Is bitter orange safe and effective for weight loss?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

While some research studies suggest that bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) can help with modest weight loss when combined with diet and exercise, it's probably not worth the risk. That's because bitter orange can cause a range of potentially serious health problems. So if you're trying to lose weight, stick to healthier methods and skip the bitter orange.

Bitter orange is an herb made from the bitter orange tree. Extracts from bitter orange peel are often found in weight-loss supplements and supplements sold for a variety of health concerns.

Bitter orange gained popularity among dieters and weight-loss supplement manufacturers looking for alternatives after the Food and Drug Administration banned the herbal supplement ephedra (ma-huang) because of the health problems it caused.

But bitter orange poses some of the same serious health risks because of its stimulant-like effects. Among the many chemicals in bitter orange are synephrine and octopamine — chemicals similar to those in ephedra. These chemicals may speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. Stroke and heart attack have been reported in some people using bitter orange alone or in combination with other stimulants such as caffeine.

Remember, just because an herbal supplement may be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Always check with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements.

Dec. 11, 2014 See more Expert Answers