Burn Your Fat Away "I'm Too Fat!" (Sound Familiar?)
Everyone wants to look slim, feel healthy, and live a long life.
One way is to burn excess fat - and thermogenic supplements can help.
n excess of body fat may be unsightly, and it's certainly unhealthy, but it does have a silver lining: it's reversible - it can be burned off. The many diseases caused by obesity, however, may not be reversible. And if you're thinking, "Well, I'm not obese, I just need to lose a few extra pounds," consider that those "few extra pounds" may mean that you're still at risk for the diseases caused by obesity - you may just take a little longer to acquire them. So if you're overweight or on the road to corpulence, reverse your course before it's too late. While regular exercise and proper diet may be the closest thing to a panacea for obesity, there are supplements that can help you with appetite satisfaction and weight control. These time-honored herbal preparations can even help you look and feel better - and perhaps increase the length of your life.
How to Tell If You're Too Fat
To be obese is to be far too fat. One standard defines obesity as being more than 20% above what is considered the normal, desirable weight for your height. However, this can be misleading. For example, many athletes, by this standard, would be considered obese, but because their excess weight is due to heavy musculature instead of fat, they aren't truly obese. Body fat is an accurate indicator of obesity, which is defined as a body-fat percentage greater than 25% for men and 30% for women.
A common approximate measure of total body fat is the body mass index (BMI), which also provides a rough measure of health and life expectancy. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in pounds by the square of your height in inches, and multiply the result by 703. (In metric units, divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters.) The ideal range is about 19-22, with normal being about 23-25. A range of 25-29 indicates overweight, a moderate threat to your health and longevity, but a value of 30 or more indicates obesity, a serious threat.
Another method to estimate your risk of disease and premature death is the waist-to-hip ratio, which is not a measure of how fat you are but of how your fat is distributed - an important risk factor. If your waist is 28 inches and your hips are 36 inches, your waist-to-hip ratio is 0.78. A high-risk ratio is considered to be 0.80 or more for women and 1.0 or more for men.
Caffeine and ephedrine work
synergistically, both in central
(brain-level) suppression of
appetite and in peripheral
stimulation of thermogenesis.
So get out your calculator and see how you rate. Don't be afraid. Don't you want to know if you are at risk for serious health problems - many of which are irreversible - and what you can do about it?
The Dangers of Being Too Fat
Supporting a surplus of fat stresses every part of the body: the skeleton, musculature, organs, and cells. Too much fat stresses your heart, making it work harder. Too much fat increases the wear on your joints, which weren't designed to bear undue weight. When they do, the result is arthritic disease, pain, and loss of function. Too much fat may also result in a poor lipid profile (cholesterol, HDL, and LDL levels), which in turn may lead to plaque buildup and hardening of the arteries. (It is worse if the so-called bad fats, especially the trans-fatty acids, are present in your diet.) Increased hardening of the arteries leads to higher blood pressure, which strains the heart and, in a vicious circle, contributes to further hardening of the arteries.
combination is known to be an
energy booster that increases
Thus begins a downward spiral to ill health, possibly irreversible diseases, and premature death - all caused by an all-too-common culprit: too much body fat.
To discuss all the health liabilities connected with obesity and excess weight would fill volumes. What follows is a list of many of the health problems associated with too much body fat:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Low HDL levels ("good cholesterol")
- High LDL levels ("bad cholesterol")
- Osteoarthritis, joint pain, and joint dysfunction
- Respiratory difficulties, including sleep apnea
- Certain types of cancers, including colon, breast, prostate, and endometrial
- Stress incontinence
- Menstrual irregularities
- Excessive hair growth
- Pregnancy complications
- Gastrointestinal problems
Thermogenesis Can Burn Your Fat Away
If you want to live out your maximum potential in years - and be healthy and feel good while doing it - you need to lose your excess fat stores now. One way to do this, in a sense, is to burn them up. This process, thermogenesis, comprises a series of chemical reactions in which fat molecules are converted to carbon dioxide and water, releasing thermal energy - heat. Through thermogenesis, fat is burned and calories dissipate.
Ephedra and Caffeine - The Thermogenic Duo
Among the most ancient, and now scientifically validated, herbal supplements that promote thermogenesis is the shrub ephedra (Ephedra sinica). In use for more than 5000 years - far longer than most common foods* - ephedra is a mild, slow-acting, nonaddictive herb native to China (where it is called ma huang) and India (where it was known as soma, according to some research1).
* According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) of the United States government, ephedra is safer to use than most common foods. In an investigation of the FDA's claims about the dangers of ephedra, the GAO conducted a critical review of the issue, which led to the eventual, unprecedented withdrawal of the key portions of the FDA-proposed rule to restrict ephedra usage.
Ephedra's main active ingredient, the alkaloid ephedrine, is now commonly employed as a pure synthetic compound, mainly to treat bronchial asthma, suppress allergic reactions, and relieve nasal congestion due to hay fever and respiratory infections.
With the use of ephedra and
caffeine, muscle mass remains
intact as fat disappears.
It's far less likely that the
fat will be regained.
Ephedra is well established as an effective fat-loss agent, especially in combination with the alkaloid caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant that also acts as a circulatory, respiratory, and digestive-system stimulant. Caffeine and ephedrine work synergistically, both in central (brain-level) suppression of appetite and in peripheral stimulation of thermogenesis.2-5 This synergistic action is uniquely beneficial because it promotes the loss of fat but not of lean muscle mass.6 The ephedrine-caffeine combination is also known to be an energy booster that increases physical performance during exercise.7,8
Ephedra and Caffeine Promote Fat Loss, Not Muscle Loss
It's important to remember that we want to lose fat - not weight per se (which is comprised largely of fat, muscle, and bone). As we age, it is fat, not muscle, that gains the upper hand. Most weight-loss programs (diet plans) result in the loss of a significant amount of muscle, or lean body mass, along with fat. This is especially dangerous in people over 30, who have great difficulty in building up additional muscle.
The ephedra-caffeine combination
has a better long-term outcome
than many other
The fact is that most diets do not work - 95% of all weight lost via diets is regained within one year - ending up with a shift in body composition to a higher percentage of fat. Tragically, this is worse than not having dieted at all! With the use of ephedra and caffeine, however, muscle mass remains intact as fat disappears, and it's far less likely that the fat will be regained.9 The ephedra-caffeine combination has a better long-term outcome than many other weight-control measures.
Nutritional Supplements Containing Green Tea
New research indicates that the ancient Asian beverage green tea has value in weight reduction, with a significant thermogenic (fat-burning) effect.10,11 Green tea also plays a significant role in helping to prevent certain cancers in humans, such as those of the pancreas, colon, small intestine, stomach, breast, and lung.
Nutritional Supplements Containing DHEA
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone that is a close chemical relative of both testosterone and estrogen. Regarded as a mood elevator and energy booster - and, more recently, as an antidepressant - DHEA has also been found (in laboratory animals, at least, and perhaps in humans as well) to help promote weight loss. (Come to think of it, what could boost your mood, increase your energy, and banish depression better than dropping 10 pounds of fat?) Though the mechanism by which DHEA assists weight loss has not yet been determined, it may involve appetite suppression or thermogenesis induction, or both.12
5-HTP is 5-hydroxytryptophan, a precursor to the vital neurotransmitter serotonin. It is believed that genetically induced serotonin deficiency is another common factor in obesity, and there is no doubt that this compound has a major influence on eating behavior.13
By boosting serotonin levels, 5-HTP may help reduce carbohydrate cravings. If so, you get two mechanisms for fat loss from this chemical: thermogenesis and reduced intake of carbohydrates. As well, 5-HTP has been said to enhance and calm mood.
Other Fat-Loss Ingredients
Yohimbe is an African herb best reputed for its prosexual activity. Like the ephedra-caffeine combination, it acts - albeit by a different neurological mechanism - both to reduce food intake and to burn fat.14
The element chromium is an essential nutrient known to play a key role in increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin. This is vitally important for promoting weight loss through thermogenesis.15 Chromium supplementation has been shown to reduce body weight while increasing lean body mass (less fat, more muscle), apparently as a result of the increased insulin sensitivity it engenders.
Further ingredients believed to serve useful functions in fat loss include willow bark, dandelion root, ginger root, valerian root, and vitamins B1 (thiamine) and C.
Supplements Can Help You Lose Fat
You no longer need to feel, "I'm too fat." To burn away excess fat, make supplements a part of your integrated diet and exercise program.
Envision a new you: slender, healthy, and energetic, full of the vitality that resists disease. Tired of the diet yo-yo, and ready to admit you need some help in foiling the fat monster? Let thermogenic supplements help you do what you can't do alone - and make that "new you" a slim, vibrant reality. Good luck - and may we see a lot less of you in the future!
- Mahdihassan S, Mehdi FS. Soma of the Rigveda and an attempt to identify it. Am J Chin Med 1989;17(1-2):1-8.
- Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Madsen J. Thermogenic synergism between ephedrine and caffeine in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Metabolism 1991 Mar;40(3):323-9.
- Dulloo AG, Seydoux J, Girardier L. Peripheral mechanisms of thermogenesis induced by ephedrine and caffeine in brown adipose tissue. Int J Obes 1991 May;15(5):317-26.
- Astrup A, Toubro S. Thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular responses to ephedrine and caffeine in man. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1993 Feb;17 Suppl 1:S41-3
- Astrup A, Breum L, Toubro S. Pharmacological and clinical studies of ephedrine and other thermogenic agonists. Obes Res 1995 Nov;3 Suppl4:537S-540S.
- Astrup A, et al. The effect of ephedrine/caffeine mixture on energy expenditure and body composition in obese women. Metabolism 1992; 41:686-8.
- Bell DG, Jacobs I, Zamecnik J. Effects of caffeine, ephedrine and their combination on time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 1998;77:427-33.
- Bell DG, Jacobs I. Combined caffeine and ephedrine ingestion improves run times of Canadian Forces Warrior Test. Aviat Space Environ Med 1999;70:325-9.
- Astrup A, Lundsgaard C. What do pharmacological approaches to obesity management offer? Linking pharmacological mechanisms of obesity management agents to clinical practice. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes 1998;106 Suppl2:29-34. Review.
- Dulloo AG, Seydoux J, Girardier L, Chantre P, Vandermander J. Green tea and thermogenesis: interactions between catechin-polyphenols, caffeine and sympathetic activity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000 Feb;24(2):252-8.
- Dulloo AG, Duret C, Rohrer D, Girardier L, Mensi N, Fathi M, Chantre P, Vandermander J. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Dec;70(6):1040-5.
- Bobyleva V, Kneer N, Bellei M, Battelli D, Lardy HA. Concerning the mechanism of increased thermogenesis in rats treated with dehydroepiandrosterone. J Bioenerg Biomembr 1993 Jun;25(3):313-21.
- Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression. Adv Exp Med Biol 1996;398:35-41.
- Kucio C, Jonderko K, Piskorska D. Does yohimbine act as a slimming drug? Isr J Med Sci 1991 Oct;27(10):550-6.
- McCarty MF. The unique merits of a low-fat diet for weight control. Med Hypotheses 1986 Jun;20(2):183-97.
The "Is It Safe?" Verdict Is In - Ephedra Wins
Despite two attempts, the FDA has produced no valid evidence in its much-publicized case against the thermogenic herb ephedra. Launching its assault in 1997, the FDA published a proposed rule to regulate ephedra that would have placed severe limits on its manufacture and use. The rule would have been a death knell for the herb because it declared ephedra products to be useless for their intended purposes and included a prohibition of the claim that these products are useful for weight loss.
When the FDA's data were carefully analyzed, however, it became clear that at least 85% of the "adverse event" reports associated with the use of ephedra products - the reports on which the FDA had based its case - were grossly deficient. The data relating these presumed "adverse events" to ephedra consumption were not sufficient to arrive at a scientific assessment of any causative connection; hence, they were essentially worthless.
With a sample size that was notably inadequate for statistically meaningful results, the FDA relied on a mere 13 reports of these "adverse events" as a basis for its proposed dose limits - a dose schedule that would have precluded any significant benefit. To put that number into perspective, it is estimated that in the United States last year, 3 billion servings of ephedra were used. It doesn't take an expert to understand that 13 adverse events out of 3 billion (0.00000043%) do not constitute a major threat to public health.
Because of these glaring problems with the FDA's proposed rule, the General Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a critical review of the issue, which led to an unprecedented withdrawal of the key portions of the proposed rule.
The Insufferable FDA
Rather than fold up shop and call it quits, however, the FDA went back at it again with another round of new "data" and more testimony by new "experts."
Yet even this second attempt met with resounding failure. The evidence presented by other medical and scientific experts who testified at the August 2000 public hearings held in Washington confirmed ephedra''s safety and efficacy, pointing out that the data failed to reveal any association between the FDA's newly reported "adverse events" and ephedra products, taken as directed. The expert panel concluded that the FDA's reports were inconsistent with the published medical literature.
Renowned Danish researcher Arne Astrup, M.D., Ph.D., whose studies of ephedrine and caffeine determined that a combination of the two is indeed effective for weight loss, testified that an FDA report on the published literature misrepresented his data on the safety of the two ingredients and that these misrepresentations were used to support the FDA's allegations concerning ephedra. Said Dr. Astrup, "I think our data and results are mischaracterized, and the presentation is flawed and distorted . . . giving a very negative picture of the safety profile of the combination of ephedrine/caffeine, which is not supported by our research."
Safe When Used As Directed
By attempting to stigmatize ephedra with a feeble case based on strikingly insufficient data, the FDA acted with disturbing irresponsibility. Even in the face of scientific evidence, the FDA continues to cling to its untenable claims, still calling for a ban of ephedra for its most common use as an aid to weight loss.
In a shocking breach of scientific objectivity, the FDA's own press releases and related news programs were the direct cause of many, if not most, of the reports the FDA received, as revealed by the report's dates. If these were the deeds of a private organization, the press would dub it a conspiracy and call for prosecution.
Despite the FDA's troubling obstinacy, the verdict is in: In the scientific community, objective experts have overwhelmingly confirmed that, when used as directed, the herbal tonic and thermogenic agent ephedra is a safe and efficacious dietary supplement.
Prospects for the Future
As a result of the 2000 hearings, there has been a precipitous drop in interest in the ephedra regulation issue, which has now receded from the forefront of the news. Barring more misguided legal assaults, this beneficial herb will remain a vital aid to the many who want to lose weight - and need help doing so - in the safest and most efficient way. But beware: regulatory agencies need emergencies to sustain themselves, to which end they often play a principal role in their creation.