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The Skinny on Weight-Loss Products


It's impossible to get away from weight-loss products. They're everywhere'on early morning and weekend television, in tabloids and magazines, and on the radio. Although reliable figures are not available for Canada, those provided by Dr.

It's impossible to get away from weight-loss products. They're everywhere on early morning and weekend television, in tabloids and magazines, and on the radio. Although reliable figures are not available for Canada, those provided by Dr. Phillip Harvey, chief science advisor at the National Nutritional Foods Association in the United States, indicate that diet aids (not including appliances) currently account for almost $6 billion in sales annually in the US. Of that total, $2.85 billion is spent on pills, the subject of this article, and the remainder on meal replacement products.

These statistics are not surprising given that obesity is so prevalent in North America. It is a contributing factor to heart disease, circulatory disorders and adult-onset diabetes, as well as a complicating factor with arthritis. A reliable weight-loss product therfore, could be a great health benefit. Use this guide to help you navigate what's on the shelves.


Defined simply, thermogenesis is the ability of a compound to raise the rate at which the body burns calories. Thermogenic products formulated with ephedrine and caffeine have dominated diet aids for decades, but not without considerable controversy. Recent regulatory changes in Canada no longer allow the sale of ephedrine, also known as ephedra, ma huang, brigham tea and Sida cordifilia, in weight-loss products because of side-effects that include rapid heart rate, profuse sweating, elevated or depressed blood pressure, indigestion and agitation. But the debate on ephedrine has sparked some innovations from manufacturers that are constantly looking for safer, more effective alternatives.


Common herbal forms of caffeine include green tea, yerba mat?guarano and kola nut, which have demonstrated thermogenic qualities. In studies conducted in Europe, the US and Asia, caffeine has demonstrated an ability to raise the rate of calorie utilization by up to four per cent. Further studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1999) and the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders (2000) indicate that green and oolong teas enhance the rate of fat-burning over caffeine in its chemical form.


This is a derivative of the plant Citrus aurantium. Studies from the 1990s onward indicate it has substantial thermogenic activity. It is frequently used to replace ephedrine in modern weight-loss formulas.

Hydrocitric Acid (HCA)

HCA is the concentrated extract of the fruit Garcinia cambogia. It is probably the most heavily researched weight-loss ingredient available, having been studied for nearly 40 years. HCA can promote glycogen storage from excess dietary carbohydrates, thereby inhibiting the conversion of the same carbohydrates to stored fat (glycogen storage is how we save up fuel in our muscles and the liver). HCA can also suppress appetite. Studies show that it can reduce calorie consumption by up to 10 percent.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

CLA, a derivative of linoleic acid, continues to be the subject of considerable research. It has demonstrated an ability to inhibit certain cancers and to reduce total cholesterol, as well as significantly reduce very low-density cholesterol (VLDL really bad cholesterol!). Early studies indicated CLA's potential to decrease body fat and increase lean body mass. More advanced studies published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (1998) and the Journal of Nutrition (2000) found that CLA inhibits fat accumulation and appears to enhance strength. Certainly worth studying further!

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is an old-time tonic popularized by Paul Bragg, a founder and tireless promoter of the natural health movement in North America. Taken internally, it neutralizes body acidity and contributes potassium as an electrolyte, gently restoring a more balanced body chemistry. Many take it as a digestive tonic, and a growing number for weight-loss. It seems to safely suppress appetite and may improve fat metabolism by improving liver function.

Amylase Inhibitors/Starch Blockers

Available as wheat and white bean extract (Phaseolamin Phase 2), alpha amylase inhibitors neutralize the enzymes that digest starch. They increase the time food stays in the stomach, encouraging a feeling of fullness, as well as stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the desire to eat. A study published in Nutrition (1999) indicates amylase inhibitors could be useful as a weight-loss aid and for those with diabetes.

It's a new age for weight-loss supplements, with products offering more than they ever have before. You may be pleasantly surprised by the changes to be found on store shelves that include health benefits above and beyond weight loss.

Cutting Edge Research: Brain and Chemistry Weight Loss

Many of us are aware that our moods affect our eating habits, but Dr. Eric Braverman at the Place for Achieving Total Health in New York has gone a good deal further. He found that deficiencies in dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and GABA (common brain chemicals) may be responsible for metabolic imbalances and food cravings that lead to weight gain. Many weight-loss product manufacturers have also incorporated these finding into their products.

More Weight-Loss Product Ingredients

  • Black pepper extract - enhances performance of other ingredients; however, the effects of prescription drugs may also be enhanced, resulting in unexpected side-effects.
  • Bladderwrack, kelp - supports thyroid activity, mild metabolic stimulant, diuretic; some authorities do not recommend use with thyroid medication.
  • Cassia nomane - inhibits action of lipase (fat digesting) enzymes, slows dietary fat absorption.
  • Cayenne - enhances circulation.
  • Chickweed - traditional herbal weight-loss aid, appetite suppressant.
  • Chitosan - altered shellfish chitin (exoskeleton) that acts as a fat blocker, absorbing dietary fat and reducing total fat intake. Prolonged use may lead to deficiences in fat-soluble vitamins, requiring supplementation to offset. You may react to chitosan if you have shellfish allergies.
  • Chromium - critical to sugar metabolism; in this role appears to help weight loss by controlling food cravings.
  • Dandelion leaf - natural diuretic, maintains potassium balance.
  • Ginger - enhances circulation.
  • Korean red ginseng - increases energy, may stimulate some metabolic processes.
  • Siberian ginseng - adaptogen, combats physical and mental stress; may lower or increase blood pressure depending on dosage.
  • Goldenrod - appetite suppressant, improves kidney performance.
  • Guar gum - soluble fibre.
  • Guggulipid extract - stimulates thyroid activity;a mild metabolic stimulant.
  • Gymnema sylvestre - aids in maintaining blood sugar levels, reduces food cravings.
  • Irish moss - bulking agent, promotes regularity.
  • Licorice - adrenal stimulant, increases energy.
  • Pectin - soluble fibre.
  • Psyllium - soluble fibre.
  • Spirulina - natural source of B vitamins, boosts energy, stabilizes blood sugar levels.
  • Vegetable fibre - bulking agent, may absorb dietary fat.
  • Vitamin B6 - a natural diuretic; common supplementation range is 50 to 100 mg daily.






Low energy, cravings for sugar and carbohydrates

Almonds, chicken, cottage cheese, EFA enriched eggs, soy protein isolate, soy beans, wheat germ, increased protein and essential fatty acids (i.e., cold-water fish oils, oils of flax, hemp, walnut)

Rhodiola rosea extract, rhododendron extract, spirulina

SerotoninPoor sleep quality, affecting growth hormone production

Almonds, avocados, eggs, Swiss cheese, turkey

Vitamin B6, 5-hydroxy tryptophan

AcetylcholineCravings for greasy foodCaviar, eggs, whole grains

Choline, lecithin, phosphatidylserine (PS)


Protein cravings

Beans, cantaloupe, granola, nuts, oatmeal, oranges, wheat bran, whole grains

B vitamins, inositol, lecithin



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