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Weight Loss Supplements - Research Update!

By: Christopher Mohr

Obesity is an epidemic and significant public health problem and bodybuilders are always trying to shed unwanted fat. Individuals often turn to dietary supplements to enhance their fat loss goals.

Because of this, in 2002, according to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers spent approximately $35 billion on weight loss products (e.g., books, dietary supplements, weight loss franchises, etc).

Dietary supplements are often thought of as a "quick fix;" however, many individuals often purchase products banking on the word from a convincing infomercial or magazine ad, rather than anything based on solid science.

Now that ephedra is merely a figment of our fat incinerating imagination, it's time to find a new adjunct to a healthy diet and intense workout routine.

Weight Loss Supplements

Hoodia Gordonii

This is the "new kid" on the fat loss block. A number of products now contain this ingredient, but Trim Spa has catapulted this ingredient to the forefront of the fat loss market. Basically this is an ingredient that comes from the cactus of a plant in Africa.

From anecdotal evidence, it was learned that a tribe in Africa eats this extra direct from the cactus to stave off hunger for hours. Now this extract is being put into pills, drinks, and everything else you can imagine.

This ingredient does show promise when measured in test tubes; however, no human data has been conducted to date on its safety of efficacy.

Green Tea

Green tea extract has recently seen a surge in popularity; it is hard to avoid this ingredient in fat loss supplements. Even green tea as a beverage has surged in popularity as it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second only to water. Green tea contains an ingredient called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (say that 10 times fast); fortunately it has an abbreviation, EGCG. This ingredient in particular has showed promised as an adjunct to an effective diet and exercise regimen. However, it is not only the EGCG that appears to be relevant in green tea, but also the naturally occurring caffeine. There is approximately 10-80 mg of caffeine/cup and EGCG and caffeine are synergistic in the process of something called thermogenesis, or in simple terms, heating up the body.

One study published in 1999 demonstrated that green tea does in fact increase metabolic rate. In this particular study, researchers gave subjects one of three supplements: green tea extract (providing a total of 270 mg EGCG plus 150 mg caffeine per day), 150 mg caffeine per day, or a placebo.

After the short, 24-hour study, researchers noted a significant increase in resting metabolic rate (4%) in the EGCG + caffeine group vs. the caffeine or placebo groups. While this did not correlate to a decrease in bodyweight, it was only a one day study.

Therefore, longer term research is necessary to determine if the body would grow accustomed to this stimulant, or if this increase in metabolic rate would continue for the duration of supplementation, which could obviously enhance weight loss.

At this time it appears that green tea extract is safe. Keep in mind that one cup of brewed green tea supplies approximately 50-100 mg of EGCG. However, this value is dependent on temperature of the water, type of leaf, season of cultivation, etc.

However, since there is also research to support the notion that tea consumption as a beverage is correlated to lower bodyweight, coupled with the known health benefits of green tea, if there are no known contraindications, such as use of coumadin, regular consumption of green tea as a beverage is a wise idea.

What Does Contraindication Mean?
In medicine, a contraindication is a condition or factor that increases the risk involved in using a particular drug, carrying out a medical procedure or engaging in a particular activity.

An absolute contraindication is a condition that prohibits the use of a treatment altogether. For example, an untreated pneumothorax would be an absolute contraindication to hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

A relative contraindication weighs in against the use of a treatment when assessing its risk/benefit ratio. For example, a history of peptic ulcer is a contraindication towards taking aspirin. If, however, the benefit of using aspirin is seen as greater than the risk of a recurrence of the ulcer, and no reasonable alternatives are available, the treatment is still indicated.


Caffeine is often the cornerstone of many fat loss supplements because of its well-documented effects on thermogenesis (heat production in the body) and lipolysis (fat burning). However, it is not necessarily considered as a stand alone product intended to enhance fat loss; rather, it is included with other ingredients with the intention of producing a synergistic effect.


It is important to note that high doses of caffeine can also have some negative side effects. Studies have demonstrated that caffeine may elevate blood pressure and heart rate, so overdosing on your morning coffee with the intention of losing an extra pound or two isn't the best idea.

A regular cup of coffee contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine (which will vary with bean type, length of brewing, etc), so caution is advised when taking doses of caffeine that are much higher than this.

Keep in mind that any positive effect caffeine may have on weight loss is quickly negated when it comes in the form of any super sized, mocha, java, double shot, no-whip beverage, which adds several hundred calories in just one drink!

White Bean Extract

This ingredient is a fiber that is purported to safely decrease starch (carbohydrate) absorption, decreasing the amount of carbs and, subsequently, calories consumed. To my knowledge, only one human study has been conducted.

This study did show some promise with better weight losses coming from the supplement group; however, most of the products I've seen do not contain the same dose of white bean extract as the researchers in the study used (3000 mg).

This product is very new, so let's see if/when more research is conducted. For now, eat some extra fiber, which is basically what this ingredient is providing.

Hydroxycitric Acid

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) has grown in popularity and its inclusion in weight loss aids is common. However, this popularity has not resulted in many well-controlled human research studies assessing the claims; most of the supportive literature is in rodents.

Early research has shown that administration of HCA inhibits the enzyme that may enhance fat loss. The problem is that the positive research with this supplement has been in rodents, rather than in humans.

One study that was conducted in rats suggested that HCA supplementation was effective in reducing body fat and body weight gain. However, the doses used in this study would be so high in humans, it would not be cost effective and we don't know if such high doses would be safe. Basically, HCA also doesn't meet the purported claims.

Fat Loss Supplements Summary


Purported Claim

Scientific Evidence

Green Tea (EGCG)

EGCG may prolong thermogenesis and increase fat metabolism.

Some evidence has demonstrated EGCG may enhance thermogenesis; longer studies need to be conducted to ascertain the efficacy.


Enhances lipolysis and thermogenesis by inhibiting enzymes that are otherwise broken down to halt the process.

Caffeine has moderate effects of lipolysis. Caffeine alone, however, will not cause a decrease in bodyweight.

Hoodia gordonii

Decreases hunger causing a decrease in energy intake.

No human studies to date have measured its effects; there has only been anecdotal evidence suggesting it works.

White bean extract

Decreases starch absorption thereby causing a decrease in energy intake.

One human study to date showed it may be effective. The dose used was higher than in most products on the market. Shows promise.

Hydroxycitric Acid

Enhances "fat burning" by blocking certain enzymes.

Data in animals is promising, but the data in humans is not supportive.




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