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Can you lose weight by gaining muscle?

Muscle builders or body composition diet pills work by increasing lean body mass (aka muscle), and reducing body fat. As such, these supplements are often sought out by athletes and bodybuilders. Below we detail some of the more common body composition supplements, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), usnic acid, L-carnitine and phosphatidylserine (PS).

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

What is it? Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are a family of trans-fatty acids found primarily in beef and dairy products.

Does it work? Using CLA to alter body composition appears promising, though more research is needed. Though there is little evidence to support the use of CLA to reduce weight or lower your body mass index (BMI), evidence does support claims that CLA increases lean body mass and decreases body fat. Multiple studies have shown a significant decrease in body fat with CLA use, on the order of 3 pounds, over a period of several months. The mechanism is not completely understood at this time, but it is believed to decrease fat deposition and increase cell death in fatty tissue.,

Is CLA safe? CLA is likely safe when used for short periods. The most common side effects are: nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach. In one study, participants took CLA for a year and two patients developed increased liver enzymes, suggesting liver damage. After they stopped taking CLA, their liver enzymes returned to normal. Additional research is needed to see if this was an unusual event, or common to long-term use of CLA. Lastly, the trans-10, cis-12 isomer -- the common form of CLA -- appears to increase insulin resistance in patients with diabetes. Most supplements are a mixture of the various forms of CLA, but if you have diabetes, you should speak to your doctor before using a CLA supplement.

Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB)

What is it? Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) is what our bodies produce when they metabolize the amino acid leucine.. In addition, we can also consume it through pig products, citrus fruit and catfish.  It is believed to decrease muscle loss by inhibiting protein fiber breakdown.

Does it work? There is no evidence to support HMB’s ability to  decrease weight, but the research is divided about its ability to increase muscle mass.. Some studies have seen a significant increase in muscle strength and lean body mass, but others have shown no significant effect with HMB use. As with most of the ingredients discussed here, further research is required.

Is HMB safe? When used in the short-term HMB, is likely safe. No adverse events or unintended consequences have been reported. However, there is not enough data to determine the safety of using HMB for extended periods.

Usnic Acid

What is it? Usnic acid is a chemical found in beard lichen, also known as Usnea lichen, and as such is sometimes called usnea. Usnea contains a variety of acids, but usnic acid is the compound that has been primarily studied to promote fat loss.

Does it work? There is no way to tell. We were unable to identify any clinical studies examining the use of usnic acid for weight loss or to alter body composition.

Is usnic acid safe? As of 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had received 21 reports of liver damage associated with the use of usnic acid. One case was severe enough to require a liver transplant. In addition, there is the possibility that usnic acid can interact with blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), Lovenox (enoxaparin) and Plavix (clopidogrel). Use of supplements containing usnic acid should be avoided until there is further research determining a safe dosage.


What is it? L-carnitine is derived from the amino acids lysine and methionine. It is naturally found in the body, in meat, fish, poultry and milk and in vegetables in small amounts. It is commonly taken as a supplement to improve athletic performance.

Does it work? Not really. Science has not proven it to be a weight loss aid, athletic performance enhancer or muscle builder.

Is L-carnitine safe? L-carnitine is likely safe when consumed in small amounts. Side effects associated with l-carnitine include: nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal cramps, body odor and seizures. In addition, l-carnitine can potentially decrease the effectiveness of the thyroid medication Synthroid (levothyroxine) and increase the effects of the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin). If you are on either of these medications, talk with your doctor before taking l-carnitine as a supplement.

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

What is it? Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a type of fat commonly found in cell membranes. It is used throughout the body for a variety of functions. PS has been used by athletes and in sports nutrition because it is believed to speed up muscle recovery.

Does it work? There is no evidence to suggest that PS decreases body weight or body fat or improves body composition. What’s more, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to back up the claims that PS improves athletic performance or enhances the rate of muscle recovery.

Is PS safe? Likely, though you should verify the source of the PS, because it used to be derived mainly from animals, especially cow brains. There have been concerns that illnesses, such as mad cow disease, could be transmitted; however, there have not been any reports of that being the case. Soy and cabbage are now the primary sources used in PS supplements. Common side effects include stomach upset, gas and insomnia, and the larger the dose the higher the likelihood of side effects occurring.

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