Opting for natural, whole foods, consuming more water and upping your workout routine are the general basic tenants of weight loss. But there could be a secret other solution to your dieting woes: herbs.
As long as you follow rules on how to use healing herbs safely, your weight loss efforts could certainly improve with the addition of the tasty and easy-to-get herbal remedies.
Being overweight raises risk for diabetes. Several animal studies show that animal diets supplemented with bitter melon reduce weight gain and fat accumulation. University of Hong Kong researchers placed rats on a high-fat diet with or without supplemental bitter melon extract. The animals in the herb group gained less weight and accumulated less body fat. The researchers concluded that the herb “strongly counteracts the (harmful) effects of a high-fat diet.”
The caffeine in coffee raises basal metabolic rate, the rate the resting body burns calories. As basal metabolic rate increases, fat decreases and the body sheds unwanted pounds. In medically supervised weight-loss programs, those who supplement a low-calorie diet and regular exercise with caffeine lose a little more weight. Not much, but enough to include caffeine in some weight-loss programs. However, caffeine only helps those who are severely obese, weighing well over 20 percent more than their recommended weight. It does not help those with more modest weight-loss goals — 5 to 10 pounds.
Coffee and tea contain caffeine and may cause jitters, irritability, insomnia and addiction.
When people say “ephedra,” they usually mean the Chinese variety ma huang (E. sinica). Ma huang increases metabolic rate, the speed the body burns calories. It also depresses appetite a bit. This combination of effects led to studies of the herb (actually chemically isolated ephedrine) for weight control, usually in combination with another stimulant, caffeine.
In physician-supervised weight-loss programs that include a low-fat diet and regular exercise, treatment with a combination of ephedrine and caffeine has increased weight loss by about 5 percent. In other words, a person who loses 100 pounds without ma huang might lose 105 with it.
In a 3-month trial, Danish researchers showed that compared with overweight women taking medically inactive placebos, those taking oral ephedrine (20 milligrams three times a day) lost somewhat more weight. And in a 2-month study, Italian researchers found that overweight women lost more weight if they supplemented a low-calorie diet with oral ephedrine (50 milligrams three times a day).
To experience ephedra’s weight-reduction benefits, you must be clinically obese, that is, at least 20 percent heavier than your recommended weight. Ephedrine has shown no benefit in people who want to lose 5 to 10 pounds.
When used for weight control, ephedra typically causes side effects that may be unpleasant. Ephedra may raise blood pressure and cause jitters, irritability, and insomnia. People with high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, or a history of stroke should not use it. In very large doses, ephedra may cause potentially fatal heart problems. Coffee and other herbs containing caffeine increase ephedra’s effects and side effects. Ephedra and coffee should be used for weight control only under medical supervision.
Experts generally agree that the keys to permanent weight loss are a low-fat, low-calorie diet and daily exercise. Nonetheless, ephedra is an ingredient in many herbal weight-loss formulas sold in health food stores and drugstores.
Japanese researchers gave some animals high-fat, high-cholesterol feed, while others received the same feed with maitake added (5 to 20 percent of feed). As expected, the control animals gained weight, but the maitake group did not. By the end of the study, the control animals weighed 25 percent more than the maitake animals. Tokyo researchers told 30 overweight adults to continue eating as they had, but gave them maitake tablets, the equivalent of 7 ounces of the mushroom a day. Two months later, all of them had lost weight, ranging from 12 to 26 pounds.
A diet high in plant foods helps control blood pressure. Israeli scientists gave 63 adult diabetics either a placebo or purslane (three 500 milligram capsules a day). After 3 months, those taking purslane showed lower blood pressure.
Iranian researchers assessed the blood pressure of 48 diabetic adults and then gave them either a daily cup of yogurt or yogurt with purslane seeds (10 grams, about one-third of an ounce). After 5 weeks, the groups switched treatments (a crossover trial). While taking purslane, participants’ blood pressure declined significantly and participants lost weight while taking purslane — about a pound in 5 weeks.
Caffeine (present in tea) increases basal metabolic rate, the rate at which the body burns calories while at rest. Several studies show that in physician-supervised weight-loss programs, coffee drinking modestly increases weight loss. French and Japanese studies show that tea also contributes to weight loss.
This story originally appeared on Rodale Wellness and was adapted from “The New Healing Herbs.”