Millions of us each year embark upon a weight loss regimen. Many of these attempts fail. While each individual may have a different reason for not achieving the results they desire, almost all are united in the way they would happily accept that little extra help during the process. For this reason, weight loss supplements remain a tempting proposition.
Although your body burns body fat as part of the mixture used to fuel muscles, the majority of the fat-burning that occurs each day occurs to maintain your core temperature. Physiologists label this process thermogenesis. Most of the weight loss supplements available on the market today aim to increase the rate of thermogenesis in the body, in doing so increasing the amount of fat utilised.
Ephedrine has long been used by athletes to trigger weight loss. This sympathomemetic agent acts as a strong stimulant across the entire central nervous system, increasing the release of adrenaline and activating specific area of the central central nervous system called beta-cells; it is these cells that trigger an increase in thermogenesis. While ephedrine remains an effective supplement for stimulating weight loss, it comes with a number of undesirable side-effects. These include anxiety, tremors, poor sleep and impaired adrenal function. The World Anti-Doping Authority have banned the usage of ephedrine in athletes. Ma Huang, clenbuterol and the prescription drug dexfenfluramine effect the body in a similar way, with the latter banned from sale in 1997 due to problems with addiction and premature deaths in users. Yes, deaths.
Many supplement companies offer coconut oil as a weight loss supplement. Coconut oil enjoys unique status as the oil with the highest content of medium-chain fatty acids, with almost three-quarters being made up of these compounds. As well as demonstrating an anti-microbial effects, the medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed and burnt more quickly than other fats. Research has shown that the burning of these fats in the liver can trigger an increase in the overall rate of fat oxidation; however, you would need to consume a lot of pills in order to achieve the quantities used in such experiments.
Green tea, consumed by a huge number of people across the globe each day, also shows promise in increasing the rate of weight loss. The catechins it contains exert a localised effect on the beta-cells of the central nervous system without acting as a stimulant in either the brain or the adrenal glands. This means that you can increase your body’s ability to burn fat without the negative side-effects of stronger compounds like ephedrine. You should not expect anything spectacular from such supplements, but research does back green tea’s ability to achieve measurable increases in thermogenesis. This effect appears consistent using supplements standardized for 200-250mg of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), the most potent of the catechin chemicals. This equates to around 8-9 cups of green tea.
Spices also make an appearance in a number of thermogenic supplements, with cayenne a particular favourite. Capsaicin, a chemical found within the herb, reacts with nerve endings. This effect is responsible for the sensation of heat you might notice following its consumption, as well as an increase in the actions of the beta-cells. While the increase in fat-burning may be measurable in the laboratory, it is not so noticeable in clinical practise and very few nutritionists actually recommend cayenne consumption for weight loss purposes.
Not all weight loss supplements revolve around thermogenesis. Appetite suppressants also appear in the formulas of various supplement manufacturers. Hoodia stands out as one such agent. Often the subject of wide claims on dodgy internet sites, the hoodia gordonii plant contains phytochemicals that can increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Scientists associate this neurotransmitter with feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and some evidence exists to support the link between low serotonin levels and excessive appetite. As with many similar items marketing heavily over the internet, there is an absence of scientific research to support hoodia’s claims as a weight loss supplement. Recommendations from nutrition professionals is equally lacking.
Supplement manufacturers will continue to market there supplements as an easier, more effective way to meet the battle of the bulge. Many items offer a limited level of benefit, although none offer the easy ride that some may wish. In my experience, weight loss supplements are at best a marginal addition to weight loss attempts, rather than a major factor in the success or failure of the regimen. In the acclaimed 8-week transformations (details here), none of the individuals used fat burners and still lost up to 10.6kg of fat in that time.
Ultimately, fat burners can only accelerate progress that is already occurring, thus dietary measures to ensure your metabolism is in a fat-burning mode remain king. The irony is that individuals who find the use of fat burners most appealing (those who cannot lose weight) are the very same people that will not benefit from them; you cannot ‘speed up’ something that is not already moving.
Pubmed.gov; “The role of oils containing triacylglycerols and medium-chain fatty acids in the dietary treatment of obesity. The effect on resting energy expenditure and serum lipids”; Dr Hainer et al; 1994.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans”; Dr Abdul Dulloo et al; 1999.
“The Healing Benefits of Cayenne”; Dr John Heinermann; 1999
Steroidology.com: Ephedrine Hydrochloride