I am frequently asked for advice about losing weight. There are many herbal weight loss products on the market, most of which are designed to speed up the metabolism and burn energy faster, containing herbs such as guarana and ginseng, or possibly even caffeine. Guarana and ginseng are generally safe herbs that have a gently stimulating effect and are preferable to caffeine. They may help you to feel more energetic and inclined to exercise. If these products are well designed, of good quality and used in combination with diet and exercise, they can help but it is often a short term solution as far as weight loss is concerned, and they are not suitable for everyone. Their stimulating effects may be aggravating to conditions such as heart arrythmias or an overactive thyroid and they are not recommended while breastfeeding.
Some natural supplements, such as acai berry, are popular and have much anecdotal evidence (i.e. people have said it worked for them) but there is little research yet to back up claims or to explain mechanism of action.
An alternative approach is to focus on detoxification, through the use of liver herbs and colon cleansers. Milk thistle is a popular herbal remedy that acts on the liver. It is a liver cleanser, but also it encourages the regrowth of healthy liver cells. One of the liver’s many tasks is to cleanse the blood of toxins. If toxins remain in the blood the body may bind them up in fat cells to protect the vital organs from damage. This makes it difficult to lose weight or may be a reason for putting weight back on after losing it, as the fat cells are needed to store the toxins that are not being removed. Other liver cleansing herbs include dandelion root and globe artichoke.
Detoxifying herbs often have a bitter taste. This taste activates a nerve reflex that stimulates digestive processes such as peristalsis (the wave of muscle contraction that keeps food and waste moving through the digestive tract at a healthy speed). Bitter herbs can help to relieve constipation and this is an important factor in detoxification. They also encourage the release of digestive enzymes and bile that are needed for proper digestion of nutrients and breakdown of fats. Liquorice is a bitter herb with a laxative effect. It is good for people with adrenal exhaustion as it is an adrenal tonic but if taken in excess it can cause sodium retention, which leads to fluid retention, so it is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, unless taken in the form deglycyrrhized liquorice or DGL, which does not have this side effect. Senna is popularly used as a laxative or colon cleansing herb and is particularly helpful for those with stubborn constipation, but it can be quite strong acting and in some people may cause griping. It is best used in a short term detox course to avoid the bowels becoming dependent on it. Another bitter herb used in colon cleansing is aloe vera, which is also healing to the tissues lining the digestive system and can help relieve acid reflux (heartburn).
Probiotics, our friendly gut bacteria, help to keep bowels healthy and enable us to get the most nutrients from our food, to keep the metabolism working at its best. When buying probiotics check that the label says they are guaranteed to survive stomach acid. The probiotics in yogurt and yogurt drinks do not always survive past the stomach, although the yogurt does help to create the right environment in the gut to encourage the growth of your own bacteria. Probiotics are included in some colon cleanse products.
These different approaches may be combined together for best effect, alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is important to be frequently active throughout the day. This does not have to be high intensity exercise, but frequent gentle activity and avoiding extended periods of sitting can help to stabilize blood sugar and keep the muscles burning fat. If you have a sedentary occupation, even pacing around the room when you have the opportunity can make a difference.