little weight, but—and this “but” is big:
I've been taking this product for a month now, going on my 5th week. I have had no exercise, just my normal 3500-4000 steps a day. I did, however, cut my calorie intake down to 1200 a day. These results happened in the last month. I'm truly impressed.  (emphasis added)
Those two measures alone could alone be responsible for the weight loss. But what do I know?
On the negative side, which I need to include for balance—because remember, people sign up as VIP reviewers if they have an Amazon account, and get free products. Of the more than 350 1-star reviews, the biggest problem people had was that it made them anxious, jittery and messed with sleep patterns—or, it did nothing.
“taille” (Jul 2017, 1 star) says,
“I guess it’s not for everybody u only took one pill and my chest was hurting so bad.” 
And “Christina” (Jul 2017, 1 star) says,
“Does not work. Total waste of money.” 
And since Hydroxycut is sold everywhere—from Amazon and CVS to Walgreens and Wal-Mart—here’s a couple of Wal-Mart reviews to mix it up:
In a July 2017 one-star review, “Lisa” says,
“Tried regular hydroxycut and the platinum in pill, powder and liquid. I didn’t lose one pound and i took it regularly without missing a day. The powers and liquid was way too sweet. The pills didn’t work either and I took them every day like clockwork. Their advertisement says they sold over a million bottles but neglected to say if it worked. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it; a total waste of money.” 
But “Loretta’s” Walmart review reads:
Wonderful!!! Terrific!!! Excellent!!! I was shocked at how effective this product is and also that there are no side affects [sic] –mentally or physically, i.e., no sleepless nights, no jitters, no nothing, except appetite control and much more focus. At last!!!!!!” 
The Bottom Line: Is Hydroxycut Worth a Try?
Depends. You may—I repeat, may—lose a few pounds more than people doing the exact same diet and exercise regime as you who don’t take Hydroxycut. But it’s a lot of caffeine (and some antioxidant berry powders), so if caffeine is your thing—meaning it’s safe for you and you’re not stimulant-sensitive—more power to you. I’d rather just do the healthy-diet-and-activity method and be able to sleep at night.
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*Individual results will vary.
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