Magic Pills for Weight Loss?

If you are like many Americans that are always on a ‘diet’ or hoping to lose the muffin-top, you may have tried many strategies and ‘potions’ that are on the market today. The weight loss market is a HUGE (no pun intended) industry and rife with all kinds of get-thin-quick scams and beautiful before and after photos and videos of successful losers. Don’t fall for the hype – you didn’t gain the weight overnight so why would it disappear as quickly? There are also a lot of weight loss supplements with proven claims of weight/fat loss – most are modest and usually funded by the supplement manufacturers.

Cutting carbs and processed foods, eating whole foods which have low sugar and high fiber (clean veggies, fruit and protein), good sleep, adequate exercise and a healthy mind are still the keys to a successful weight loss effort.

If all this sounds overwhelming, Iet’s focus on what we put into our mouths. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based ways to boost your weight loss regimen with key ingredients that are available in foods.

 

Berberine

As a pre-diabetic, berberine is part of my daily arsenal in the fight against rising blood sugar and insulin levels. This is technically not a food (I bet it doesn’t taste good) as berberine is an extract found in roots of plants like goldenseal (also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, a perennial herb in the buttercup family). It has been shown to be as effective as metformin (a diabetes drug) in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it has also been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. In this systematic review of studies conducted on the efficacy of berberine, its impact on decreasing lipid and glucose levels and modulating gut bacteria (it can eliminate H. pylori) demonstrated its use in obesity treatment and prevention.

Here are several to try that have been independently tested:

Green Tea (EGCG)

Green tea contains a class of catechins (called EGCG) which is the primary antioxidant and has been shown to reduce body weight in obese subjects by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. This study indicates EGCG’s mechanism of action is by increasing the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps you burn fat.

There are many green tea extracts on the market but I prefer to consume it in whole form – it’s delicious and you derive the same benefit. Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

 

Fiber

Did you know that consumption of dietary fiber is a key predictor of weight loss? This study done on 345 overweight participants showed that fiber intake was the most influential factor in promoting weight loss and dietary adherence.

It’s important to note that both soluble and insoluble fiber are essential:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material as it passes through your digestive tract so it reduces your body’s ability to absorb fat. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut to improve digestion while lowering inflammation. Good sources include: apples, beans, carrots, and oats. I personally like a form of fiber called inulin which is also considered a prebiotic. It’s available in powder form and I have it in my morning shake. This one come from the agave plant:

  • Insoluble fiber keeps the bowels moving, prevents constipation and can reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and other colorectal conditions. Good sources include: berries, nuts, vegetables (including cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, potatoes), and wheat bran.

Psyllium contains both soluble (80%) and insoluble (20%) fiber and can be used to supplement if you think you’re getting insufficient quantities from your whole foods diet. Here are two that have been independently tested to be free of lead, cadmium and other contaminants:

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is also a form of fiber and found in the roots of the elephant yam – it’s also known as konjac root. It becomes gel-like and absorbs water in your gut to promote a feeling of satiety. This randomized, controlled study conducted on 176 subjects demonstrated that glucomannan fiber added to a healthy diet promoted up to 10 pounds of weight loss over a five week period.

I actually don’t mind the zero taste of konjac root which is sold as shirataki – it comes in noodle and rice forms. It is a bit weird in texture (some describe it as rubbery) so I use the rice to add to soups and mix the noodles with regular spaghetti. Here are several to try:

Shirataki/konjac root is considered low carb, low calorie, gluten-free, Paleo and ketogenic – so if you’re interested in doing more with this miracle food, check out the recipes below:

https://miraclenoodle.com/blogs/recipes

 

Sulforaphane

Did you know that activating a protein called Nrf2 (sounds like nerf ball) in your body will not only increase fat burning but also turn on cells that generate antioxidants and assist with detoxification? And guess what – sulforaphane is a powerful Nrf2 activator. What is sulforaphane? It’s the active compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage that has anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and brain enhancing benefits. And the best part is that you can get them all through the foods you eat.

Broccoli sprouts are considered to have 25X more sulforaphanes than regular broccoli. If you want to supercharge your diet with broccoli sprouts, you can get them at your local store (in small containers) or if you are ambitious, grow your own.

For the green thumbs out there, here are options and instructions to grow your own

https://harpersnurseries.com/how-to-grow-broccoli-sprouts/

If you want to stick to regular broccoli, try steaming or lightly cooking them as it will increase the amount of sulforaphanes your body absorbs by up to 300 percent. And remember to buy fresh broccoli as frozen ones have little to no sulforaphanes left due to processing.

3 Natural Pain Therapies

In my previous blogs on pain, I covered some natural interventions for managing arthritis and back pain. With the current opioid crisis and prescribing guidelines tightened for pain medications, consumers are increasingly seeking alternative options for pain relief. This Journal of the American Medical Association editorial outlined the CDC guidelines recommending nonpharmacological interventions before any pharmacologic ones. So in this blog, I’ll cover some non-traditional evidence-based modalities for managing pain.

Mindfulness Meditation

Did you know that the mind can provide a pain-relief effect without engaging the opioid receptors in the brain? This study showed that similar brain areas are activated during both mindfulness meditation and use of pain-modulators like opioids. These findings also demonstrated that mindfulness meditation reduces pain independently of opioid neurotransmitter mechanisms. Although more rigorous research is recommended, this systematic review of 38 randomized clinical trials also shows that mindfulness meditation improves pain, depression symptoms and quality of life.

Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)

Have you heard of Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field therapy? It’s a form of energy wave therapy that penetrates into the body, particularly around damaged areas to stimulate repair. The PEMF energy amplifies the cellular energy in your body to stimulate healing and cell function – it increases blood flow and proper circulation to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Before you decide to dismiss PEMF because it has EMF and therefore must be harmful, it’s important to distinguish that PEMF energy waves are carefully designed to support health and healing in the body.

Does PEMF therapy work? This randomized control study showed that adding pulsed electromagnetic field to conventional physical therapy yielded superior clinical improvement in pain and functional ability in low back pain patients. PEMF is a safe therapy for most people with little to no negative side effects but is NOT recommended for those with pacemakers or other electrical implants.

This review showed that PEMF therapy is useful for the management of post-surgical pain and swelling in patients having plastic surgery without the harmful side effects. Any type of surgery is hard on the body so a non-invasive technique like PEMF therapy is a great option for natural, chemical-free pain relief and healing.

There are a myriad of PEMF devices in the market ranging from full-body mats and rings to smaller devices for specific areas. I own a small hand-held unit which I use when my carpal-tunnel wrist pain or localized back pain from over-exertion becomes annoying. Your naturopath or chiropractor’s office may also offer some full-body units but if you want to have your own, you can invest in a small device to start.  This is the unit I have – it’s portable so I also travel with it.

Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO)

Do you know what DMSO is? It’s a chemical that is actually a by-product of the paper making process. It has been used as an industrial solvent for almost 200 years and was discovered accidentally to also be an analgesic. DMSO has been popularized by Dr. Stanley Jacob who was evangelical about its use and treated a lot of professional athletes and pain patients. The buzz around DMSO was even showcased in an old 60 Minutes story. Also popular in veterinary medicine, it is widely used for muscle pain, osteoarthritis, chronic injuries and swelling.  Medical use of DMSO has been established in this study and is advocated as an adjunctive therapy. DMSO is available as a topical gel or cream and when applied to the skin, it is quickly absorbed into the deeper tissues to provide pain relief. It works as an antioxidant and scavenges free radicals that gather at the site of injury and reduces inflammation.

A word of caution on DMSO – it is a solvent that will cause anything on the skin to be absorbed, so make sure you apply to clean skin and not let it come in contact with anything your body should NOT absorb until it’s dried. Also, as it has sulfur, you may smell a bit like a garlic clove!

Here’s one I use for topical pain relief:

What To Do To Promote Healthy Weight Loss

In a previous blog on weight loss, I covered the importance of tamping down inflammation so your body loses its resistance to getting rid of that unwanted belly fat. In this blog, I’m highlighting some evidence-based tips on what to do to help you get off the rollercoaster ride of weight loss/weight gain.

Intermittent Fasting

There are no shortage of fad diets and recommendations on losing weight. And all of it looks like the plan for success on ‘paper’. But as you know, different diets work for different folks so most of it is trial and error (I’m speaking from years of experience!) Regardless of which eating plan you’re on to lose weight, intermittent fasting  (IF) is something one can do on ANY diet.  It’s simple and saves you time and money (who doesn’t want that?) So, what is intermittent fasting (IF)? It’s where you eat your meals within a short eating window (around 8-10 hours) and fast for the rest of the day. For example, if you have breakfast at 10am and finish dinner by 7pm and repeat the same schedule the next day, you’ll have fasted for 15 hours. Why is this so great?

  • When you fast, your glycogen stores and insulin levels will drop, which then forces your body to tap into the fat stores for energy.
  • Reducing insulin levels will decrease your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • It eliminates the late-night snacking habit which has been associated with weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

This systematic review of 27 IF trials showed weight loss of 1-13% of body weight without adverse events and has shown promise for the treatment of obesity.

There are some caveats to intermittent fasting – it will not be suitable for those who are pregnant, have eating disorders or athletes with frequent need for calories. So, make sure to check in with your clinician prior to starting IF. Also, it’s been shown that periodically breaking the fasting window with regular eating is a good habit if you would like to sustain this for the long term. For example, if you like to IF during the week, take a break on the weekend with a longer eating period.

Check out my earlier blog on Fasting as a Therapeutic Option for Weight Loss.

Sleep

Did you know that research has shown that sleep deprivation decreases metabolic rate and raises BMI in healthy adults? And since we are a sleep-deprived society with nearly a third of US adults getting less shut-eye than recommended, it’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. According to this study, the pathways linking sleep deprivation to weight gain are: increased food intake, decreased energy expenditure, and changes in level of appetite-regulating hormones to reduce leptin (which signals satiety) and elevate ghrelin (which signals hunger).

So, if you want to boost weight loss, aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep to keep your metabolic rate functioning at its peak.

Strength Training

Did you know that inactive adults lose 3-8% of muscle mass every decade which results in a lower metabolic rate and higher fat storage? It’s important to keep our muscle mass as we age so that we can keep our metabolic rate up to prevent fat accumulation (in all the wrong places). Since muscle is metabolically more active than fat, having more means it burns more calories.

According to this study, 10 weeks of strength training can increase resting metabolic rate by 7% and also assist in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing visceral fat, reducing HbA1c, and improving insulin sensitivity.

So, if you only have 30 minutes to workout, pick a strength training exercise that will also get your heart pumping. Here’s a 20-minute total body strength workout to try:

What to incorporate into your diet

Whether you’re doing a Mediterranean, low carb, vegan/vegetarian or Paleo diet, here are some foods you can incorporate to your eating plan to keep the metabolic rate humming.

Caffeine

If you are a fan of coffee, raise your mug to toast the wonders of caffeine in promoting weight loss:

  • Not only does it taste good, but this systematic review of 13 randomized clinical trials showed that caffeine intake was effective in reducing weight, BMI and fat mass.  
  • The caffeine in coffee stimulates the nervous system to stimulate lipolysis (fat burning) and energy expenditure.
  • Do you know why sports drinks are often loaded with caffeine? Because it’s been shown to reduce fatigue AND increase exercise performance by up to 12%. 

Make sure you don’t imbibe too much or too close to bedtime as it may interfere with your shut-eye (thereby defeating the purpose of using caffeine as a weight-loss promoter).

Capsaicin

Could these spicy compounds found in chili peppers be the answer to obesity? Evidence suggests that the capsaicinoids (compound in chili peppers) offset the impact of calorie restriction by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation, while preventing the increase in hunger and decrease in satiety. These effects remove the resistance to fat loss during a weight loss program and facilitate the maintenance of the new ‘setpoint’ after weight loss has been achieved. So sprinkle that hot sauce liberally onto your foods!

Green Tea

Green tea contains some caffeine (not as much as coffee) but the real powerhouse in this drink are the catechin polyphenols (antioxidants) known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which has been shown to boost metabolism. Indeed, research has shown that EGCG extract increases fat oxidation and 24-hour energy expenditure due to its thermogenic properties.

Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

Protein

The satiating power of protein has been well established in numerous research studies. This study showed that an increase of 15-30% of protein with a constant carbohydrate intake produced a sustained increase in leptin sensitivity (to suppress appetite) resulting in significant weight loss. You can get protein from a variety of sources regardless of your diet. If you are vegan/vegetarian, try the following seven foods for maximum protein:

  • Edamame and lentils (18 grams/cup)
  • Pinto beans and chickpeas (15 grams/cup)
  • Mung beans (14 grams/cup)
  • Fava beans (13 grams/cup)
  • Lima beans (12 grams/cup)

Water

Did you know that drinking water can increase your metabolic rate and help you eat less?

  • Studies done on both lean and overweight subjects showed that water consumption half an hour prior to mealtime reduced their calorie intake during the meal.
  • In this study conducted on overweight children, drinking cold water increased resting energy expenditure by up to 25%. 

So make sure you are getting plenty of CLEAN water in your diet. Even with tap water, it is ideal to filter prior to drinking. Here are some options:

  • Countertop: You want the largest pitcher so you are not constantly filling it.

  • Whole house: If you want clean water throughout the house, you may want to invest in a whole house filtration system. The tap water where I live is not that clean so this is what I put in which is good for 600,000 gallons and easy to maintain with simple filter changes every 3-6 months.

  • If you want to remove just about everything for drinking, you can invest in a reverse-osmosis system which you can install under your kitchen sink. Here is what I have.