Looking to drop a few kilos? Here, naturopath and medical herbalist Paul Keogh summarises half a dozen natural weight loss ingredients you need to know about.
Effective, healthy weight loss requires a combination of improving your diet and increasing the amount and intensity of physical activity you do. Luckily, a number of natural ingredients can support your hard work by reducing your appetite, enhancing your body’s ability to burn fat, and supporting healthy blood sugar balance – among other actions. Read on to learn about some of the herbs and nutrients backed by the strongest traditional and scientific evidence.
Green tea contains a group of antioxidants called catechins, which may have several benefits for weight loss. For example, research demonstrates that when used alongside a calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise, taking approximately 625mg green tea catechins daily in combination with a small amount of caffeine (39mg) can significantly reduce body weight, total abdominal fat area, and subcutaneous fat.
In addition, the catechins in green tea are potent antioxidants that may be beneficial during times of high metabolic activity (such as periods of weight loss and/or strenuous exercise) by helping to scavenge free radicals, reduce oxidative stress and promote normal fat cell function.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), being overweight tends to be characterised by an excess of Dampness, often accompanied by excess Heat. Many people who struggle with their weight will be familiar with the resulting symptoms, which may include mental and physical fatigue, sluggishness, bloating, sugar cravings and digestive problems.
With its cooling and bitter properties, green tea is attributed with an ability to dry up Dampness, promote the elimination of fluid retention and enhance digestion – making it ideal for use as part of a weight loss program.
Like the catechins in green tea, unroasted or green coffee beans standardised to contain chlorogenic acids (CGA), may enhance your body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
In a clinical trial involving overweight people, taking 350-750mg of CGA per day, it was shown to significantly reduce body weight, BMI and body fat percentage. Green coffee chlorogenic acids also slow down fat and glucose absorption and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Importantly, the research indicates that these higher doses are up to 60 percent more effective than products containing lower doses of CGA (eg. 190mg per day).
From a traditional Chinese viewpoint, the energetic properties of green coffee may play an additional role in its effects on weight loss by helping to release Dampness, Heat and stagnant Liver Qi.
Garcinia, HCA, and garcinol
Garcinia cambogia and Garcinia quaesita have become popular weight loss ingredients over the last couple of years. However, it’s important to be aware that not all garcinia supplements are the same.
To enhance your weight loss efforts, look for a product containing standardised levels of hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is derived from the rind of the garcinia fruit and has been shown to reduce appetite and inhibit the formation of body fat when taken in doses of 1,200-1,800mg per day for two to three months (ideally at a dose of 400mg taken three times per day before meals). Your supplement should also contain an additional compound called garcinol in standardised amounts to increase the bioavailability of HCA and further support weight loss, body fat reduction, and appetite suppression, while also improving lean body mass.
Cinnamon has been used medicinally for more than 4000 years, and amongst other uses has traditionally been used to aid blood sugar management.
Research has shown that a standardised extract of cinnamon-rich in polyphenols may support weight loss efforts and help maintain healthy metabolic function by supporting the normal actions of the hormone leptin (sometimes referred to as ‘the satiety hormone’ because it helps regulate sensations of hunger).
Chromium plays a critical role in glucose metabolism and blood sugar maintenance, and people with low levels of this vital trace mineral may be at increased risk of becoming overweight or developing blood sugar problems or high cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
When thinking about weight loss, it’s important to be aware that chromium levels may be depleted in people whose diets contain large quantities of sugars and/or carbohydrates and in those who regularly engage in aerobic exercise.
In Ayurvedic medicine, gymnema has a long history of use in the management of blood sugar problems. It may reduce sugar cravings and the perception of sweet tastes when chewed, and consequently decrease calorie consumption. It may also help healthy people maintain healthy blood sugar balance. In one small study involving overweight people who also consumed a calorie-controlled diet and exercised regularly, taking HCA in combination with gymnema and chromium was more effective for weight loss than taking HCA alone.
Black pepper and piperine
Black pepper is highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine, and a compound called piperine is considered largely responsible for its therapeutic effects, having the ability to induce feelings of fullness (satiety) and enhance the bioavailability of some other therapeutic substances.
Studies suggest that when taken in high doses, piperine may act on receptor sites in the brain to decrease appetite and increase energy expenditure, ultimately helping to reduce body fat and blood lipids – however more research will be required before we know the exact effects of this compound.
From the perspective of TCM, black pepper may be beneficial for weight loss by expelling Dampness and stagnation and helping to calm Liver Qi.
Putting it all together
So, how can you combine all these ingredients to support your calorie-controlled diet and exercise program? Try taking appetite-suppressing and metabolic regulating ingredients such as garcinia, HCA with garcinol, gymnema and cinnamon before meals to help you resist the urge to over-eat and prime your metabolism. Then promote fat and calorie burning after meals by taking thermogenic ingredients such as green coffee and green tea.