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Facts About Herbal Weight Loss

By Cathy Creger Rosenbaum · January 9th, 2008 · The Road to Wellness

We all know that increased weight results mostly from reduced physical activity and increased caloric intake, especially around the holidays, but other contributing factors can include dysregulation of serotonin in the brain, psychological issues and medical causes (i.e., metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, gallbladder disease).

The problem isn't so much the fat seen on the outside but rather the amount of internal fat that surrounds the heart, liver or pancreas. Thin people who don't exercise can actually be internally "fat" and not in optimal health.

Herbal weight loss products claiming quick loss without diet or exercise by causing malabsorption (e.g., fat or starch blockers) or increased carbohydrate metabolism don't work. Only 180 calories per day or 1/3 pound a week can be "malabsorbed."

Metabolism boosters or thermogenic agents (stimulants) don't offer much help with long-term loss. It's important to note that new studies confirm that caloric restriction without exercise increases risk of bone damage. We really need to keep exercising for bone health.

No herbal weight loss product will increase metabolism or sustain loss without caloric restriction or increased exercise.

There are a plethora of herbal weight loss products on the market from which to choose. Most contain these main active ingredients: stimulants (ephedra, guarana, bitter orange peel, caffeine, xanthine, yerba mate and kola nut); laxatives (licorice); diuretics (licorice, stinging nettle leaves, damiana, sarsaparilla); antioxidants (EGCG in green tea); and ingredients that affect insulin sensitivity but don't increase carbohydrate metabolism (vanadium, chromium, gymemna).

For perspective, ephedra was banned in 2004 due to side effects such as high blood pressure, psychosis, stroke, heart attacks and even death.

It was re-evaluated and reintroduced to the U.S. market but should be avoided in anyone with cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure.

Examples of herbal generics and branded products include Metabolife 356, Dexatrim Natural, gamma hydroxyl butyric acid (GHB), 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), Acutrim, Slenderite, Hoodia gordonii (Miracleburn, TrimSpa X32) and Cha de bugre (Body Slim, Amazon Weight Loss Support).

GHB is a central nervous system depressant causing amnesia, drowsiness, slow heartbeat and even death when taken in excess. 5-HTP is an antidepressant, sleep aid and mild appetite reducer. Recent press indicates that some 5-HTP containing products are adulterated with Peak X, which has been linked to L-tryptophan-related side effects including eosinophilia myalgia. Hoodia gordonii from the cactus affects the hypothalamus and might reduce hunger. Long-term safety studies with Hoodia, however, are lacking.

Herbal products containing white kidney bean extract (phaseolus vulgaris), an alpha amylase inhibitor or "carbohydrate blocker," are thought to inhibit sugar production in the body by inhibiting starch breakdown. This mechanism of action has been well studied only in animals, and animal study results might not apply to humans.

There are no clinical studies to support that claim that CortiSlim and Relacore work to selectively burn belly fat gained during menopause. According to the FDA, Brazilian weight loss supplements might be contaminated with amphetamines and other prescription medications like Prozac and Librium. Active ingredients found in the herbal products called Body Slim, Amazon Weight Loss Support, Emagrece Sim and Herbathin originate from Brazil.

Emagrece Sim and Herbathin are available on the Internet and might contain the unapproved stimulant called Fenproporex that our body metabolizes into amphetamine. Neither Emagrece Sim nor Herbathin should be purchased or consumed.

Healthy Tips for Your New Year�s Weight Loss Resolution
� Eat more apples and drink more water instead of taking herbal weight loss supplements. Apples contain pyruvate, a mild appetite suppressant, and are an excellent source of fiber.

� Please consult your doctor before consuming any over-the-counter herbal weight loss products, especially if you have a history of thyroid disease, diabetes mellitus, recurrent headaches, depression or are pregnant (or wish to become pregnant).

� Consider incorporating more of the Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits and vegetables, olive oil and omega 3 fatty acids -- into your health regimen.

� Regularly exercise for 30 minutes four to five times a week to protect your bones and heart.

CATHY CREGER ROSENBAUM is a holistic clinical pharmacist. Visit her Web site at membership@earthsharescsa.org.

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