It’s the New Year and time to take stock of where we have been, where we are going, and to resolve to do better, right? Unfortunately, for many of us our New Year’s resolutions will include the promise to lose those extra pounds picked up since last summer. If done properly, fulfilling this resolution can pay off with big dividends in terms of increased energy and improved health, not just with a better reflection in the mirror. One or more of the latest weight loss products can help in this “battle of the bulge,” and several of these are reviewed below. However, to make certain that those lost pounds don’t come back again, this year the diet blueprint for weight loss should also include strategic planning regarding food and exercise.
Begin with Your Eating and Exercise Habits
Diets that are inadequate in terms of vitamins and minerals, and in many cases protein, often coincide not only with weight gain, but also with low energy levels and mood swings. The consumption of a diet based largely upon sugars, refined carbohydrates, soft drinks and “junk foods” in general is just not sufficient to maintain good bodily health. If the overall quality of health is poor, it is unlikely that mental functioning and emotional well-being will fare any better. A powerful incentive for binge eating and a source of sugar cravings is the effort to counter depression and mood swings. Surprisingly, sometimes something as simple as taking a daily multi-vitamin/mineral can help boost both mood and metabolism.1,2,3
One of the virtues of the recently popular “40-30-30 diet” in which forty percent of the daily calories comes from complex carbohydrates and the other sixty percent is derived evenly from protein and fats is that this diet forces us to consider closely the quality of the foods which we consume. Similarly, since some studies have shown that merely supplementing the diet with B vitamins and vitamin C can improve mood and mental functioning, a good balanced multi-vitamin and mineral supplement should be the backbone to any weight-loss program.
The quality of the diet has to do not only with the nutrients included, but also with the “anti-nutrients” excluded. Two items in particular which are commonly found in the American diet can undermine one’s outlook on life. These are caffeine and alcohol. An intake of roughly 700 mg or more caffeine per day (about five cups of coffee) is often associated with depression and mood swings. Caffeine causes short-term increases in blood sugar levels, which can be followed by dramatic downward fluctuations. Consuming caffeine, in other words, is yet another path to the sugar “roller coaster” of energy ups and downs and sugar cravings. Cutting out caffeine and refined sugars for as little as one week has been shown clinically to improve mood in many individuals complaining of depression.4 The consumption of alcohol before bedtime can have similarly distorting effects upon mood. This is because alcohol consumption interferes with the body’s natural production of melatonin, and thereby disturbs the quality––the restfulness––of the night’s sleep.5 Plus, alcohol packs a hefty number of calories per gram.
As for exercise, even walking for 20 to 30 minutes every day can help the body to relearn how to burn fat for fuel. Walking early in the day has the added benefit of speeding up the metabolism when this can do the most good and also providing a daily dose of mood-brightening sunshine. After the evening meal is another good time to take a walk.
Diet Supplements for the Thyroid and for Energy
As many dieters have discovered through sad experience, just cutting back on the number of calories eaten usually leads to weight loss only for a short period of time and, after the diet ends, the weight can come roaring back. One reason for this is that a large drop in caloric intake depresses the conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 to T3 (triiodothyronine), which is the metabolically active form of thyroid hormone. The result is the total number of calories the body burns while at rest goes down. Worse still, thyroid function tends to stay depressed after dieting. Given that individuals with weight problems may already have depressed thyroid activity even before dieting, this picture is not a pretty one.
It turns out something can be done about this situation, and one new product is designed specifically to correct below par thyroid functioning. The formulator feels that his approach is worthwhile enough to warrant applying for a U.S. patent, and a recent clinical trial provides some support for this claim. In this double-blinded placebo-controlled trial which lasted for six weeks, all the subjects followed a moderate-fat 1800 calorie diet (the American Heart Association Step One diet) and exercised three times a week in a supervised circuit training program. At the end of the trial period, those subjects using the new diet composition had lost 8.3 times as much weight as had the control group (5.59 pounds, or roughly .9 pounds per week). Those subjects who took the new diet product also lost 45 percent more body fat than did those in the control group. As an added benefit, the subjects using the new diet composition felt more energetic and had a brighter mood, as reported on a standard analytic profile.6
The product in question, which goes under the name “Metabolic Thyrolean,” depends primarily upon the actions of three compounds which are known to improve thyroid functioning in various ways, and adds two other compounds for additional support. The principal ingredients are guggulsterone, phosphate salts and the amino acid L-tyrosine (a building block for thyroid hormone and certain neurotransmitters). Guggulsterone has been found to be effective both in stimulating thyroid action and in reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels.7,8 Phosphate supplementation has been proven in European trials to prevent the reduction in thyroid action and energy metabolism which usually is found with dieting.9 The other ingredients are Garcinia cambogia extract and phosphatidyl choline. This formula accomplishes its benefits without any caffeine or ephedrine-like stimulants.
Another approach to thermogenesis is synephrine. Synephrine (extracted from Citrus aurantium) is a compound sometimes touted as a substitute for the now banned Ma Huang/ ephedrine and is found in formulas combined with St. John’s Wort or 5-HTP or other ingredients. The claim being made is that synephrine acts as a thermogenic activator by stimulating the beta-receptors of cells, just as does ephedrine, but without the side effects of nervousness and insomnia found with ephedrine. Researchers tested a formula which combined Citrus aurantium extract (975 mg) with St. John’s Wort (900 mg) and caffeine (528 mg) against a placebo and a control group taking no product for a period of six weeks. Test subjects followed a moderate-fat 1800 calorie diet (the American Heart Association Step One diet) and exercised three times a week in a supervised circuit training program. At the end of the test period, those dieters who were taking the synephrine mixture had lost weight and fat at a rate roughly the same as that reported above for the guggulsterone and phosphate combination.10 However, the synephrine/St. John’s Wort/caffeine mixture did not improve either mood or feelings of vigor.
Here is a caveat: The form of synephrine found in Citrus aurantium is p-synephrine. This form of the compound is safer than the synthetic form normally found. In general, “p-[s]ynephrine alone as well as in combination products were shown to increase resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure, and modest increases in weight loss were observed with bitter orange extract/p-synephrine-containing products when given for six to 12 weeks.” 11 For instance, a recent study combined 50 mg p-synephrine with 600 mg naringin and found that this increased the resting metabolic rate (RMR) by 129 kcal versus placebo; adding 100 mg hesperidin increased the thermogenic effect to 183 kcal. The thermogenic effect of such combinations can reach statistical significance,12 but these combinations likely are better at preventing metabolic down regulation when employing caloric restriction than at causing weight loss on their own.
Garcinia cambogia / HCA: Quality Control Issues
The extract of Garcinia cambogia, hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is still being researched for its ability to suppress both appetite and the production of fat from ingested carbohydrates. Typical of findings on energy use, scientists examined animals that were on a diet supplemented with HCA and found that under experimental conditions energy expenditure was 12.6 percent greater over a twenty-four hour period.13 If the same actions were to hold true for humans, it would mean that with an intake of 2,500 calories per day, some 315 additional calories would be burned every twenty four hours, the equivalent of losing a pound of fat every ten days without exercising or intentionally cutting back on food. These animal data provide a striking finding which makes sense of the published results from 1997 regarding subjects who had first used HCA with a rigorous three month calorie-restricted diet and then continued taking HCA (without dieting) for another nine months. At the end of this one year period, these subjects had lost 15 percent of their original starting weights, an average of 30.4 pounds!14 This is by far the longest study that has been undertaken with HCA.
These are impressive results, yet it is undeniable that some dieters have not obtained their desired results with HCA extracts unless they were either restricting caloric intake or ingesting 10 or more grams of calcium hydroxyctrate per day. Even the potassium-calcium salts need to be taken at levels at or above 4.5 grams/day in order to be yield consistent results. Rigorous reviews of randomized placebo-controlled trials that usually have run only eight weeks indicate that significant weight may be lost, but there is an intense degree of variability in results, with many studies being disappointing.15 One answer is that quality control has been an intractable problem in the case of HCA products offered in the U.S. market. Indeed, the unevenness of the quality of HCA salts is mentioned specifically by Frank Greenway, MD of Pennington Biomedical as being the reason that HCA has not realized its potential as a weight loss agent.16 He concludes pointedly: “It now appears that the monovalent salts of HCA are most effective in causing weight loss, reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing exercise endurance, and increasing fat oxidation during exercise. The confusion regarding the efficacy of G. cambogia extract in the treatment of obesity appears to be due to the poor bioavailability or poor inhibition of CLy [ATP:citrate lyase] by the lactone of HCA or its divalent calcium salt. This suggests that future trials should consider using the monovalent salts of HCA acid.”
In fact, the monovalent HCA salts, meaning potassium and sodium, do work better, whereas calcium damages the bioavailability of HCA. Japanese scientists have presented talks on this issue at two conferences and published a paper that details both the human and the animal studies which led them to conclude that calcium hydroxycitrate is very badly absorbed, and thus is only poorly available to the body for weight loss purposes.17,18 These researchers were using very pure test compounds, but virtually all of the Garcinia cambogia products sold commercially in the U.S. contain not only calcium, but roughly ten to thirty percent gums and soluble fibers which may bind the HCA in these products every bit as thoroughly as did the calcium in the purified calcium hydroxycitrate used in the Japanese tests. What this suggests is that HCA may actually live up to the weight loss-enhancement expectations which were there when it was first introduced to the market, but only if extracted as a close-to-pharmaceutically-pure compound and then stabilized as a potassium salt or as a potassium salt plus minimal magnesium salt rather than as a calcium salt or a potassium-calcium salt. This point already has been tested and proven to be accurate by Dutch researchers, who showed clearly that a mostly pure potassium salt was far more active than was a potassium-calcium salt (Super Citrimax is named in the study), with a partial potassium salt between these two in potassium content also testing as being more efficacious than the potassium-calcium salt, but less efficacious than the almost pure potassium HCA.19
Aside from the foregoing issues, the simple fact of the matter is that the quality control is poor for more than half of the HCA products currently being sold. In December 2013 ConsumberLab.com published the results of tests on 11 commercial HCA formulations. Only five out of 11 products met their label claims and this was with a test that did not distinguish the presence of HCA lactone (inactive), hence the results may actually have been worse than ConsumberLab.com indicated. Let the buyer beware!
Take a Break with a Mindful Cup of Tea
Hunger is only one of the reasons that we eat. Often food is a way to relieve stress, a means to lift depression or a diversion from troubles. Also, keep in mind that your body needs time to properly react to a meal. Mealtimes should be pleasant and relaxed, not hurried. To avoid eating more than you had intended—and more than your body needs — try one or more of the following strategies:
- Relax a bit an hour before the evening meal. Have an unsweetened cup of aromatic tea, such as chamomile or spearmint, and let yourself unwind.
- Have a bowl of broth or light vegetable soup before meals. Also, most people will find that their digestion improves if they eat a salad with the meal rather than before the meal.
- Whenever possible, fill up one half of your plate with lightly steamed vegetables, preferably green, and always eat the veggies!
- Do not eat in front of the television set. This makes eating mechanical and tends to increase the number of calories consumed.
- Take a short walk one half hour after meals. As diabetics are taught, this little bit of exercise can help to even out the blood sugar response to meals.
- Haskell CF, Robertson B, Jones E, Forster J, Jones R, Wilde A, Maggini S, Kennedy DO. Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010 Aug;25(6):448–61.
- Kennedy DO, Veasey RC, Watson AW, Dodd FL, Jones EK, Tiplady B, Haskell CF. Vitamins and psychological functioning: a mobile phone assessment of the effects of a B vitamin complex, vitamin C and minerals on cognitive performance and subjective mood and energy. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2011 Jun-Jul;26(4–5):338–47.
- Major GC, Doucet E, Jacqmain M, St-Onge M, Bouchard C, Tremblay A. Multivitamin and dietary supplements, body weight and appetite: results from a cross-sectional and a randomised double-blind placebocontrolled study. Br J Nutr. 2008 May;99(5):1157–67.
- Kreitsch, K., et al., “Prevalence, presenting symptoms, and psychological characteristics of individuals experiencing diet-related mood disturbances,” Behav Ther 1988;19:593–604.
- Lewis, A. E. and Clouatre, D. Melatonin and the Biological Clock. (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1996.)
- Kalman, D.S., et al., “Effects of a guggalsterone [sic] extract-phosphate salt based [sic] product on body composition and energy levels in overweight adults,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1999. Abstract.
- Tripathi, Y.B., et al., “Thyroid stimulating action of Z-guggulsterone: mechanism of action,” Planta Medica 54, 4:271–7, 1988.
- Nityanand, S., et al., “Clinical trials with gugulipid. A new hypolipidaemic agent,” J Assoc Physicians India 37, 5:323–8, 1989.
- Nazar, K., et al., “Phosphate supplementation prevents a decrease of triiodothyronine and increases resting metabolic rate during low energy diet,” Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 47, 2:373–83, 1996.
- Colker, C.M., et al., “Effects of Citrus aurantium extract, caffeine and St. John’s Wort on body fat loss, lipid levels and mood states in overweight health adults,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1999. Abstract.
- Stohs SJ, Preuss HG, Shara M. A review of the human clinical studies involving Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) extract and its primary protoalkaloid p-synephrine. Int J Med Sci. 2012;9(7):527–38.
- Stohs SJ, Preuss HG, Keith SC, Keith PL, Miller H, Kaats GR. Effects of p-synephrine alone and in combination with selected bioflavonoids on resting metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate and self-reported mood changes. Int J Med Sci. 2011 Apr 28;8(4):295–301.
- Vaselli, J.R., et al., “Garcinia cambogia extract inhibits body weight gain via increased energy expenditure (EE) in rats,” FASEB Journal 12,4:(abstract 2938), April 1998.
- Thom, E. and Andrews, B., “Short- and longterm efficacy and tolerability of hydroxycitrate in the treatment of obesity,” International Journal of Obesity 21, Suppl. 2:S61 (abstract 182), June 1997.
- Onakpoya I, Hung SK, Perry R, Wider B, Ernst E. The Use of Garcinia Extract (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Weight loss Supplement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Clinical Trials. J Obes. 2011;2011:509038.
- Greenway F. “Garcinia” in Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements (2010).
- Sawada, H., et al., “Effects of liquid garcinia extract and soluble garcinia powder on body weight change,” Journal of Japan Oil and Chemicals 46, 12:1467–74, December 1997.
- Lim K, Ryu S, Suh H, Ishihara K, Fushiki T. (–)-Hydroxycitrate ingestion and endurance exercise performance. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2005 Feb;51(1):1–7.
- Louter-van de Haar J, Wielinga PY, Scheurink AJ, Nieuwenhuizen AG. Comparison of the effects of three different (-)-hydroxycitric acid preparations on food intake in rats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Sep 13;2:23.