Herbs for Weight Loss: Pros and Cons

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The prevalence of obesity is increasing globally; it is not restricted to developed nations alone. Apart from the huge impact at a psychological level, obesity is directly associated with many life threatening diseases / disorders like diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, hormonal imbalance, arthritis and even cancer. Thus, maintaining an optimal weight through shedding the pounds and more specifically, fat loss is imperative for health and well being of an individual.

Consuming certain herbs is one of the many approaches to reducing weight. Although herbs don’t make the pounds melt away magically, they promote weight loss by –

► increasing the metabolism (thermogenesis) thus encouraging the body to burn more calories, i.e., they act as stimulants;

► causing the body to excrete toxins and excess water, or in other words, they function as diuretics;

► suppressing appetite (reducing hunger);

► causing evacuation of the bowels; and

► reducing calorie consumption by tricking the brain into thinking the stomach is full.

Herbal remedies can be defined as raw or refined products that are derived from plants or parts of plants such as roots, stems, leaves, flowers, buds, etc. and used for treating diseases or disorders. Examples of herbs that help with weight loss and associated medical conditions are many. Alfalfa, dandelion root, cinnamon, cardamom, Garcinia cambogia, green tea, hawthorn, Psyllium, ginger, garlic are herbs that have been traditionally used since long to maintain and reduce weight. According to Shirin Hasani-Ranjbar and colleagues from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, ‘Studies with Cissus quadrangularis (CQ), Sambucus nigra (black elderberry), Asparagus officinalis, Garcinia atroviridis (a large rainforest tree found in Thailand and Malaysia), ephedra and caffeine, Slimax (extract of several plants including Zingiber officinale (ginger)and Bofutsushosan [oriental herbal medicine]) showed a significant decrease in body weight’. They found that compounds containing ephedra, CQ, ginseng, bitter melon, and zingiber were effective in the management of obesity.

Similarly, many herbs are used in managing the associated diseases and conditions. For example, there is National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia, level III-3 evidence that consuming a clove of garlic daily can lower cholesterol levels by up to 9 percent. There is level II evidence that ginger ameliorates arthritic knee pain. And many studies have shown that ginseng improves glycemia.

Herbs for weight loss are generally taken in the form of powder or capsules, tea, or extracts. A few fresh herbs consumed in appropriate doses over a long period of time have proved to be beneficial in maintaining weight. David Heber, the founding Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, feels that ‘obesity is a global epidemic, and traditional herbal medicines may have more acceptance than prescription drugs in many cultures with emerging epidemics of obesity’. And this is because weight loss through herbs has two key attractions for obese and overweight people –

1. Herbs are viewed as being natural and hence assumed to be safer than prescription drugs.

2. Going herbal is seen as a more accessible solution since there is no perceived need for medical assistance.

Again, many resort to herbal approach because of failed attempts at sustainable weight loss through dieting and other methods.

While herbs can be useful in the weight loss process, effective results can be obtained when herbal approach is used in combination with exercise and appropriate diet. However, before attempting to lose weight with herbs, it is important that your health care professional be informed aboutthe herbal preparations you are using so that any potential interaction with prescription drugs or underlying medical conditions can be anticipated.

More importantly, herbal remedies for weight loss is a long term treatment that may become addictive. Worse, when not taken in recommended doses, herbs and supplements can lead to health problems and may even be fatal.

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