Is There a Miracle Weight Loss Supplement?
Or is the Diet Industry Just Giving You The Business?
Over 14 million Canadians are either overweight or obese. For most, simply eating less and exercising more will do the trick, but if it were that easy the business of weight loss would not be valued at over $150 billion. The majority of that value is in North America where fast paced lifestyles = convenience foods and shortage of time. We realize being overweight isn't healthy so we look for easy solutions. A Google search for “Diet Pills” returns over 14 million pages - more than one page for every overweight person! Some products claim to be clinically proven while others are recommended by TV doctors or other “stars”.... but do any work?
Heath Canada allows products containing certain ingredients at specific levels to carry weight loss claims. Even Health Canada is cautious. Products are required to carry a “qualified” claim, meaning they can’t promise miracles. Weight loss products in Canada must state that exercise and diet are required, and the product “MAY” help. Typical wording is “Could be a complement to a healthy lifestyle that incorporates a calorie-reduced diet and regular physical activity for individuals involved in a weight management program”. Ingredients allowed to make this claim in Canada are: African Wild Mango, Chitosan, Conjugated linoleic acid, 5-HTP, Garcinia, Green Coffee Extract, Green Tea Extract, and White Kidney Bean Extract.
African Wild Mango (Irvingia gabonensis) is the fruit of a tree grown in Central and West Africa that looks similar to mango. The supplement is derived from powder created from the fruit’s seed. There have been four studies on African Wild Mango, none with good controls or of high quality. Three of the studies are by the same researchers and funded by the supplement manufacturer. This is a red flag for research bias so take the results with several grains of salt.
Chitosan is a type of fibre taken from the shells of crustaceans (lobster, shrimp & crabs) and, in rare cases, from bacteria. Chitosan is marketed as a "fat blocker" or "fat trapper." They claim that chitosan reduces the amount of fat absorbed in your gastrointestinal tract from foods eaten. There are few studies on chitosan and many are not of very good quality. Some show it may help, and others show it doesn’t. It is worth noting that anyone with a shellfish allergy needs to stay far away from chitosan unless the product label explicitly states it is not from a crustacean source.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is one of the essential fatty acids your body can’t produce. Found in small amounts in sunflower and safflower oil, CLA is mainly sourced from animal products like milk, beef, and other meat. Grass-fed beef may have higher levels of CLA than grain-fed beef. CLA might decrease body fat and help people feel fuller after eating, however, it doesn't seem to lower weight or BMI (Body Mass Index). Many believe that CLA stops fat cells from growing bigger and may slightly increase the speed of fat burning. Most of the trials are quite small and the effects vary from study to study. It may not be effective, but there does not seem to be any downside to trying CLA.
5-HTP (5 Hydroxy-Tryptophan) is created by your body from the amino acid L-tryptophan in your food. Yet eating foods containing tryptophan (nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, meat, fowl, oats, beans and eggs) does not increase 5-HTP levels significantly. Supplements are created using 5-HTP extracted from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia. The 5-HTP is further changed by your body to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood and behaviour. Thus, 5-HTP is thought to have an effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain.
There have been a few small studies on 5-HTP and the effect on weight. The studies found that users did experience weight loss through eating fewer calories. Researchers believe 5-HTP led people to feel full (satiated) after eating, so they ate less. It is worth noting that participants took relatively high doses and many experienced diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Garcinia (Garcinia cambogia) extract comes from a tropical fruit grown in India. The active compound is hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is believed to block fat by inhibiting a key enzyme the body needs to make fat from carbohydrates. It is thought to suppress appetite the same way 5-HTP does, by increasing serotonin levels. There have been multiple studies on Garcinia’s effect on weight loss. Overall they suggest that Garcinia can cause short-term weight loss. The magnitude of the effect is small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain.
Green Coffee Extract is made from green coffee beans, simply coffee beans that haven't been roasted. Unroasted coffee beans contain chlorogenic acid, which proponents say slows the release of glucose into the body after a meal, thereby promoting weight loss. When coffee beans are roasted, most of the chlorogenic acid is lost. Green Coffee Extract concentrates the chlorogenic acid. There are five studies showing the effectiveness of Green Coffee Extract, but all were associated with a high risk of bias so, again, take the results with several grains of salt.
Green Tea is enjoyed by many worldwide and contains many beneficial compounds including l-theanine, antioxidants and caffeine. There have been over 100 research papers published studying the effects of Green Tea Extract and its components on weight loss. The consensus is that one specific class of antioxidants found in green tea, Epigallocatechin gallate (also known as EGCG) works in combination with caffeine to increase the rate of fat burning. Health Canada requires an EGCG:caffeine ratio between 1.8:1 to 4:1 in order to make a weight loss claim.
White Kidney Bean, like all common beans, naturally contains minute amounts of chemicals called alpha-amylase inhibitors. The alpha-amylase enzyme is one of the enzymes required for the digestion of carbohydrates. By blocking its action, some of those carbs pass through the body undigested, so you don't absorb the calories. This is how white kidney bean extract is purported to work. Users take it immediately prior to each meal to enable blocking of a portion of the carbohydrates in the meal.
Studies show that white kidney bean extract may be effective but it requires a fairly high dose (3000mg/ day) and may cause gas, bloating, stomach cramping and diarrhea Other than the digestive complaints, there appear to be no other negative effects, so it may be worth a try.
The key to remember is that there are no miracle pills, despite what TV doctors or other celebrities say. Just as you did not wake up one morning to discover you became overweight overnight, healthy weight loss also takes time. There is clinical evidence to varying degrees for all of these ingredients, but they each require calorie reduction and increased physical exercise in order for them to potentially be effective. With diet and lifestyle modifications you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and some supplemental help may assist you to get there.