Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
Everyone wants an edge when you’re trying to lose body fat, but those wanting a “natural supplement” approach might not know what’s a “hit” and what’s a “miss.”
This isn’t surprising, given that every product markets an enthusiastic claim that it is the greatest weight loss discovery known to man; even when there is little evidence to back it up.
Here is a review of four popular plant-based supplements promoted for weight loss, and the answers you need in regards to their effectiveness: Bitter Orange, Garcinia Cambogia, Green Coffee Bean Extract and Raspberry Ketone.
Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium): Here, the main active ingredient is synephrine, a stimulant similar to ephedrine. Bitter orange is a popular alternative to now banned ephedra. While effects are similar to ephedra’s—increased metabolism, blood pressure and heart rate— adverse cardiovascular effects may be similar too. Caution should be taken for the elderly and those with heart problems. So is it worth taking if you’re not in one of those two high-risk groups?
The International Society of Sports Nutrition notes synephrine has evidence of a mild stimulant effect on metabolism and weight loss. While research1 supports the thermogenic effect of bitter orange, this result fails to translate into weight loss in the long run. Half of all the studies involving bitter orange used commercial weight loss products with numerous ingredients, making it difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of bitter orange alone.
Although the outlook is promising, at the moment there’s not enough good scientific research to definitively say that bitter orange promotes weight loss in humans.
1A Review of the Human Clinical Studies Involving Citrus aurantium (Bitter Orange) extract and its Primary Protoalkaloid p-Synephrine. Stohs, Sidney, et al. International Journal of Medical Sciences2012; 9(7):527-538.
Garcinia Cambogia: The active ingredient here is HCA (hydroxycitric acid). Some data from animal studies suggest it may suppress appetite, promote weight reduction and improve lipid profile. Human studies2 conducted were small and short-term.
The largest study of 86 overweight people taking 2 grams garcinia cambogia extract over 10 weeks did not show a change in weight or body fat. Among 60 moderately obese people in India, high dose HCA decreased body weight and improved serum lipids over 8 weeks. The shortest research study of 43 obese women taking 2.4 grams garcinia cambogia extract over 60 days showed a reduction in blood triglycerides, but not weight or body fat.
The evidence is not strong enough to conclusively support the potential effectiveness and long-term benefits of garcinia cambogia extract for weight loss. The good news is that there is support for the improvement of blood lipids.
2 Studies referenced:
Effects of a natural extract of (–)-hydroxycitric acid (HCA-SX) and a combination of HCA-SX plus niacin-bound chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract on weight loss. H. G. Preusset al. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. 2004. Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 171–180, May 2004.
Does Glycine max leaves or Garcinia Cambogia promote weight-loss or lower plasma cholesterol in overweight individuals: a randomized control trial. Kim JE, et al. Nutr J. 2011 Sep 21; 10:94.
Hypolipemic Effect of Garcinia cambogia in Obese Women. Vasques, Carlos, et al. Article first published online: 17 OCT 2013. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5076
Green Coffee Bean Extract: Also called green coffee extract, the name refers to raw coffee that has not been roasted. The main active compounds are CGAs (chlorogenic acids). They are basically removed in brewed coffee since roasting the beans decreases content. In nature, CGAs make up about 10% of the weight of green coffee beans. Extracts contain up to 50% CGAs. When looking at dosage, it is important to note how much CGAsyou are getting, not just how much green coffee extract there is per serving.
So, is it effective? Green coffee extract has shown to be involved in lipid metabolism. Animal studies suggest CGA slows the absorption of fats from the intestines and activates fat metabolism in the liver. There are very few quality studies3 on humans that have been completed.
The bulk of the research leans toward a small weight loss effect from green coffee extract. One study only had 16 overweight people in India complete a 6 week 700 mg supplementation program, but weight loss and body fat did reduce and remain off after four months. A paper reviewing previous research noted a moderate weight loss among three studies that were 4-12 weeks in duration, while using 180 to 200 mg extract. The changes were all less than a pound a week. Successful? You tell me.
Keep in mind these were relatively short duration interventions that may not translate into a chronic effect or a clinically significant weight loss over time.
Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, linear dose, crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects. Joe A Vinson, et al. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012; 5: 21-7.
The Use of Green Coffee Extract as a Weight Loss Supplement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Clinical Trials. Igho Onakpoya, et al. Gastroenterology Research and Practice. 2011, Article 382852, 6 pages.
Raspberry Ketone: This is the primary aroma compound from red raspberries. It is also found in cranberries and blackberries. The structure of raspberry ketone is similar to capsaicin and synephrine, compounds known to exert anti-obese actions and alter lipid metabolism. Raspberry ketone may (in mice) alter lipid metabolism, increase norepinephrine induced lipolysis in white fat cells. One study4 showed raspberry ketones in conjunction with caffeine, bitter orange and other natural compounds reduced body fat among 45 obese subjects over 8 weeks. Human studies isolating raspberry ketone as a sole supplement are non-existent.
So, to date, there is simply not enough clinical research evidence to support raspberry ketones as a weight loss aid.
4Eight weeks of supplementation with a multi-ingredient weight loss product enhances body composition, reduces hip and waist girth, and increases energy levels in overweight men and women. Lopez et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013, 10:22.
So what does this all mean?
Well, the tried and true way to lose weight and body fat is by committing to a long-term, even life-long commitment, to a healthy diet and active lifestyle. There simply isn’t any magic pill or natural extract that can provide the same results.
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