Healthy Hormones
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The Best Natural Treatments for Weight Loss

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​A visit to a health food store can be overwhelming when you are looking for something to help you lose weight.

How do you know what works and what doesn't?  What is safe and what is potentially dangerous?

In this article, I will discuss some of the most popular weight loss supplements and show what can be effective and what probably isn't.

I will also discuss some nutrient supplements that can be beneficial for weight loss and even some ​food options that can help you drop some weight.

​Here we go...

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Identify the Root Causes of Your Weight Gain First

If you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I follow a functional medicine approach when looking at medical issues.

What is functional medicine?  Dr. Mark Hyman, the president of the Institute of Functional Medicine, defines it this way:

"Functional medicine seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms."

In the case of this article, it is important that you identify the root causes of your weight gain.  Do you have a hormonal imbalance, are you too sedentary, are you eating the standard American diet, are you stressed out, etc?

I discuss many of these potential root causes in this article.

Every person is different and every person will have different root causes that they need to address in order to lose weight.

If you are simply looking for a pill or supplement that will cause you to lose weight but allows you to continue to live the way you have been living, you will be terribly disappointed.  

Even if you lose weight after taking a supplement, if you don't change the behavior or address the hormonal issues that caused you to gain weight in the first place, the weight will just return.

These supplements or foods are only a single tool in your tool shed.  You must attack each component of your root causes in order to have long term success in your weight loss journey.

Use Only High Quality Supplements

Please also keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal.  Since there is minimal regulation over the supplement market, a lot of it is garbage.

That is why I always recommend only purchasing supplements that are produced by companies that follow the same current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) that are required of the pharmaceutical companies.

You can no doubt get a supplement for a cheaper price from an unknown brand, but you just can't guarantee its quality.  

At the very least, look for certification labels from the following companies on the bottles before purchasing them - US Pharmocopeia, NSF International, and ConsumerLab.com are the most common certification companies.

If you notice, most of the supplements that I recommend are from some of the most well known companies that I know follow strict production standards.  These include Pure Encapsulations, Ortho Molecular Products, NeuroScience, Integrative Therapeutics, and a few others.

It is not worth risking your health in order to save a little money.

The Best Natural Treatments for Weight Loss

So let's dive into some natural supplements that may help you on your weight loss journey.  Many popular weight loss supplements are not listed here.  Instead, I have focused only on the ones that I have experience using or that I feel have a least some preliminary studies to back up their claims.

None of the supplements or foods listed will receive high scores.  None should be taken for the sole purpose of weight loss.  However, many have other benefits such as reducing insulin resistance, reducing systemic inflammation, etc.  They can therefore be an important addition to your goal of improved health. The weight loss benefits that occur from each can potentially be additive to diet, exercise, stress management, and other components of your weight loss plan.

Berberine

How does it work?  Berberine helps with weight loss by decreasing insulin resistance, increasing mitochondria in muscle cells, and increasing the brown fat (good fat) in our bodies.  Studies show that it is as effective as metformin in lowering blood glucose.

How do you take it?  1,000-2,000mg per day with food for about 3 months.  May be taken longer if weight loss continues.  Make sure you take it at least 4 hours apart from your thyroid medication if you are hypothyroid.  

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential Side Effects - Minimal.  It may cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach.

Effectiveness -  Extremely effective at lowering insulin resistance which will ultimately help with weight loss.  May lose up to 4% of body weight in 12 weeks.

Who Should Consider Taking It? - Patients with insulin resistance who also need to lose weight.

Score - 5/10 for weight loss.  Excellent for reducing insulin resistance.

CLA

How does it work?  Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a group of fats.  This supplement can help with weight loss by increasing metabolism, reducing the production of fat cells, reducing inflammation, increasing insulin sensitivity, and suppressing the appetite.

How do you take it?  4,000mg daily for at least 12 weeks.

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential Side Effects - Generally mild nausea or diarrhea that is self-limited

Effectiveness - Up to 4% of your body weight in 12 weeks.

Who Should Consider Using it?  Anyone that needs a boost in their weight loss plan.

Score - 5/10

Curcumin

How does it work?  Curcumin is the chemical compound found in the spice turmeric.  Curcumin helps with weight loss by reducing inflammation, increasing thermogenesis, reducing blood sugar, and reducing depression symptoms.

How do you take it?  Use the spice tumeric in your foods as much as tolerated.  As a supplement, take 250-500mg 3 times daily.

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended supplement brand here.

Potential Side Effects - Minimal

Effectiveness - Mildly effective for weight loss.  Used primarily as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Who Should Consider Taking it?  Those with high levels of inflammation who also want to lose some weight.

Score - 3/10 for weight loss.  Excellent for reducing inflammation.

Dietary Fiber

How does it work?  Fiber increases the sensation of fullness after a meal and reduces subsequent hunger.  

How do you take it?  Try to eat about 30gm of fiber per day (most people eat less than half that).  When making a conscious effort to increase your fiber intake, you may have to increase it slowly to avoid side effects.  

Where do you get it?  The best form of fiber is from whole foods such as green vegetables, oats, flax seeds, and some legumes.

Potential side effects - Gas, bloating, abdominal cramps

Effectiveness - Moderately effective at reducing appetite

Who should consider using it?  A good fiber intake is important with just about any weight loss program.

Score - 3/10

Probiotics

How does it work?  Probiotics may inhibit the absorption of dietary fat.

Probiotics also seem to increase the release of GLP-1, which is our satiety hormone.  They also increase the levels of ANGPLT4 which reduces fat storage.

Probiotics also reduce the level of gut inflammation, which has been associated with obesity.

One study showed a reduction in food cravings, depression symptoms, and improved self image in participants who took probiotic supplements.

Studies have also shown effectiveness in treating inflammatory bowel disease with high dose probiotics.

How do you take it?  The more bacterial species the better, and higher the CFU count the better.  Most come in either packets or capsules.

Where do you get it?  Get one of my recommended brands here. 

Potential side effects -  Nausea, bloating, loose stools.  Typically well tolerated.

Effectiveness -  Decent when combined with a whole food diet and exercise program.

Who should consider using it?  Anyone that has been on the standard American diet that wants to lose weight and improve gut health.  May be helpful if you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohns disease.

Score -  3/10 for weight loss, but important for gut health.

Green Coffee Beans

How does it work?  Green coffee contains caffeine and chlorogenic acid.  Caffeine can increase metabolism by up to 3-11%.  Chlorogenic acid reduces the absorption of carbohydrates in the intestines.

How do you take it?  1 capsule 30 minutes before each meal

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential side effects - anxiety, jitteriness, palpitations, diarrhea

Effectiveness -  Mixed in studies, but average weight loss was 6-7 pounds

Who should consider using it?  Anyone that needs a slight boost in weight loss that is not sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Score - 3/10

Alpha Lipoic Acid

How does it work?  ALA is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.  It works by reducing inflammation, reducing insulin resistance, and increasing mitochondria.

How do you take it?  600-1200mg daily

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential Side Effects -  Minimal

Effectiveness - Average of 3 pounds in 12 weeks.

Who Should Consider Taking It? - Those with high levels of inflammation - autoimmunity, arthritis, etc. Works best when paired with berberine.

Score - 2/10 for weight loss.  Excellent for reducing inflammation.

Vitamin D

How does it work?  Vitamin D reduces the production and storage of fat cells.  It also increases the levels of serotonin and testosterone, both of which can result in weight loss.

A recent study showed that vitamin D supplementation combined with a weight loss program significantly improved insulin sensitivity.

How do you take it? Regular daily sunlight is always the best way of increasing your vitamin D level. Vitamin D3 is the preferred supplement form, especially when taken with vitamin K2.  Blood levels should be monitored with your goal of having the 25-OH-vitamin D level between 50-80 mg/dl.  Most people do well taking 5000u daily.  

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential side effects -  Minimal as long as levels are in the therapeutic range.

Effectiveness -  Up to 7 pounds.  It also seems to help prevent gaining weight.

Who should consider using it?  Everyone should monitor their vitamin D levels and supplement as needed, especially those with little sunlight exposure.

Score - 2/10 for weight loss, but important for overall health.

Garcinia Cambogia

How does it work?  Garcinia contains hydroxycitric acid, which may reduce appetite and increase fat burning.  It may also reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

How do you take it? 1 capsule twice daily before meals.

Where do you get it?  The best brand can be found here.

Potential side effects - liver toxicity

Effectiveness -  3 pounds more weight loss than patients on placebo in studies.

Who should consider using it?  Someone who needs a boost in weight loss, especially if you have elevated cholesterol and insulin resistance.

Score - 2/10

Chromium Picolinate

chromium

How does it work?  Chromium is an essential mineral which helps regulate the metabolism of macromolecules in the body.  It appears to be involved in the insulin signalling pathways.

Studies show that people with type II diabetes have 20-40% less blood chromium levels than normal healthy people.

A study also showed that prolonged use of chromium picolinate could result in the production of hydroxyl radicals which could potentially damage DNA.  Therefore, supplementation should only be done for short periods.

How do you take it?  500-1000mcg per day for 3-6 months.  Do not take long term.

Where do you get it?  Get my recommended brand here.

Potential Side Effects - nausea, headache, rash, dizziness

Effectiveness - 2.2 pounds in 24 weeks in one study.  No weight loss in another study.

Who should consider using it?  Someone with insulin resistance, cholesterol issues, neuropathy, depression, or who suffers from food cravings.  Might be a reasonable add on for someone that also needs help with one of these other conditions.  Should not be used purely for weight loss in my opinion.

Score - 1/10

Summary

There are many supplements and foods that can help reduce weight in motivated people.  None are exceptionally effective, but most can be used safely and effectively as a component of a comprehensive weight loss program.

As with any condition, it is important to identify the root issues that may have caused the weight gain so that you can address them directly.

It is always important to buy a high quality supplement from a company that follows strict production standards.

Many of the supplements listed in this article also have benefits in other issues such as inflammation and insulin resistance, which should be the primary reason for using them.

Now it's your turn...

Have you ever tried any of these supplements for weight loss?  

If so, what worked?  What didn't work?

Leave your questions and comments below.

About the Author Dr. Jeff Whelchel

Dr. Whelchel is a family physician who specializes in functional medicine, especially hormone optimization. He has over 20 years experience in private practice managing patients with various medical issues. His passion is helping patients reach their full potential of wellness and quality of life. He grew up in the Texas Panhandle where he currently lives. He is married and has 3 awesome children.

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1 comment
Terry Jones says April 2, 2018

I am insulin resistant and very over weight. Can a person take a few of these supplements together?

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