Who doesn’t want to lose weight? It seems everyone does. One glance at the internet and you are bombarded with advertisements touting supplements that will “melt” your weight off. Other ads make claims warning you to avoid certain foods or to try the latest diet. But how do you know these claims are true?
Diet and exercise are still the mainstays of any weight loss program. A diet higher in protein and low in saturated fats along with performing regular aerobic exercise and weightlifting are the keys to success, however supplements can help improve your chances for significant weight loss. With this article I will cut through all the hype and list the top 5 effective and safe weight loss supplements.
Garcinia is found in India and southeast Asia as a tree with small pumpkin-shaped fruit. The fruit rind contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is thought to be the main active principle. It remains one of the most popular weight loss supplements on the market.
The research supporting Garcinia as a weight loss aid is mixed. Research in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism journal demonstrated that using a specific garcinia extract with chromium and Gymnema three times daily for 8 weeks, in conjunction with a 2000 calorie daily diet, reduces body weight by 2.93 kg (6.45 lbs.) and decreases body mass index by 3% compared to dieting alone in obese patients. Taking a different garcinia extract 800 mg orally three times daily for 12 weeks, in conjunction with a 1200 k cal daily diet, also demonstrated decreases in body weight by about 1.3 kg more than diet alone in overweight women.
Unfortunately, not all the data is convincing. Other articles, such as one published in JAMA failed to show significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo. Though typically thought of as safe, there have been rare reports of liver toxicity associated with use of Garcinia. If you plan to take Garcinia, make sure you discuss this with your health care provider.
Hoodia gordonii is a succulent plant found in deserts of southern Africa. Historically, it has been used by indigenous peoples as a means of avoiding hunger and thirst on extended hunting trips. The active ingredient is thought to be p57 which works as an appetite suppressant. Recently Hoodia has been popularized and made available as a weight loss supplement.
There is little in the scientific literature to support the use of Hoodia at this time, although there are several case studies that do sound promising. A specific product called Hoodia Supreme® said to contain 400 mg of pure H. gordonii was supplied to eight obese participants twice daily for a 4-week period. Weight loss (2–15 pounds), reduction in appetite, a voluntary reduction in calorie intake (estimated 500–1000 calories/day), a reduction in craving for carbohydrate-containing foods, and a mild energizing effect were all reported. There are additional animal studies that also demonstrate the benefits of Hoodia.
As a result of lacking research on Hoodia, there is no data on it’s long term safety in humans. Potentially since it does inhibit thirst, it could lead to dehydration, however laboratory studies have not shown any toxic effects of Hoodia and it may even have some protective effects of the stomach lining. The important factor is to make sure you use a reputable brand that contains the actual product.
White bean extract
Also known as Phaseolus vulgaris, white kidney bean extract is a species of grain legume that is native to Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. Commonly called a “starch-blocker”, it works by suppressing or slowing down the absorption of refined carbohydrates from the digestive tract by blocking amylase enzyme.
The literature demonstrates significant benefits for the use of white bean extract on weight loss. An article from the International Journal of Medical Sciences documented that individuals taking the extract prior to meals had significantly greater reduction of body weight, BMI, fat mass and waist,/hip/ thigh circumferences while maintaining lean body mass compared to subjects receiving placebo. Weight loss seems most pronounced when taking white bean extract with a high carbohydrate meal. Other research articles have confirmed this finding showing up to a 4 pound weight loss after 8 weeks along with decreasing body fat while improving triglyceride levels.
Generally thought of as safe, the only side effects of white bean extract are gassiness and bloating that typically improve with time.
Green Coffee Bean Extract
Green coffee refers to the raw or unroasted seeds (beans) of Coffea fruits (also called coffee berries or coffee cherries).Green coffee beans are rich in chlorogenic acids which are present in roasted coffee, but in much lower quantities due to the roasting process. Chlorogenic acids are believed to have benefits for weight loss, high blood pressure, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
There is clinical evidence supports use of green coffee bean extract for weight loss. One study found that adults with mild to moderate obesity (BMI 25 to 32 kg/m2) who take a specific green coffee extract (Svetol) 200 mg twice to 5 times daily for 8 to 12 weeks lost an average of 8 pounds more weight than those taking placebo or regular coffee. Additionally, an article published in the British Journal of Nutrition found a significant decline in waist circumference and appetite of the individuals taking green coffee bean extract. Weight and BMI reduction were also seen when compared to placebo.
Green coffee bean extract is typically safe, but it does contain caffeine and therefore has similar side effects. Nervousness, sleeping problems and increased heart rate can occur with high doses.
5-HTP occurs naturally in the body being derived from the essential amino acid L-tryptophan and which, in turn is converted to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement increases the production of serotonin by the central nervous system (CNS). Serotonin has effects on mood, sleep and appetite which explains the strong connection between why people may eat more when they are depressed or anxious.
Research presented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that taking 5-HTP orally, 300 mg three times daily 30 minutes before meals improved early satiety and decreased daily caloric intake in obese women. In the first 6 weeks of this trial, there was an average weight loss of 3.7 pounds when caloric intake was not restricted, and an average weight loss of 7.3 pounds over the second 6 weeks when caloric intake was restricted to about 1200 calories daily. An additional study showed that in moderately overweight diabetic patients, taking 5-HTP 250 mg three times daily 30 minutes before meals for 2 weeks reduced their caloric intake by about 22% and decreased their body weight by an average of about 4 pounds compared to baseline.
Overall, 5-HTP is considered safe since it is present naturally in the body, however, there remains some controversy about its possible connection to eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). EMS is a life threatening neurological condition that causes severe muscle pain and flu-like symptoms. It is also best not to take 5-HTP if you are taking an anti-depressant.
No replacement for diet and exercise
The cornerstones of weight loss will always be a proper diet and adequate exercise, however when these measures are not enough, supplements can be useful when taken in a safe and responsible manner.