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Fat Burners or Witchcraft?

The Editors

With nearly two-thirds of Canadian adults being overweight or obese, the business of fat loss is booming. This is clearly evident by the rows of fat-burning and weight-loss products on shelves of stores and pages of websites.

Among the lifestyle factors affecting weight loss, where do fat-burning products fit in? Which ingredients are helpful and which aren’t worth a second thought? Reading the ingredient lists of these products can be overwhelming and intimidating, to say the least, as they’re seemingly written in a foreign language. To fully address the efficacy of these ingredients, it helps to understand more about fat and some commonly used ingredients.

Getting Behind The Science of Fat-Loss Ingredients 

Fat cells are accumulated during childhood and adolescence, meaning they grow in number. Beyond that age range, it’s far less common for new fat cells to be generated. Weight gain at this point results in hypertrophy of the fat cells, where they grow in size. The term “fat loss” might be a little misleading as the cells are never truly eradicated from the body, unless you get liposuction. Rather, the contents of the cells are purged so the cell shrinks in size. Additionally, fat cells are completely different from muscle cells, so the notion of turning fat into muscle (or vice versa) is simply impossible.

Typically, women store fat in their lower bodies, specifically their hips and thighs, whereas men store it in the abdominal region. These storage patterns are largely due to hormone profiles as estrogen directs fat to the thighs and testosterone causes fat to settle at the waistline.

Knowing that two receptors are present advances your ability to select fat-burning products based on what their ingredients have been shown to target. Some items, such as yohimbine, are known to attack the alpha-2 receptors, which may be the biggest uphill battle for those looking to improve their physiques.

Popular Fat-Loss Supplements

When it comes to fat-loss supplements, four different methods are employed, each with its own benefit and impact on success.

Improve blood flow. It’s been noted that areas of stubborn fat often have poor blood flow. Because of the lack of blood flow, nutrients assisting with fat loss are less able to reach these cells. While supplements lack the ability to target your trouble spots, an increase in overall blood flow could prove advantageous.

Suppress appetite. When looking to lose weight, hunger is inevitable. Calories are lowered and energy output is increased, which is going to spark hunger. Hunger is your body’s cue that it’s time to eat to provide fuel for your physical demands. Often, hunger is the culprit for people falling off track. Having the ability to suppress this physiological warning bell can increase success rates when dieting.

Boost metabolism or thermogenesis. Metabolism refers to the chemical reactions used in your body to maintain cell life. It includes the breakdown of nutrients for fuel, as well as the processing and delivery of compounds to the cells. Dieting—either crash diets or prolonged diets—can result in a slower metabolism, making it more difficult to lose weight over time. Thermogenesis is the production of heat in the body through exercise, diet, or non-exercise methods. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for basic daily functions such as sleep, sitting, standing, and eating, whereas exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) refers to the energy generated when performing physically demanding activities. Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) is the energy produced by the body when digesting food. Whole foods that require chewing spark a greater DIT response than simple, easily digested foods such as protein shakes.

Increase energy and mental focus. While these two factors don’t affect fat cells directly, they can be an added bonus when you’re low on energy and debating your evening workout. Let’s be honest, after a couple months of calorie restriction, your energy isn’t what it used to be. Many fat burners include an energy booster to help you maximize your workouts to burn a higher rate of calories.

Impact nutrient absorption. If the body is unable to absorb all of the nutrients consumed, the full caloric impact doesn’t influence the body. The unused nutrients are expelled from the body with other waste products rather than being put to use, or stored, in the body.

What's A Proprietary Blend?

This is a unique blend of ingredients for a company or manufacturer’s specific formula. The FDA requires all ingredients to be listed on a product label, including the amount of each. However, in proprietary blends, the specific doses of each ingredient doesn’t need to be detailed. In these cases, buyers need to be aware that the exact amount of each ingredient is unknown. If you’re sensitive to an item listed in a proprietary blend, you may want to play it safe and steer clear of the product altogether.

In these cases, sourcing single ingredients that can address your specific demands is a great option. Many vitamin companies carry single-herb supplements or metabolites. The trick is to know which ones are worth your time and money, and which ones you can skim over. This may be easier said than done when the products have names you can’t pronounce and all promise stellar results. We’ve rounded up eight fat-burning products to help take the guesswork out of it for you.

Yohimbe/Yohimbine. The bark of the yohimbe tree, an evergreen tree in parts of Africa, contains a chemical called yohimbine that is regarded for its variety of uses. Used to treat diabetic nerve pain, sexual problems, and athletic performance, this extract has also become a weight-loss supplement. Specifically, the chemical increases blood flow and adrenaline levels in the body of the user. Yohimbine is almost unique in the fact that it works on the alpha-2 receptors on fat cells, something very few other fat burners do. Due to the presence of alpha-2 receptors in stubborn fat stores, yohimbine may seem like the perfect solution. However, be advised that it comes with a handful of side effects including drops in blood pressure, raising anxiety levels (especially in those prone to anxiety issues), insomnia, and rapid heart rate due to the stimulatory effects.

Forskolin. Another plant-derived supplement, forskolin is made from the root of a mint plant native to Thailand and India. While the plant has been used for traditional medicinal purposes such as lung and heart health, it wasn’t until 2014 that it was considered to be a weight-loss supplement, thanks to Dr. Oz. A potential added bonus to this supplement is the claim of boosting testosterone, which can help build lean muscle mass. As a fat-burning supplement, forskolin doesn’t appear to influence any of the five approaches, but it appears to stimulate the release of stored fat from fat cells. This effect alone doesn’t lead to weight loss, but accompanied with a strict diet and training plan, forskolin appears to help.

Chitosan. This is a compound obtained from the hard outer shells of crustaceans such as crab, lobster, and shrimp. This compound, a sugar, has been used to treat complications from kidney failure such as high cholesterol, anemia, and insomnia. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it has also been used in oral health applications such as on the gums to prevent and treat gingivitis, and even to prevent cavities. It has emerged as a weight-loss product due to its ability to bind to fats in the GI tract and diminish the rate of nutrient absorption. A word of warning for anyone with allergies to shellfish: Avoiding products containing this compound may be your safest bet. While it’s extracted from the shell, not the meat, there’s still a risk of an allergic reaction occurring.

White Bean Extract. Legumes are high in a wide array of nutrients including iron, potassium, selenium, folate, and fibre. Additionally, they contain a high amount of an isoform of the enzyme alpha-amylase, which is known to prevent carbohydrate digestion. When the action of this enzyme is limited, fewer carbs are converted to sugar, which could be stored in fat cells. These products are often referred to as starch or carb blockers, resulting in less nutrient absorption. While it may seem counterproductive, this supplement is most efficacious when taken with carbohydrates.

Devil’s Horsewhip. This plant, also known as prickly chaff flower, can be found throughout southern Europe, Australia, and East Asia. It’s extremely helpful as the entire plant has been found to have numerous uses, from the root, root juices, and the seeds. The plant has been widely used for medicinal purposes including fever reduction, alleviating coughs and asthma symptoms, and treating stomach complaints. As a weight-loss tool, it has been found to suppress appetite by helping the body feel full—a very welcome feeling for anyone who has dieted.

Fucoxanthin. Also known as seaweed extract, fucoxanthin is a pigment found in brown seaweed. Weight loss is the primary use of this carotenoid, but effects aren’t quick to occur. In fact, it has been reported that consistent use over an average of three months is needed before any effects may be noticed. Over this time frame, fucoxanthin builds up in fat cells, where it inhibits the cell from proliferating. An additional note: It appears that consuming dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of fucoxanthin to occur. User warning: Be conscious of the amount of iodine present in the supplement. While iodine can be beneficial for thyroid function, a high intake can be toxic.

Meratrim. Meratrim is a slightly different compound on this list as it’s a test-tube creation. Specifically, it’s the combination of two plant extracts: Sphaeranthus indicus, a flower, and Garcinia mangostana, a tropical fruit. Individually, both extracts have been linked to weight loss by improving the metabolism of fat cells, helping you burn them more efficiently. While the method of fat burning is rather unclear for Meratrim, an increase in the hormone adiponectin may be the impacting factor. This hormone plays a role in fat burning and regulating blood sugar levels, whereby an increase could boost the rate of fat being burned.

7-Keto DHEA. DHEA, an endogenous steroid hormone found naturally in humans, produces 7-Keto through metabolism. 7-Keto is believed to burn fat by improving thermogenesis, resting metabolism, and oxidizing fat for energy. This checks a lot of boxes off the “methods of fat burning” list. Because DHEA is a steroid hormone, prolonged use could result in adverse effects in females, such as acne and hair loss. However, as 7-Keto doesn’t get converted into sex hormones, it doesn’t appear to cause any of the same effects. A bonus of 7-Keto is the fact that it is a patented ingredient, which was developed over a span of 20 years. The implication for users is that whichever supplement brand you purchase, the 7-Keto quantity and quality must be the same and comes from the same manufacturer.

Try To Reach Your Fat-Loss Goals Safely

With any herbal supplement, you need to be aware of potential side effects. The fact that these items are derived from plants doesn’t inherently make them safe for use. As with any medication, people may react differently to these substances, especially at higher or prolonged dosages. If you’re unsure of an ingredient on a label, do some research to ensure it can help you reach your goal.

In the process of weight loss, many people look for shortcuts or ways to speed up their results. Fat burners and weight-loss supplements aren’t magic pills. They’re simply another factor you can add to your arsenal in the battle, along with your nutrition and training plans. Consider these items as the icing on the (protein) cake.

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