Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)
- Coleus forskohlii
- Combination Herb/Supplement Therapies
- Ephedrine (Alone or With Caffeine)
- Evening Primrose Oil
- Green Tea
- Hoodia gordonii
- Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA) ( Garcinia cambogia )
- Low-carb Diet
- Low-glycemic Index Diet
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Many Others
Losing weight can be a lifelong challenge. Researchers who study obesity consider it a chronic health condition that must be managed much like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. That means there's no easy cure.
A combination of improved diet and regular exercise might be the best way to lose weight and keep it off.
Although prior weight-loss drugs, such as amphetamines and fen-phen, have had a patchy safety record, sibutramine (Meridia) appears to be safe and modestly effective for weight loss. New drugs currently in development will likely offer greater benefits.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Chromium is a mineral the body needs in only small amounts, but it's important to human nutrition.
Although it has principally been studied for improving blood sugar control in people with diabetes , chromium has also been tried for reducing total weight and body fat percentage, with some success. Both of these potential benefits involve chromium's effects on insulin. Before we can explain how chromium may help, we need to provide some background information on how the body controls its blood sugar levels.
The body needs a constant level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. When you digest a carbohydrate meal, glucose levels rise. Protein meals have the same effect, although to a lesser extent. Your body responds by secreting insulin. Insulin causes the cells of your body to absorb glucose out of the blood, thereby reducing circulating blood sugar.
Once cells have taken in glucose, they can burn it for energy or convert it to a storage form. Liver and muscle cells can store a limited amount of glucose as glycogen. Fat cells can convert unlimited amounts of glucose into energy stored as fat.
The process also goes the opposite way. When your body has used up the food from its last meal, blood glucose levels drop. Just as the body doesn't like it when glucose levels are too high, low glucose levels also cause problems. So your body applies its control mechanisms to raise blood sugar levels. It does so by reducing its output of insulin and also by raising levels of another hormone called glucagon. The net effect is that energy storage depots are mobilized. Glycogen is converted back into glucose. In addition, fat cells release their contents into the bloodstream to supply an alternate energy source.
In summary, high insulin levels build fat, while low insulin levels break down fat.
Based on this push-pull effect, if you want to lose weight you'd probably rather keep your insulin levels low.
Dieting is the most obvious method of reducing insulin. When you don't take in enough calories to supply your body's daily needs, insulin levels fall and your body breaks down fat cells. Exercising is another method; by increasing your body's energy requirements, exercise causes insulin levels to fall and fat cells to break down.
But it's difficult to consistently use more energy than you take in. Hunger takes over, and you start wanting to eat. If there were some way to trigger fat breakdown without going hungry, it would make weight loss much easier.
There's another important connection between insulin and weight to consider. Individuals who weigh too much often develop insulin resistance . In this condition, certain cells of the body become less sensitive to insulin. The body senses this, and increases insulin production until it overcomes the resistance. It is possible that fat cells respond to these increased levels of insulin by storing even more fat.
Chromium is thought to improve the body's responsiveness to insulin. Combining this fact with the insulin-weight connections just described, some researchers have proposed that chromium may assist in decreasing weight or improving body composition (the ratio of fatty tissue to lean tissue).
However, theory only takes one so far. It is more important to review the results of studies in which people were given chromium supplements to reduce their weight.
Pyruvate supplies the body with pyruvic acid, a natural compound that plays important roles in the manufacture and use of energy. Theoretically, taking pyruvate might increase the body's metabolism, particularly of fat.
While all these studies are intriguing, we really need large studies (100 participants or more) to establish the benefits of pyruvate for weight loss.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Pyruvate article.
Dietary fiber is important to many intestinal tract functions including digestion and waste excretion. It also appears to have a mild cholesterol-lowering effect and might help reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer (although the current evidence is a bit contradictory).
Fiber might also be useful for losing weight. It's thought to work in a simple way by filling the stomach and causing a feeling of fullness, while providing little to no calories. Fiber might also interfere with absorption of fat.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble fiber, which swells up and holds water, and insoluble fiber, which does not. Soluble fiber is found in psyllium seed (sold as a laxative), apples, and oat bran. Most other plant-based foods contain insoluble fiber.
Fiber supplements may contain a variety of soluble or insoluble fibers from grain, citrus, vegetable, and even shellfish sources.
Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have evaluated fiber supplements as a weight-loss aid. The results have been somewhat inconsistent, but in general it appears that some forms of fiber may slightly enhance weight loss.
Researchers weren't finished with their subjects! For an additional 16 weeks, their diet was changed to one that supplied more calories. As expected, participants regained some weight during this period. Nonetheless, by the end of the 16 weeks, individuals taking fiber were still 8 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the study, while those taking placebo were only 6 pounds lighter.
The optimum dose of fiber and the proper time to take it have not been determined.
In the first three studies described previously, insoluble fiber supplements were given 20 to 30 minutes prior to each meal at a dose of about 2.3 g, along with a large glass of water. For additional dosage information, see the full articles on Glucomannan and Chitosan .
Fiber supplements must be taken with water; otherwise, they may block the digestive tract. Even when used properly, mild gastrointestinal side effects such as gas and bloating may occur.
Other Proposed Treatments for Weight Loss
The supplement 5-HTP is thought to affect serotonin levels. Because serotonin is thought to play a role in weight regulation, 5-HTP has been investigated as a possible weight-loss aid. A total of four small, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials have been reported.
Participants receiving placebo did not lose weight during either period. However, those receiving 5-HTP lost about 2% of their initial body weight during the no-diet period, and an additional 3% while on the diet. Thus, a woman with an initial weight of 170 pounds lost about 3-½ pounds after 6 weeks of using 5-HTP without dieting, and another 5 pounds while dieting. Once again, participants taking 5-HTP experienced quicker satiety.
Unfortunately, all these studies were performed by a single research group. In science, results aren't considered valid until they are independently replicated by different researchers. In addition, all these studies were small in size. For these reasons, further research is necessary before we can consider 5-HTP a proven weight-loss agent.
Hydroxycitric acid (HCA)Garcinia cambogia
The bottom line: It is not yet clear whether Garcinia cambogia is an effective treatment for weight loss.
Caffeine and Ephedrine
Note : Ephedrine presents serious medical risks, and should only be used under physician supervision. In the US, the sale of ephedrine-containing products is banned. See the full Ephedra article for more information.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
The results indicated that the MCT supplement significantly increased the rate of "fat burning" during the first 2 weeks of the trial and also reduced the loss of muscle mass. However, these benefits declined during the last 2 weeks of the trial, which suggests that the effects of MCTs are temporary.
Other Approaches to Weight Loss
Magnolia officinalis Phellodendron amurense
The herb Hoodia gordonii , often known simply as "hoodia," has been heavily marketed as a weight loss treatment. However, the evidence that it works is limited to one small unpublished trial funded by the manufacturer.
An enormous number of other supplements are marketed for weight loss, but without meaningful supporting evidence.
For example, certain supplements are said to be lipotropic, meaning that they help your body metabolize fat or slow down the rate at which it's stored. Vitamins B 5 and B 6 , biotin , choline , inositol , lecithin , and lipoic acid are often placed in this category. However, there is no real evidence that they'll help you lose weight.
A number of amino acids are said to reduce hunger, including phenylalanine , tyrosine , methionine , and glutamine . Because the herb kava appears to be helpful for anxiety, it has been proposed as a treatment for mood-related overeating. The antidepressant herb St. John's wort has been recommended with much the same reasoning.
Numerous herbs and supplements with potential or known effects on insulin or blood sugar levels are widely added to weight-loss formulas, again, without any evidence that they are effective. These include:
- Anemarrhena asphodeloides
- Azadirachta indica ( neem )
- Bilberry leaf
- Bitter melon ( Momordica charantia )
- Catharanthus roseus
- Coccinia indica
- Cucumis sativus
- Cucurbita ficifolia
- Cuminum cyminum (cumin)
- Euphorbia prostrata
- Guaiacum coulteri
- Guazuma ulmifolia
- Holy basil ( Ocimum sanctum)
- Lepechinia caulescens
- Musa sapientum L. (banana)
- Nopal cactus ( Opuntia streptacantha )
- Psacalium peltatum
- Rhizophora mangle
- Salacia oblonga
- Salt bush
- Spinacea oleracea
- Tournefortia hirsutissima
- Turnera diffusa
Herbs with laxative or diuretic properties or reputations are also popular in weight-loss formulas, although they are unlikely to produce anything beyond a slight temporary effect. These include barberry , buchu , cascara sagrada bark, cassia powder, cleavers , cornsilk, couchgrass, dandelion root, fig, goldenrod , hydrangea root, juniper berry , peppermint , prune, senna leaf , tamarind, turkey rhubarb root, and uva ursi .
Other herbs and supplements sometimes recommended for weight loss for reasons that are unclear include buckthorn, cayenne , chickweed, coenzyme Q 10 , cranberry , fennel , flaxseed , ginger , ginkgo , gotu kola , grape seed extract , hawthorn , licorice , milk thistle , parsley , passionflower , plantain , white willow , yellow dock , yucca , and zinc .
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -