Scientists who study obesity deem it chronic health condition. They say that it must be managed, like high blood pressure or diabetes. There’s no easy cure. But being overweight puts you at higher risk for diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Weight problems are complex. No single chemical or herb simply can solve the problem by itself. Herbs can work to promote weight loss, along with a sound, balanced health program. Effective weight loss is a slow, steady progression.
Thermogenesis – turn up your internal thermostat
We are all the descendants of famine survivors. Our prehistoric ancestors lived during times of alternating food bounty and scarcity. They needed an efficient way to store the fuel for lean times. When nutrition was abundant, their bodies adapted by storing fat. In times of severe deprivation—when they “dieted,” not by choice —the fat could then be for fuel and heat production. This survival adaptation is still with us today.
When you diet, cutting your caloric intake, you are signaling to your body that you are in the lean times. Your metabolism slows and you start storing fat. As everyone knows, you will eventually lose weight with this deprivation. The problem is, you’ll lose not only the unwanted fat but also vital lean body mass.
Thermogenesis is the production of heat in the body when you burn food. But thermogenesis slows down as we age. Probably the leading theory in metabolic weight control today involves the upping of food burning to use up excess calories through body heat. Many leading herbal candidates for weight loss work in this way. One such herb is green tea.
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Picture a common herb that really could help overweight people shed excess fat without side effects. Some plant components–including some in green tea–may modulate calorie and fat burning through the sympathetic nervous system, the adrenal glands, and specific nerve chemicals.
People have been using this herb for thousands of years, but only in the last few years have we begun to research the health benefits of this ancient beverage. Black and green teas are made from the same plant, but more of the original health-promoting ingredients remain in the less-processed green form. Green tea contains high levels of antioxidant chemicals called polyphenols, known to possess strong benefits against cancer and bacteria.
Researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, studied green tea extract’s fat-burning properties. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, indicate that, compared to placebo, green tea extract caused an appreciably greater increase than pure caffeine in 24-hour energy expenditure (thermogenesis) and the portion of fat calories burned. (Green tea extract increased thermogenesis by 4%, while overall energy use went up by 4.5%.) The scientists concluded, “The green tea extract may play a role in the control of body composition via sympathetic activation of thermogenesis, fat oxidation or both.”
Green tea shows thermogenic properties beyond those explained by its caffeine content. The investigators note that green tea extract contains a high amount of catechin polyphenols. These compounds may work to increase levels of fat oxidation and thermogenesis. “Stimulation of thermogenesis and fat oxidation by the green tea extract” did not raise subjects’ heart rates, the researchers note. The hope is that green tea is superior to stimulant diet drugs, with their adverse heart effects.
Several studies have also shown that green tea can lower blood fats, including cholesterol, so it seems reasonable that the fat reduction could be extended to fats overall in the body. Taken together, this herb increases thermogenesis, promotes fat oxidation, and lowers blood fats- a potent combination.
Dietary fiber is the cell wall of plants. Whole, unprocessed grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables all contain lots of fiber.
Fiber is critical to many functions in the intestinal tract, including digestion and waste elimination. It also has a mild cholesterol-lowering effect. Many new studies propose that water-soluble fibers may also help individuals lose weight. Taken with a meal, they produce a feeling of fullness. The other anti-fat benefits of fiber include reducing the absorption of total calories, promoting blood sugar control, and enhancing the effect of insulin. In clinical studies of weight loss, fiber reduced absorbed calories by 30-180 calories per day, the equivalent of 3 to 18 pounds of fat loss over a year.
Psyllium seed (Plantago ovata) looks especially promising. A triple-blind experiment done in London with non-dieting subjects revealed that the participants felt much fuller than normal one hour after the meal, and ended up eating 15 grams less fat per day than usual. Use 2 grams of psyllium seed powder, stirred into water three hours before each meal, and another 2 grams with each meal. It is best to gradually work up to these doses, allowing your body to gradually adjust, to avoid any gas or intestinal discomfort.
The typical dose of fiber used in such studies is 5 to 7 g per day. Fiber is basically a food, and aside from the occasional feeling of fullness, it rarely has any side effects.
Guggul gum (Commiphora mukul)
This resin, called guggul in Sanskrit, is a standby in Ayurvedic medicine for the management of lipids. Particularly valuable in lowering cholesterol, guggul rivals any natural substance. Without dietary adjustments, guggul has lowered total cholesterol by over 20 percent, while increasing good HDL cholesterol by 36 percent.
Like its effect on blood lipids, guggul can assist in managing overall body fat. Guggul seems to exert its effect at least partially through the thyroid, which could account for its fat loss benefit. Guggul can be taken in a dose of 1,500 mg, three times daily.
Probably the most well-known herbal formula in Ayurveda is Triphala (“three fruits”). Containing amla (Emblica officinalis), bibitaki (Terminalia belerica), and haritaki (Terminalia chebula), it has a slight laxative effect and is well studied as a supreme general detoxifier and antioxidant. The combination of guggul and Triphala recently showed a surprising effect in controlling body fat. When 48 obese subjects took these Ayurvedic combinations three times a day for three months, with no attempt to control their food intake, the resulting weight loss averaged almost 18 pounds, along with a drop in total cholesterol of 18 points. The dose used in the study was only 500 mg of the combination, three times per day.
We can see that there are many choices for selecting effective weight loss herbs. When you give these a try, I think you’ll like what you don’t see.