Nutrition & Health OnLine Magazine: Weight Loss Products: Which Ones Work Best?
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Weight Loss Products: Which Ones Work Best
By Bethany Roberts
Everyone is looking for the magic pill that will transform his or her body from a pile of mush to that of rock hard perfection. The reality is that no such pill exists. On the other hand there are natural ingredients that can help you to lose weight. The key is finding the right product and to do that you need to sift through all the BS and hype and look at the ingredients of each product.
Actually there has been quite a bit of research done on many of the ingredients in weight loss products. The following is a list of different ingredients found in the most popular weight loss products. Beside each one is an effectiveness rating (the more red stars the better) based upon the results of the available research.
MaHuang which is the herbal form of ephedra has received quite a bit of scrutiny from researchers. In studies it has been shown to be a potent thermogenic.1,2,3 Thermogenic or Thermogenesis refers to the production of energy from the burning of fat as fuel. Mahuang and Ephedra have been on the market for years in weight loss products and in many over-the-counter cold and asthma medications. Contrary to some recent press reports, MaHuang appears to be quite safe when taken at the recommended dosage. People using products with MaHuang usually report feeling an increase in energy and sometimes a decrease in appetite.
Guarana or Kola are herbal forms of Caffeine. Caffeine has also been shown in research to promote thermogenesis.4,5 Although somewhat milder in it's thermogenic effect, Caffeine is still useful when used properly. As with most stimulants when used everyday, Caffeine requires a higher and higher dosage to achieve the same effect. This explains why some habitual coffee drinkers are overweight. The way to effectively use Caffeine for weight loss is to limit its use to only workout days or use it for a couple of weeks then take a week off.
MaHuang, Guarana or Kola, and White Willow Combined is commonly referred to as the ECA (Ephedrine, Caffeine, Aspirin) stack. We just reviewed how MaHuang and the herbal forms of Caffeine are thermogenic on their own. When you combine these ingredients and add White Willow (herbal form of Aspirin) you get an even more potent thermogenic stack.6,7 This stack was even compared to the prescription drug Redux and found to be more effective.8 Anytime you can use a natural product instead of a prescription drug you a much better off and in this instance you can do so and achieve even greater results. It doesn't get any better than that. This combination of herbs is the most researched and probably the most effective of all the ingredients currently on the market.
Citrus Aurantium, Bitter Orange or Synephrine is a cousin to MaHuang and has been used as a subsitute in weight loss products since the Ephedra ban. While the research data is not near as detailed as that on MaHuang research studies have confirmed this ingredient to be a good thermogenic.
DHEA was quite popular for a while when research was publicized that showed that obese people lost significant weight while using it.9 The problem is the dosage used in most of the research studies where people lost appreciable weight was very high: 1600 mg a day. DHEA is androgenic and at such high levels can definitely produce some unwanted side effects like oily skin or hair loss. Still it seems to be fairly effective in some people at more reasonable dosages (50 mg to 200 mg a day). I know quite a few men who use it in conjunction with their weightlifting and feel it not only helps to reduce body fat but also increases their testosterone levels.
Ginseng is used in many of the weight loss products in an attempt to boost metabolism but there is no evidence that it helps increase thermogenesis. Ginseng does aid in improving performance so if you use it while training it may indirectly help you to lose weight by increasing the intensity of your workout.10 Overall, however, don't expect to lose much weight with Ginseng.
Chitosan is a relatively new product in the weight loss market. Chitosan is known as the natural "Fat Blocker". There is a least one decent research study that shows that Chitosan can prevent the absorption of fat in the intestines.11 Since Chitosan keeps less of the fat in your food from being absorbed it essentially helps you to eat a low fat diet. Alone, Chitosan seems to be fairly effective at aiding weight loss. A better way to use it is in conjunction with a thermogenic product so that you also burn more fat at the same time you have less going in your body. This combination has yielded some exceptional results.
Chromium Picolinate was one of the hottest weight loss supplements just a few years ago but lately the popularity has begun to fizzle. The craze began in the early 90's when several research studies were released that showed people who supplemented with Chromium Picolinate increased lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat percentage.12,13 There is quite a bit of research to support the use of Chromium Picolinate however do not expect to see rapid weight loss. This is probably why Chromium Picolinate is not as popular as it once was. Most people want fast results. Chromium Picolinate should be used long term in conjunction with a good low fat diet, exercise and some of the thermogenic weight loss products and it will help to produce positive results.
L-Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid that transports fatty acids from storage into the mitochondria where they can be burned for fuel. Research has shown that athletes who supplemented their diets with two grams a day of L-Carnitine increased the amount of fat they used for fuel while exercising.14 L-Carnitine will help with weight loss but you need to increase your body's need for fuel while using it and you can do so by either exercising or by using a product that also contains thermogenic ingredients.
HCA (Hydroxycitric Acid) is an extract from Garcinia Cambogia fruit. There is not a lot of research on HCA but what there is suggests that it may be able to block the conversion of carbohydrates to fat in the body.15 If this is the case then HCA may be beneficial to individuals who eat an extreme amount of calories. Most of the products that contain HCA also contain MaHuang and Guarana. The latter two ingredients are probably the reason people lose weight on these products with HCA contributing very little.
St. John's Wort is used in a lot of weight loss products. There is no direct evidence that St. John's Wort will help in weight loss but it may aid in several indirect ways. St. John's Wort has been shown to be a very effective anti-depressant by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. 16,17 A characteristic of people who suffer from depression is overeating. St. John's Wort may help elevate mood enough to prevent overeating. The other way St. John's Wort may help is even more indirect. Many of the thermogenic ingredients have a negative effect of increasing irritability. Many people who have reported positive weight loss benefits after using thermogenics have none the less quit using them because they became too irritable. When St. John's Wort is used with the thermogenic ingredients it tends to minimize the irritability and allows people to use certain effective products they otherwise would not use.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is another product that increases serotonin levels in the brain. There is quite a bit of research that shows that 5-HTP is excellent for depression and may also be useful for weight loss.18 The primary mechanism for weight loss is appetite control which serotonin levels play a part in. During research studies individuals using 5-HTP reported feeling a sense of fullness. In order to achieve similar results it is necessary to take 200-300 mg three times a day, which can be somewhat costly.
L-Phenylalanine is a non-essential amino acid that can act as an appetite suppressant.19 There is not a lot of documentation on this effect but the little that exists is encouraging. L-Phenylalanine probably works best for weight loss when it is combined with other ingredients that help control appetite and promote thermogenesis like MaHuang and Guarana.
Pyruvate has received a certain amount of attention lately as to whether it is useful for weight loss. There is an impressive amount of data that does show that is helps increase fat loss at certain dosages.20 The problem is the dosage used in research was quite high (up to 36 grams a day) and there is little evidence showing that it works very well at lower dosages. Unless you can afford to take a bottle a day of Pyruvate then save your money and use another product.
L-Tyrosine is another non-essential amino acid that has been showing up in a lot of weight loss products lately. The manufacturers are promoting L-Tyrosine as having the ability to increase the production of thyroid hormones. To date there is no research evidence that indicates that L-Tyrosine is directly effective in any way for weight loss. If the manufacturers' claims are correct and L-Tyrosine does increase the output of thyroid hormones then L-Tyrosine would be a terrible choice for losing weight. What the product manufacturers apparently fail to realize is that any overproduction of thyroid hormones will cause your body to lose muscle.21 Losing muscle is the worst thing you can do when losing weight because it causes your metabolism to slow and makes further weight loss extremely difficult. The best advice on L-Tyrosine is to steer clear.
After examining the ingredients it is much easier to make a determination about which product will work the best for weight loss. Listed below are many of the most popular products with an effectiveness rating based mainly on the ingredients that each contains. Since price is also a consideration, products with identical ingredients but with better prices received higher ratings. As before the greater the number of red stars the better the product for weight loss.
Ripped Fuel has been around on the market for years for a good reason; it works. Ripped Fuel contains many of the best ingredients for weight loss including MaHuang, Guarana, L-Carnitine and Chromium Picolinate. Ripped Fuel could be even better if it contained some White Willow to complete the ECA stack but you can always pop an aspirin when you take it. Overall, Ripped Fuel is an excellent product to use to lose some body fat and is reasonable priced.
Ripped Fast 2 is basically the same product as Ripped Fuel with one slight difference. The source for caffeine is different with Ripped Fast 2 using Kola instead of Guarana. Like Ripped Fuel it also contains MaHuang, L-Carnitine, and Chromium Picolinate. Ripped Fast 2 is another great choice for weight loss. There really should be very little difference between Ripped Fuel and Ripped Fast 2 but I have had people swear that one or the other works better.
Thermo Phen Phen is the most complete product because it contains the full themogenic stack in addition to other helpful ingredients. I have said it before and I will say it again, the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Thermo Phen Phen is the only product that effectively addresses both of these issues. With the full ECA stack to increase thermogenesis and ingredients like St. John's Wort and Phenylalanine to reduce appetite, Thermo Phen Phen is probably as close as you can get to the "magic pill" in a single product.
Diet Fuel is another solid weight loss product. It is very similar to Ripped Fuel since it also contains MaHuang, Guarana, and L-Carnitine. The biggest difference is that it also contains HCA under the name Citrimax. As we discussed above under ingredients, the research data on HCA is pretty weak for weight loss. Since the main active ingredients are the MaHuang, Guarana, and L-Carnitine and there are less of them per capsule than Ripped Fuel then Diet Fuel would probably not be my first choice. Some people, however, seem to achieve decent results from Diet Fuel although they would probably do just as good with Ripped Fuel or Ripped Fast 2.
Hydroxycut is basically just a more expensive version of Diet Fuel. It does contain White Willow which will intensify the effect of the MaHuang and the Guarana. Unfortunately there is less per capsule of MaHuang and Guarana so the lower active ingredients negate any increase in effect from the White Willow. If you are the type of person that believes the most expensive product is the best then Hydroxcut may be for you. If you are interested in finding the best weight loss product then look elsewhere.
Metabolife 356 contains a whopping 18 ingredients but only 3 of them have any evidence to support their use in a weight loss product. Metabolife 356 does contain MaHuang and Guarana but they do not tell how much you actually get. The dosage per capsule has to be pretty low in order to get in the 15 useless ingredients. The bottom line on Metabolife 356 is that it may help you to lose some weight but there are much better products available at better prices.
Xenedrine RFA-1 has a lot of advertising support making it appear that the product itself was used in research studies showing dramatic weight loss. If you read between the lines you see that it is not the product but a couple of the ingredients that were shown in research to promote weight loss. And what are these magic ingredients: MaHuang Guarana and White Willow. Sound familiar. The product would be ok if they had stopped with these three effective ingredients. Unfortunately that added L-Tyrosine in an attempt to boost the production of thyroid hormones. When they were looking for research to support the claims about their product they should have read the studies that show how too much thyroid hormones can cause the body to be catabolic and lose muscle. If you have plenty of muscle to burn go ahead and use Xenedrine RFA-1. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
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