Supplements for Weight Loss

July 8, 2008

While, most athletes are already lean, there are several situations when athletes may need to lose weight. For athletes in some sports like baseball and American football, they are overweight despite playing ball regularly. The number of obese individuals has significantly increased in the past two decades. For examples, the USA Communicable Disease Center estimates that close to 15% of adolescents are currently overweight, with a body mass index greater than 25 kg per m2. While this may not sound high, obesity has a profound effect on many aspects of health, psyche and athletic performance. There have been many suggestions made on what is the best solution to counter the problem of obesity in our society but the majority of current treatments have had poor results. Conventional medicine has failed to treat obesity so many people including overweight athletes are turning to natural supplements for weight loss.

Other athletes are not overweight or obese, but need to lose a few pounds quickly to meet the weight restrictions for a competition. For example, boxers or wrestlers that don’t want to compete in a higher weight class may want to lose a few pounds to compete in a lower weight class, where they are more confident of winning.

Obviously, the best way to lose weight is by consuming less calories and burning more calories daily. And of course the best way to do this is by avoiding fatty foods and exercising more. But many people don’t want to restrict calories or exercise more so they search for an effective weight loss supplement instead.

There are literally hundreds of amino acids, minerals, herbs and other nutrients marketed for weight loss that are easily available without a prescription. But not all of them are safe and effective. Current estimates indicate that about 10% of adults use some type of dietary supplements in an attempt to lose weight, with double as many women using them as men. This is a billion dollars industry so it is no surprise that there are a lot of fakes out there trying to steal your money.

Currently there are about 50 common types of weight loss ingredients found in supplements on the market (see the table on the next page for a list of a few of them). These supplements are classified in the following way:

– increase metabolism (e.g. ephedra)
– alter carbohydrate metabolism and absorption (ginseng)
– increase satiety (make you feel full or bloated)
– faster breakdown of fats or reduce fat build up (L-carnitine)
– block absorption of fat from the gut
– increase water excretion
– make you feel better or enhance mood (tryptophan, phenylalanine)
– Unknown mechanisms

Summary of Supplements for Weight Loss

Increase metabolism/ Decrease hunger

-Bitter orange
-Guar gum
-Caffeine
-Glucommannan
-Country mallow
-Hoodia Gordonii
-EGCG
-Psyllium
-Ephedra
-Green tea
-Guarana
-Yerba mate

Increase carbohydrate breakdown / Block Fat Absorption from Gut

-Chromium
-Chitosan
-Ginseng

Increase Fat breakdown/decrease synthesis // Increase water Excretion

-L-carnitine
-Dandelion
-Hydroxycitric acid
-Cascara
-Green tea
-White bean extract
-Vitamin B5
-Licorice
-Linoleic acid
-Pyruvate

Miscellaneous / Mood elevators

-Laminaria
-St John’s Wort
-Spirulina
-Tryptophan
-Guggul
-Phenylalanine
-Apple cider vinegar

The top selling supplement for weight loss to date has been Metabolife 356, which is an ephedra containing supplement. Over the past decade, many people have lost a lot of weight with the help of ephedra-containing supplements. While there is lots of data for most weight loss products, strong scientific evidence based on well-designed clinical trials is lacking for the majority of the products. As of today, the strongest evidence for a supplement which is effective for weight loss is ephedra. However, the product can be quite toxic and its use has been banned by the FDA.

Despite the wide sales of over the counter supplements for weight loss, their effectiveness is still questionable and not everyone responds to them. Many of the products have been questioned regarding their safety since they are not FDA regulated. There are plenty of weight loss supplements being sold on the Internet, at health food and grocery stores. There is also concern that even though some products like ephedra are effective; the product formulation is frequently contaminated with other chemicals which can lead to serious side effects. Therefore, it is best to buy from reputable supplement brands rather than just buying the cheapest supplements.

A new weight loss ingredient on the market is Hoodia, which is an extract from a cactus plant eaten in Africa to prevent hunger. Though, clinical trial data is not yet published, the preliminary animal studies prove it to be effective at reducing hunger and therefore promoting weight loss. Another popular one is green tea, because it has been shown to increase metabolism due to the chemicals caffeine and EGCG it contains, though the results are not too impressive.

Caffeine has been used for a while as a weight loss supplement, but is best if used in combination with other strategies. White bean extract is another new weight loss ingredient that works by its fiber reducing carbohydrate absorption in the gut. In a human study taking 3 g per day, there was some weight loss reported, so it may be effective, but taking any form of fiber may be just as effective. Hydroxycitric acid has been shown to induce weight loss in rodents, but there aren’t any published human studies so there is no guarantee that it is effective.

There are some products which have shown no benefit for weight loss in medical studies.  These are guar gum and chitosan. While evidence for some other weight loss supplements like green tea, ginseng, L-carnitine and psyllium is not convincing, at least the products are deemed safe.

It is hoped that in the near future more human trials will be conducted to determine which of the weight loss supplements are safe and effective. In the meantime, it is imperative to stick to what is known to work and to buy only reputable brands with little chance of contamination.

Supplements for Weight Loss

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