Photo of Rhodiola by Chris Kilham

In conjunction with regular exercise and a wise diet, the following three herbs can assist in the achievement of healthy weight goals.

Herbs for Weight Loss

A large percentage of the American population is overweight, and many people sincerely wish to be slimmer. Fat is a national obsession, and marketers of everything from breakfast cereal to carbonated beverages to books want a piece of the overweight pie. The struggle to achieve or maintain a desired weight is fraught with fad diets, crash diets, diet pills of every description, and ten thousand contradictory recommendations. And while there is no magic bullet, no single product which can bust away all body fat, herbal supplements can help. In conjunction with regular exercise and a wise diet, the following herbs can assist in the achievement of healthy weight goals.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Also known as golden root or arctic root, rhodiola contains several compounds which researchers believe imbue the plant with special health promoting powers. The compounds rosavin, rosin, rosarin and salidroside each appear to be biologically active. Of these agents, rosavin especially appears to assist the body in shedding unwanted fat.

As you may know, body fat gets stored in adipose tissue. Once fat is stored in this tissue, it is hard to get rid of. That’s why some people just can’t seem to get rid of certain fatty spots, including “love handles” or a fatty “tire” around the abdomen. The body does possess an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase that is capable of breaking down fat stored in adipose tissue. But this enzyme is not especially active. This is where rhodiola rosea comes in. Extracts of rhodiola rosea have the capacity to activate hormone-sensitive lipase, thus increasing the breakdown of fat stored in adipose tissue.

Apparently, the compound rosavin specifically contributes to fat breakdown. And when an extract of rhodiola rosea is taken in conjunction with moderate exercise, fatty tissue breakdown increases. In human clinical studies, administration of rhodiola rosea extract, in combination with moderate exercise, produced significant weight loss. The moral of this story? Extracts of rhodiola rosea, standardized to a specific level of rosavin, in combination with regular exercise, can accelerate weight loss. The best way to use Rhodiola? Buy capsules containing a standardized extract of 3% rosavins. Take 200 – 600 milligrams per day.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

The novel-free amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine, has been identified in tiny quantities in the common spice fenugreek seed, for over a decade. But 4-hydroxyisoleucine was never concentrated into a commercially available product, due to difficulties of manufacture. More recently, this technology barrier has been broken, and standardized 4-hydroxyisoleucine extracts are now available on a commercial scale. Thus you will now see this ingredient making its way to market in various diet formulas.

Several studies show that the free amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine plays a valuable role in insulin-promotion and glucose regulation. 4-hydroxyisoleucine stimulates insulin secretion, thereby limiting the extent to which blood glucose (the glycemic index) is elevated. Elevated blood glucose after meals leads to increased production of body fat. 4 hydroxyisoleucine promotes insulin secretion and inhibits the rise of blood glucose, thus helping to reduce body fat production. 4 -hydroxyisoleucine exhibits a specific effect on the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. These cells are directly responsible for insulin production.

Most significantly, the effect of 4-hydroxyisoleucine is glucose dependent. The higher the level of blood glucose, the greater the insulin-promoting response elicited by 4 hydroxyisoleucine. Thus 4-hydroxyisoleucine exhibits a significant regulating effect, which corresponds with the insulin needs of the body at any given time. This makes this compound “adaptogenic,” responding to the particular needs of the body at any given time.

Fenugreek has a long history of folk use throughout Asia and the Middle East as an anti-diabetic, to soothe stomach ulcers, to eliminate catarrh in the upper respiratory tract, to promote lactation, and as a poultice for treating various skin conditions. Much science on fenugreek has focused on the cholesterol-lowering, blood lipid-lowering and anti-diabetic activities of the seed. These activities appear directly linked to the presence of soluble fibers, most notably galactomannans. The galactomannans have additionally been shown to possess fat-sequestering properties, thereby binding directly to dietary fat and reducing its absorption into the body. Furthermore, anti-diabetic properties of fenugreek seed are linked to the presence of a novel free amino acid, 4 hydroxyisoleucine.

In addition, 4-hydroxyisoleucine prove a significant insulin-promoting material of benefit to anyone who desires to regulate blood glucose. In non insulin-dependent diabetics, standardized 4-hydroxyisoleucine extracts can help to maintain a stable glucose level. Additionally, 4-hydroxyisoleucine is of use to those who wish to reduce weight gain, and for athletes whose insulin demands typically exceed those of non-athletes.

The best way to use fenugreek? Drink a cup of fenugreek tea after each meal. Try Alvita's Fenugreek Seed Tea or Gaia Herb's Fenugreek Extract.

Yerba Mate’ (Ilex paraguariensis)

The leaves of this plant contain both caffeine and theobromine, two methylxanthines which boost metabolism. Originating from South America, Yerba Mate’ is a tree cultivated in Paraguay, Brazil and northern Argentina. The leaves of Yerba Mate’ are made into a tonic and stimulating beverage, due to the presence of both caffeine and theobromine. Decoction of Yerba Mate’ is drunk both hot and cold, to alleviate fatigue, suppress appetite, stimulate body and mind, and boost metabolism.

Current science on Yerba Mate’ shows that a decoction of the leaves enhances bile flow and speeds intestinal transit time. Yerba Mate’ also demonstrates 5-lipoxygenase inhibitory activity, thereby making the herb of use in some cases of mild to moderate asthma.

Analytical studies show that dried Yerba Mate’ naturally contains approximately 0.56% caffeine.  Yet some standardized extracts contain 2% caffeine, approximately four times the caffeine of dried Yerba Mate’. Most significant is the theobromine value of concentrated extracts. Like caffeine, theobromine is a central nervous system stimulant alkaloid, though it is appreciably weaker than caffeine. But theobromine is a stronger cardiac stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant, and diuretic. While dried Yerba Mate’ naturally contains approximately 0.03% theobromine, some extracts on the market today contain .2% theobromine. This six-fold increase in theobromine gives concentrated extracts of YerbaMate’ enhanced metabolic, diuretic, and appetite-suppressing properties. Yerba Mate’ and concentrated extracts of this plant are for those who wish to suppress appetite, boost metabolism and achieve a leaner body.

The best way to use Yerba mate? Drink a cup of yerba mate prior to each meal. Guayaki makes an excellent, certified organic classic Yerba Mate Tea, or try their delicious Chai Spice Yerba Mate. Another Yerba mate brand we really like is Mate Factor. Try their Organic Yerba Mate Loose Herb Tea Fresh Green.

Seven Strategies That Can Help

Remember that there is no free ride in the weight loss game. There is no pizza and ice cream diet with a slender ending. And there is no single botanical or other agent that can make accumulated pounds magically disappear. Just as weight gain takes time, real weight loss is slow and steady, a couple of pounds per week. But in a few months, you can have a distinctly less plump, more pleasing body, if that is your goal. The above herbs can help to get you there.

While calorie regulation remains the primary means of controlling weight, seven other strategies can help greatly. These means of weight control can be achieved using natural plant-based substances, from various herbal teas to concentrated supplements.

No single approach to weight control works perfectly. Rather, maintaining proper weight is the result of lifestyle. The seven aspects of weight control here fit into a healthy lifestyle, and are easy to establish as regular daily habits.

            1. Thermogenesis (calorie burning)
            2. Diuresis (shedding water weight)
            3. Appetite suppression (calorie restriction)
            4. Satiety (inducing fullness)
            5. Fat sequestration (fat blocking)
            6. Carbohydrate inhibition (starch blocking)
            7. Glucose modification (reducing fat production)

These strategies for weight control are not theoretical. Currently, a substantial body of science supports each one. To date nobody has attempted to address all seven in a coordinated manner. Yet doing so will unquestionably result in superior weight maintenance, in conjunction with a healthy diet and moderate exercise.

September 2010