In 2015 obesity rates included more that 25% of the Canadian adult population. This rate is on the rise as with the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer, all of which are associated with obesity (1). Although many individuals turn to exercise to kick start their weight loss program,
diet plays the biggest role in shedding those excess pounds.
Limiting caloric intake and focusing on whole unprocessed foods such as vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats and whole grains is the number one treatment for obesity. Dietary changes account for up to 80% of weight loss success while physical activity accounts for 20% and mostly as a means to keep those extra pounds at bay.
Phases of Weight loss
When it comes to weight loss, there are two main phases.
The first phase is appropriately called the "weight loss phase" which lasts 6-8 weeks and sometimes up to 6 months. During this phase 5-10% of your starting body weight is lost which may not be enough to meet your personal weight goal but even a 10% body weight loss can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
The second phase is termed "maintenance phase" and should last a lifetime. This is when lifestyle changes such as portion control, a balanced whole food diet and regular exercise should be integrated into daily routine. Once diet and lifestyles changes have been optimised, supplements may be used to help support weight loss. Although there is no miracle pill that exists for weight loss (herbs and supplements included, sorry) some research has shown some benefit in using supplements with caloric restriction.
Green tea, Capsaicin, Ginger
A recent study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism June 2017, tested a combination supplement of green tea extract, capsaicin and, ginger for weight loss. In the study, fifty overweight women were divided into two groups; one receiving the supplement combination twice a day and the other receiving placebo for 8 weeks. They noticed a statistically significant difference in weight loss between the 2 groups, with the test group loosing roughly 2 kg more weight than the control group. They also noted improved glucose tolerance and increased glutathione levels (2). The latter is important as it is a strong antioxidant and may play a role in cancer prevention.
Previous studies have also tested these herbs individually with mixed results. Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Made from a type of leaf called Camellia sinensis, green tea contains caffeine and catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which are thought to have thermogenic effects in the body favouring weight and body fat loss. Numerous studies have been completed to test green tea’s effects on weight loss and in 2014 a meta-analysis of 154 randomised controlled trials was published. It concluded a slight reduction in mean fat mass of 0.76% between the group receiving green tea and the control group after 12 weeks but overall there was no significant difference in weight loss between both groups (3). This raises the question of the role of capsaicin and ginger as beneficial herbs for weight loss since the research for green tea doesn’t support its use.
Capsaicin is an active ingredient in plants belonging to the Capsicum genus, such as chili peppers. It interacts with sensory neurons creating a burning sensation when it comes in contact with mucous membranes. As such, its culinary use is to add spice or “heat” to recipes. Some people may even experience pleasure and euphoria from ingesting it due to the release of endorphins when sensory receptors are activated. Due to its thermogenic effect on the body and possible stimulation of fat metabolism, it has been studied as a supplement for weight loss. One study employed a calorie restricted diet for 4 weeks, i.e. the first phase of weight loss, then half of the women supplemented with capsaicin for the last 8 weeks. At the end of the trial, there was no difference in amount of weight regained between the two groups although fat oxidation was sustained in the group taking capsaicin (4). Another trial also looked at body fat changes with capsaicin supplementation and noted a similar result (5). Overall, capsaicin may support weight maintenance after a low calorie diet but more well-designed clinical trials are needed to confirm these results.
Ginger, aka Zingiber officinale, is beneficial for numerous health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, rosacea, vertigo as well as nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It may also help regulate blood glucose which is beneficial in obesity. Last year, a study looked at the effect of ginger on metabolic and clinical features of obesity in women. The trial lasted 12 weeks during which time the treatment group received ginger powder daily and the control group received corn starch. The study noted a statistically significant decrease in body mass index (BMI), serum insulin and glucose sensitivity in the women taking ginger powder. Overall, the researchers concluded that ginger may have a minor beneficial effect on weight loss and some metabolic features of obesity, such as blood sugar dysregulation, but given so few trials on ginger for weight loss these results are not definitive (6).
It seems green tea and capsaicin may be beneficial in supporting fat metabolism which could help maintain weight loss and ginger may also add the benefit of glucose regulation. This may explain the 2 kg difference in weight loss as well as improved glucose tolerance when supplementing all 3 herbs together. As with most nutritional supplements, their effects may be synergistic if used together and less effective when used individually. Furthermore, these herbs may be beneficial if used as part of a complete weight loss treatment program including dietary as well as lifestyle changes. Contact me to get started on your individualised weight loss plan!
Canadian Obesity Network-Réseau canadien en obésité. Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment for Adults in Canada 2017. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Obesity Network Inc.; 2017, April.
Taghizadeh, M. Farzin, N. Taheri, S. (2017). The Effect of Dietary Supplements Containing Green Tea, Capsaicin and Ginger Extracts on Weight Loss and Metabolic Profiles in Overweight Women: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 70(4): 277-285
Baladia, E. Basulto, J. Manera, M. (2014). Effect of green tea or green tea extract consumption on body weight and body composition; systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Hosp, 29(3): 479-90
Lejeune, M. Kovacs, E. Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2003). Effect of capsaicin on substrate oxidation and weight maintenance after modest body-weight loss in human subjects. British J of Nutrition, 90(3): 651-59
Belza, A. Frandsen, E. Kondrup, J. (2007). Body fat loss achieved by stimulation of thermogenesis by a combination of bioactive food ingredients: a placebo-controlled, double-blind 8-week intervention in obese subjects. International J of Obesity: J of the Int Ass for the study of Obesity, 31(1): 121-30
Attari, V. E. Ostadrahimi, A. Jafarabadi, M. A. (2016). Changes of serum adipocytokines and body weight following Zingiber officinale supplementation in obese women: a RCT. Euro J of Nutrition, 55(6): 2129-36