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The ABCs of Fat-Loss Supplements
As summer approaches, most of us are trying to melt away unwanted fat so we can hit the beach with a sizzling six-pack. An ultraclean diet and well-planned workout routine are essential for maximum fat loss, but sometimes a little extra help doesn’t hurt. The following article will give you a good understanding of many popular fat-loss ingredients and some unique ones. In this three-part series, we’ll cover the whole gamut of fat-loss ingredients, all the way from A to Z! In this first part, we’ll cover all ingredients from A to Z.
Acacetin is synthesized from the damiana plant and is an anti-aromatase agent that can help block estrogen synthesis. In fact, research shows it can help reduce aromatase activity by up to 60 percent. Estrogen is considered a fat-storing hormone, and by reducing its synthesis, you can enhance fat loss and prevent fat storage.
Ashwagandha is a very popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is mainly found in India and Nepal. Research studies show it can help moderate cortisol levels and even prevent hunger signals. When the body experiences stress, the hormone cortisol is produced. This hormone signals the brain to produce feelings of hunger, thus contributing to fat gain. If you can block stress, you can reduce overeating and support your goal to shed more fat.
This unique ingredient is an evergreen tree species found in northern regions of Argentina. The bark contains powerful alkaloids that effectively stimulate the central nervous system and can push the body to burn fat by increasing thermogenesis. Not only do the alkaloids work to impose this effect on the body, but the extract actually has high amounts of naturally occurring Yohimbe, known for its ability to support fat loss. In some countries, Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco extract is also used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. So, if you want to stay lean and perform your best in bed, this may be the ingredient for you!
Recent research demonstrates that black tea can actually block fat absorption into the cells. Because black tea is fermented, it produces many polyphenols and antioxidants. These work to help prevent illness and boost the immune system. The key is to drink black tea just that way—“black.” If you consume black tea with milk, the absorption rates will decrease, and it won’t be as effective at stimulating fat loss. The key is to let it steep and then consume it with no additives. Your body will thank you.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The three BCAAs are L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine, and they provide many benefits. BCAAs enhance muscle protein synthesis, boost endurance performance, decrease fatigue, prevent muscle loss during your workout, and can even support fat loss. Many people don’t realize that isoleucine can improve glucose tolerance and leucine can increase energy expenditure.
Bromelain is an enzyme that’s mainly found in pineapple. This enzyme works to break food down and aid with digestion. If the body is able to digest food more efficiently, it’s less likely to be stored as fat and more likely to be burned off as fuel instead.
Caffeine increases resting energy expenditure and thermogenesis. Caffeine’s mechanisms of action on fat loss are mediated through adenosine receptor blockade and phosphodiesterase inhibition.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a “fat-burning” fat. It’s usually derived from sunflower or safflower oil and then synthesized in a lab by altering the linoleic acid molecule. Research shows that CLA increases energy expenditure, decreases triglyceride (stored fat) incorporation into fat cells and inhibits lipoprotein lipase (LPL) and fatty acid synthase (FAS), which are the enzymes responsible for fat synthesis. The active fat-burning isomers of CLA are cis-9, trans-11, and trans-10, cis-12.
CH-19 Sweet Red Pepper Extract
CH-19 sweet is a non-pungent cultivar of red pepper and contains three known capsaicinoid-like substances that can boost fat burning: capsiate, dihydrocapsiate, and nordihydrocapsiate. CH-19 sweet can enhance core body temperature, oxygen consumption, uncoupling proteins 1 and 2 (UCP1 and UCP2), and gene transcription of UCP2 mRNA in fat tissue.
Dendrobium is a member of the orchid plant family and is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. This plant is native to southern Asia and is made up of alkaloids that are found to have beneficial effects on cognition, muscle tissue, and overall health and well-being. In addition to these effects, dendrobium works to stimulate the central nervous system and can boost exercise capacity and calorie expenditure.
DIM is a natural compound that is formed during the breakdown of plants and the digestion of indole-3-carbinol, from the Brassica genus of plants. DIM supports estrogen metabolism and ensures that the hormonal balance within the body is healthy. Estrogen is broken down into beneficial estrogen metabolites and less beneficial estrogen metabolites. DIM decreases the amount of less beneficial metabolites and increases the number of beneficial ones. Because of this, men and women experience less of the negative effects of improper estrogen balance. By balancing estrogen levels, men and women can shed estrogenic fat accumulation in hard-to-lose spots such as the lower abdominal area and under the arms. Supplementation with DIM also works as an antioxidant and can enhance mood, skin tone, and general well-being.
DMAA is a drug and is synthesized in a lab. It’s well known for its stimulant properties. It can increase thermogenesis, but it also increases heart rate and blood pressure at the same time. It might not be the best choice as a fat-loss ingredient, but its mental-focus properties can provide many people with desirable benefits.
Derived from the Chinese plant ma huang, ephedrine has been used for years as a remedy for asthma, headache, nasal congestion, cough, and wheezing. The most notable effect for athletes is its ability to stimulate fat loss by easily crossing the blood-brain barrier and acting as a central nervous system stimulant. It results in the extra production of noradrenaline and dopamine, which contributes to increased energy expenditure, fat oxidation, and even mood enhancement in some people!
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAS)
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are extremely important when it comes to fat loss. EFAs work to decrease fat via a variety of pathways. One of the major ones involves the ability of EFAs to increase insulin sensitivity. In fact, they help to mimic the activity of some diabetic drugs and actually reduce the amount of circulating glucose in the bloodstream. This helps to decrease the amount of glucose that ends up being stored as fat in the body. Some main sources of EFAs include nuts, fish, and eggs.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and this is important because bile acid (which is essentially surplus cholesterol) readily binds to this type of fiber. This helps decrease cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, and support fat loss. Insoluble fiber refers to fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water. More specifically, it regulates bowel movements by creating bulk. This works to moderate the passage of food and nutrients through the digestive tract, allowing the body to absorb more key nutrients to aid in keeping the metabolism working most efficiently so that it can burn fat! Although fiber doesn’t have a direct effect on burning fat, it can really help with long-term sustained fat loss. Good sources of fiber include oats, fruits, vegetables, and fiber supplements usually derived from psyllium husks and/or inulin.
Fish oil is one of the most popular EFA supplements used today. Research studies conducted on fish oil (which is a superior source of omega-3 fatty acids) have shown very positive results in regard to its ability to enhance fat loss. Several clinical studies show that supplementing with 3 to 9 grams of fish oil daily can significantly increase fat oxidation during exercise and at rest. This means by supplementing with fish oil on a daily basis, you can burn off more fat during your workouts and when you’re at rest.
Forskolin (Coleus Forskohlii)
This comes from the plant Coleus forskohlii. Forskolin works to increase the production of an enzyme called adenylate cyclase, which increases cyclic AMP, a secondary cellular messenger involved in fat burning. The increase in cAMP activates enzymes responsible for the breakdown of triglycerides, the essential components of fatty tissue. Forskolin has been used in conjunction with many other natural fat-loss aids because of its unique fat-burning properties.
Green Coffee Bean
Green coffee bean has solid scientific evidence behind it, including multiple double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies. In the most recently published study, subjects using 350 milligrams of green coffee bean (standardized to chlorogenic acids) three times daily lost an incredible 17.7 pounds in just 12 weeks! This is an effective ingredient, as long as it’s standardized for the right amount of chlorogenic acid.
Green tea extract is one of the most popular fat-loss ingredients because there’s a ton of evidence that shows its effectiveness. Several clinical studies show that green tea standardized for epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has a significant effect on increasing thermogenesis and fat oxidation. On its own, green tea is a solid fat burner, but when used in conjunction with other fat-burning compounds, such as caffeine, its effectiveness can be enhanced even further.
Huperzine helps with fat loss by protecting the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a messenger molecule in the central and peripheral nervous system. Huperzine is more commonly used as a cognitive-support agent because it demonstrates promising effects for mental health and even decreased symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.
Hoodia is short for Hoodia Gordonii, a cactus-like plant found in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Supplementation with Hoodia extract provides the body with the appetite-suppressing molecule P57, which works in the brain and mimics glucose. It actually reduces the interest that a person has in food and delays the time before hunger takes over once again.
Hemp seeds are tiny and brown in color, but nothing’s tiny about hemp’s beneficial qualities. In fact, hemp is a superfood, and it offers a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 and fiber content of hemp helps the stomach feel full and satisfied, allowing longer time periods between meals and less overall daily calorie consumption. Hemp can also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce food cravings and inflammation, and improve circulation.
Before understanding how iodine can stimulate fat loss, it’s important to note that iodine is essential for healthy thyroid gland function. More specifically, the body needs iodine to create thyroxine (T4), which actually works to regulate the metabolism and the rate at which the body burns fat. Iodine won’t help burn fat in those who have completely healthy and optimal functioning thyroid glands, however. Instead, it will aid those with underactive thyroid function.
This is naturally produced in the body from glucose. The problem is that the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and sulfa drugs and increased estrogen levels can lower levels in the body. Research shows that consumption of inositol in conjunction with B complex vitamins may support fat breakdown in the liver.
Indian bdellium has been used as a natural remedy to treat various ailments in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Indian bdellium has the ability to remove toxins from the body, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and support weight management. A compound found in Indian bdellium called ushan virya actually works to move free fatty acids from fat tissue to muscle tissue for use as energy. This is especially beneficial for those who are exercising for fat loss and are supplementing with Indian bdellium at the same time.
Ironically, juniper berry isn’t a true berry. Instead, it’s the female seed cone that is produced by various species of junipers. It’s the fleshy and tight-knit scales that make it look like a berry. Juniper isn’t really a fat-burning ingredient, but it does work as a potent natural diuretic by elevating the body’s urination processes, and this can help bring out cuts and definition! It also works as an antioxidant and can support detoxification.
Japanese Knotweed (Resveratrol)
Japanese knotweed looks like bamboo with stems that reach up to three to four meters in height. Most of its beneficial effects are due to the naturally occurring resveratrol that’s found in it. Resveratrol, although highly associated with its availability in grape skin and red wine, also naturally occurs in Japanese knotweed. Resveratrol helps block the aromatase enzyme and can reduce estrogen levels, which can help reduce estrogenic fat stores in the body.
Kelp is seaweed and a type of brown algae. It’s rich in iodine, iron, calcium, vitamins B1, B2, B12, and potassium. As explained earlier, iodine can have an impact on supporting thyroid function, and this is how kelp can support fat loss: by providing a highly bioavailable source of natural iodine. Another benefit of kelp is that it contains many other nutrients that can help digestion and fluid balance, which can support fat loss.
Kaempferol is a natural flavonoid that can be found in a variety of vegetables and fruits and other plant sources. Research shows that kaempferol can increase oxygen consumption, cyclic AMP, and triiodothyronine (T3), all of which have an impact on boosting metabolism and energy expenditure.
L-carnitine is essential for optimal fat and energy metabolism. Carnitine works to support fat loss by transporting long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses found in cells. Inside the mitochondria, fatty acids are burned off through a process called beta-oxidation. Research shows that low carnitine levels in the body will reduce the rate of fat metabolism and halt fat loss.
L-leucine is an essential amino acid and must be ingested for the body to take advantage of its beneficial properties. Leucine has gained popularity as an amino acid proven to enhance muscle growth, but it can also indirectly support fat loss through multiple mechanisms of action.
The benefits of multivitamins and minerals are often overlooked when it comes to fat loss. A multivitamin/mineral supplement that contains B-complex vitamins (B2, B3, B5, and B6), vitamin C, and coenzyme Q10 is ideal for fat-loss support. B-complex vitamins are essential in supporting metabolism and energy expenditure. Vitamin C helps to convert glucose into energy and prevent it from being stored as fat in the body. Coenzyme Q10 is an essential component of healthy mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses of all cells and have a major impact on energy expenditure. As for minerals, chromium is one that can support fat loss through its effects on glucose metabolism.
Methylxanthines are compounds that act as cardiovascular stimulants, relax smooth muscle, and have diuretic properties as well. The most well-known methylxanthines are caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. All three of these methylxanthines can act as stimulants and boost energy expenditure and fat oxidation.
Mucuna Pruriens has built its reputation as a mood-enhancer and growth hormone (GH) and testosterone-boosting ingredient. All three of these benefits can support fat loss. The main active compound found in mucuna is L-dopa, but it also supplies several other active compounds that can indirectly support fat loss.
Naringin is a flavonoid found in grapefruit. It can support fat loss by stimulating the liver, improving insulin sensitivity, and boosting fat mobilization. In fact, naringin actually stimulates the liver to produce fat-burning enzymes that are usually only produced during a fasted state. Naringin also has effects on multiple enzymes that can inhibit LDL (bad cholesterol) production. It’s even being studied as a treatment for diabetes with promising results.
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf contains a powerful phenolic agent that mimics the effects of ephedrine. The compound is called oleuropein aglycone (OA) and is a derivative of oleuropein, the most well-known phenolic compound found in olive leaf. Research studies have already established the fat-loss effects of oleuropein, but more recent studies show that oleuropein aglycone (OA) can induce norepinephrine and epinephrine about 10 times greater than oleuropein. In addition, OA can increase uncoupling protein content (UCP) in fat tissue, which has a big impact on metabolism and fat loss in the body.
Octopamine is found naturally in the bitter orange plant. It has similar chemical similarities to norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and can work to increase energy expenditure and metabolism in the same way. Octopamine isn’t a potent stimulant like ephedrine per se, but it can still increase calorie burning without overstimulating the body.
Piperine (Pepper Extract)
This sounds like a simple ingredient that wouldn’t likely be of much benefit to athletes, but that is a major misconception! Piperine has many benefits. These include increasing blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract, increasing emulsifying properties in the gut, and increasing active nutrient transport as well. All of these properties work to increase the absorption of nutrients during digestion. Of course, if the body is able to properly absorb nutrients, it will more readily be able to shed fat and gain lean muscle mass. As an added benefit, piperine also has thermogenic activity in the body and can increase energy expenditure! Some people even sweat when they use too much pepper in foods. This is indicative of the power of piperine and its ability to become a great asset in the fight against fat storage.
Psyllium husk is one of the best sources of soluble fiber. As mentioned in the previous article under the letter F, fiber can have a significant effect on supporting fat loss. Psyllium fiber isn’t absorbed and forms a mucilaginous mass when mixed with water. Psyllium reduces peak blood glucose levels by slowing carbohydrate absorption and can decrease cholesterol by absorbing dietary fats in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby preventing systemic absorption.
Quercetin is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties and is abundant in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and berries. Some research shows that adding quercetin to the diet can help increase mitochondrial density. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of all cells in the body, and they convert nutrients into useable energy (ATP). Through mitochondrial biogenesis, you can increase the size and number of mitochondria, and this allows your body to burn off nutrients and produces energy more efficiently. Not only will this help boost your metabolism, but it’ll also help improve your performance capacity.
Raspberry ketone is the main aromatic compound found in red raspberries. It’s a natural phenolic compound and can improve fat loss through multiple mechanisms of action. It can inhibit pancreatic lipase enzyme activity, and thus reduce the amount of dietary fat that’s absorbed by the body. It can also reduce fat accumulation in visceral and subcutaneous fat tissues caused by the overintake of sugars. Raspberry ketone increases oxygen consumption and can activate thermogenesis, which both result in an increase in caloric expenditure. Finally, raspberry ketone increases the breakdown of fat (triglycerides) by increasing the movement of HSL to the lipid droplets in fat cells. This is the most unique effect that it has on enhancing fat loss.
Synephrine works differently than most other fat-burning agents. It primarily stimulates the beta-3 adrenergic receptors and has very little effect on the beta-1 and beta-2 receptors. This is why synephrine has the ability to stimulate fat loss without significantly increasing blood pressure and heart rate. The selected action of the beta-3 receptors is lipolysis (aka fat burning), whereas the selected actions of the beta-1 and beta-2 receptors are primarily cardiac muscle contraction and smooth muscle relaxation, respectively. Since synephrine doesn’t overstimulate the heart, it makes for a great ingredient to stack with other fat-burner supplements.
Also called kothala himbutu, Salacia reticulate is most commonly grown in Sri Lanka and is a traditional Ayurvedic medicine used to treat diabetes. Although there haven’t been any significant research studies conducted on Salacia reticulata, it is known to help inhibit fat and carbohydrate absorption. This is a more remote ingredient that might prove to become more popular if more research is conducted.
Native to northeastern China, Salix Matsudana (also called Chinese willow), has also been shown to inhibit carbohydrate and lipid absorption from the small intestine. It also has the ability to enhance norepinephrine-induced fat loss. Again, just like Salacia reticulate, the overall body of research on Salix Matsudana is lacking at this time.
Salvia sclarea is most commonly referred to as clary sage, and it has the ability to increase the accumulation of cyclic AMP (cAMP). Essentially cAMP is a secondary messenger that’s involved in fat burning, and increasing it directly affects cellular respiration and helps the body move fat out of fat cells and use for energy. Unlike many other fat-burning ingredients, Salvia sclarea does not interact with beta adrenal receptors and doesn’t stimulate the central nervous system or raise blood pressure.
Theobromine is a methylxanthine and a chemical cousin of caffeine. It’s found naturally in chocolate and is believed to be one of the reasons why chocolate makes people feel so good (although we think it’s really because it just tastes so damn good). Unlike caffeine, theobromine has three methyl groups instead of two. It’s able to remain active in the body for a longer period of time, and its diuretic properties help relax smooth muscle tissue and allow blood vessels to dilate. Compared to caffeine, theobromine is much weaker in its inhibition of phosphodiesterases and adenosine receptors. This results in much less impact on the central nervous system but also reduces its fat-burning capacity.
Usnic acid is an ingredient that was first introduced to the bodybuilding scene by the late steroid guru Dan Duchaine. It was also marketed and sold more recently by two supplement companies, Syntrax Innovations and Species Nutrition. It’s been touted as an effective fat-burning ingredient with similar effects to the drug DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) as an uncoupling protein (UCP) agent. Let’s just say this: Usnic acid is a very dangerous substance that no one should ever use. This substance has been implicated with serious liver damage and disease. The Syntrax Innovations product was implicated in 21 cases of serious liver disease and at least one of Species Nutrition’s old products that contained usnic acid was implicated in causing one user to require a liver transplant. Needless to say, this substance should never be used by anyone. Enough said about this one.
Although vinpocetine isn’t a direct fat-burning agent, it can have an impact on supporting fat loss indirectly. Vinpocetine works to enhance cerebral blood flow, the effects of norepinephrine on cortical cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), and the turnover of brain catecholamines. These mechanisms can enhance memory, improve cerebral blood flow, and finally, improve cerebral oxygen and glucose utilization. All of these benefits allow vinpocetine to improve focus during exercise and modulate glucose utilization in the brain. In the end, this can allow one to train hard and burn more calories and fat throughout their workouts.
Whey protein is considered one of the highest quality protein sources available and contains very little fat and carbs. Although whey isn’t typically classified as a fat-loss aid, lean protein sources such as whey can certainly go a long way in supporting your fat-loss goals. The main reason protein can support fat loss is because the thermic effect of digesting protein is much greater than that of carbs and fats. Thermic effect refers to the increase in energy expenditure above the normal metabolic rate that occurs when digesting food. In several research studies, subjects who included more protein in their diets burned more fat and calories throughout the day than those who included less protein in their diets. Most sources of dietary fat, and especially carbs, are easy to process and have little thermic effect. Increasing your protein intake and boosting your metabolism is easy; just try having one or two protein shakes a day between meals. A straight whey protein or a multi-sourced protein/whey blend are both great options.
White Kidney Bean Extract
White kidney bean (WKB) extract blocks the main carbohydrate-digesting enzyme, alpha-amylase, and thus reduces the digestion of carbs in the small intestine. Carbs that are not digested in the small intestine pass through the body before they can be absorbed. This has a dual impact on supporting weight loss. First off, it reduces the amount of total calories absorbed. Secondly, it reduces the negative impact carbs have on fat metabolism. Although WKB won’t really help those who follow a strict diet, it can help those who want to enjoy some extra carbs in the form of cheat meals and avoid the negative impact they might have.
White Willow Bark
White willow bark can be a decent supportive fat-loss ingredient and has the ability to increase levels of cAMP, which is a key secondary messenger involved in fat loss. White willow bark increases cAMP levels by blocking the production of prostaglandins outside the body’s cells. Through this mechanism, fat burning can be sustained for longer periods of time in the body.
Xanthan gum is an indigestible polysaccharide and is commonly used in commercial foods as a gluten-free ingredient that adds elasticity to foods and as a thickening agent. Xanthan gum actually swells up when it is in the intestine, and this contributes to developing a feeling of satiety much sooner. This contributes to less desire to eat more food and also curbs the appetite for fat-promoting carbohydrates. In addition, xanthan gum works to slow the absorption of sugar from the digestive tract. This means that insulin will not spike so high, and the body will be less likely to absorb, store, and convert carbohydrates into fat.
Yohimbe is a psychoactive plant that contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) alkaloid called yohimbine. It has gained popularity as an herbal aphrodisiac and fat loss supplement. In one study, 14 healthy males were given 0.2 mg/kg of yohimbine in a single dosage, and this resulted in an increase in plasma norepinephrine by a whopping 56 percent! Yohimbine works as an alpha-2 adrenoreceptor antagonist and blocks these receptor sites. This prevents a negative feedback mechanism that prevents norepinephrine release and fat burning. The unfortunate thing for us Canadians is that Yohimbe and yohimbine are both banned as natural health products and cannot be sold over the counter in Canada. This is primarily due to the unpleasant side effects that some users experience when using this ingredient.
Yerba mate is a popular plant in South America, where it mainly consumed as tea. It’s been shown to aid digestion by stimulating increased production of bile and other gastric acids, and it helps to keep the colon clean for effective and efficient waste elimination. Yerba mate has also been found to slow the digestion process and works to make the stomach stay full for longer periods of time. It also contains a natural amount of caffeine, 15 amino acids, and 24 other vitamins and minerals. All of these combine to make yerba mate a decent weight-loss aid when paired with exercise and a healthy diet.
Zingerone is a component found in ginger. Although there have been no human studies to date on its fat-burning properties, animal studies show that zingerone can increase norepinephrine-induced lipolysis associated with the translocation of hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) from the cytosol to lipid droplets in adipocytes. This is the same mechanism that raspberry ketone primarily works through. Look out for more research in the coming years on this ingredient.
Your Fat-Burning Ingredients, A to Z!
We’ve covered quite a few fat-fighting ingredients in this super feature. Some of these ingredients are really great, some average, and some new and unique! Stick to the most research-proven and safest ingredients to maximize your efforts to get ripped to the bone!
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