Americans are obsessed with losing weight and becoming thinner versions of their former selves. Yet 54% of adults are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). In addition, obesity is considered an epidemic by some experts. According to the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, "The obesity epidemic spread rapidly during the 1990's across all states, regions and demographic groups in the United States. Obesity (defined as being over 30% above ideal body weight) in the population increased from 12% in 1991 to almost 18% in 1998." While not strictly a female problem, women at an average height of 63.7 inches weighed in at an average of 152 pounds according to NCHS estimates. And since women are more likely than men to buy supplements, weight loss is an exploding area.
Other than the pharmaceutical approach-and the logical method of watching your diet and exercising-there are several nutraceutical approaches to weight loss. Some are age-old while others are just coming into their own. Unfortunately, the category is not one of more credible segment of the industry. This is not to say that the products do not work but that more research needs to be done because product efficacy is questioned constantly. What follows is a look at the current news and research findings on chromium picolinate, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and chitosan as well as other up and coming weight loss aids. Not included are the more controversial ephedra-containing weight loss aids.
Chromium Picolinate. Chromium picolinate and weight loss has been a very hot subject in the nutraceuticals market. There is a body of evidence supporting chromium's effect on body composition; however, recently not as much is being done. According to one chromium supplier, "There are many double-blind, placebo-controlled studies that show that chromium picolinate can reduce fat mass, increase lean body mass and lower body weight. However, there are also several reports that fail to replicate these findings." Outcomes of chromium trials run the gamut from negative to positive results.
Currently the focus for chromium is shifting away from body composition and toward chromium's effects on diabetes, cholesterol and triglycerides and its antioxidant properties. New research areas, according to one supplier, focus on using chromium picolinate as an aid to reversing chronic depression, prevention of bone loss in post-menopausal women and in Syndrome X, an emerging disorder characterized by decreased sensitivity to your own insulin.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). One weight loss ingredient that is beginning to receive considerable attention is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Found mostly in beef and dairy products, CLA has been in the spotlight for body weight management and supplementation appears promising, particularly due to today's farming methods. According to Ann Louise Gittleman, author of Eat Fat, Lose Weight, "Unfortunately, today's cattle are fed an amalgam of chemically altered grain-based feeds rather than their traditional grass feed." As a result, she said, CLA is in short supply in its once natural resources and must be made up in supplement form to compensate for deficiency in the human diet.
In studies CLA has been shown to favorably affect body composition, resulting in relative or absolute increase in lean body mass (LBM), while proportionally decreasing total body fat. According to research literature provided by supplier Natural Inc., Vernon Hills, IL, one specific human study using CLA resulted in a reduction of body fat and body circumference. More recently, a study conducted in Norway in which subjects were given three grams of CLA for 90 days resulted in a 20% decrease in body fat percentage with no change in body weight. In addition, lean muscle was enhanced by 5%.
Moreover, CLA is also known as an antioxidant. In fact, it was through further study into its anticarcinogenic capabilities that CLA's weight loss properties were also discovered, according to Ms. Gittleman. She explained in her book, "It has been proven to support tissue growth and prevent the loss of muscle mass that often accompanies advancing cancers." CLA is still being examined further for its potential as an antioxidant and anticarcinogen.
Lastly, said Ms. Gittleman, CLA has also been investigated for its positive effects on serum cholesterol levels. "Research subjects treated with healthy doses of CLA experienced a reduction of harmful LDL levels without reduction in healthy HDL levels," she said. The cholesterol indication is currently being studied further in ongoing trials.
Although it was at first marketed as a weight loss ingredient, the focus of CLA research is currently shifting to body weight management, according to suppliers. Tom Jerrel, vice president, DCV BioNutritionals, Wilmington, DE, said, "I believe that the shift comes as a direct result of CLA being misplaced in the market as a weight loss ingredient." Bill Froese, marketing director, Pharmanutrients, Lake Bluff, IL, agreed, "CLA is more for weight management than for weight loss. It was thought to be a great diet product but current research has shown that CLA can shift the body mass index and convert fat to lean muscle."
Chitosan. A lesser known weight loss ingredient is chitosan, which also suffers from a dearth of strong clinical science so far. Besides weight loss and cholesterol, chitosan is being studied from many angles, including blood glucose management, cardiovascular health, bone health and immune function.
Interestingly, according to a research overview compiled by Pharmanutrients, "Despite an abundance of scientific research into chitosan, its properties and ability to bind bile salts and lipids, the specific mechanism(s) by which chitosan accomplishes such binding is still uncertain." The research overview also stated, "Chitosan is natural, has minimal side effects and has always been a good weight loss product for those reasons." Although there continues to be speculation about chitosan's additional health benefits, no human studies have been published in the past year. Indeed, human research on chitosan is scant and the two most recent studies did not support its efficacy in the areas of weight loss and cholesterol-lowering.
Up And Coming Weight Loss Aids
In the "ingredients to watch" arena, pyruvate and garcinia cambogia might be considered up and coming weight loss ingredients. On the brink of becoming mainstream, these two ingredients still lack the science and research to prove their efficacy in the area of weight loss. Nonetheless, they are considered to have enormous potential.
According to discovernutrition.com, weight reduction with pyruvate usage is achieved by increasing the membrane potential of the mitochondria and stimulating cellular respiration. Two potential mechanisms by which pyruvate enhances fat and weight loss are through increasing metabolism and fat utilization. Further, because it is a naturally occurring substance in the body, it has no side effects and can potentially lower harmful cholesterol, protect lean muscle tissue, increase endurance and stops fat from forming.
According to a recent article in Prevention magazine, most of the research testing pyruvate's ability to aid weight loss comes from Dr. Ronald Stanko of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who claims that pyruvate is backed by more than 25 years of research. In a previous human study Dr. Stanko concluded, "Dietary modification whereby the three-carbon compound pyruvate is isoenergetically substituted for the six-carbon compound glucose in a 4.25-MJ/d, low-energy diet will increase fat and weight loss." And in another study of 37 subjects either receiving pyruvate or a placebo of polyglucose, Dr. Stanko concluded, "Subsequent to diet-induced reduction in plasma lipid concentrations, pyruvate supplementation of a low-cholesterol, low-fat diet providing 6.7-7.6 MJ/d for 6 wk has no effect on plasma lipid concentrations but enhances body weight and fat losses."
Two recent studies published in Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology (November 1999) and the Journal of Molecular Cell Cardiology (October 1999) also claim that pyruvate contains antioxidative properties.
Garcinia cambogia, which is a plant native to India that contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA) in high concentrations, is known by reputation as a weight loss product. Garcinia can be the sole ingredient or one of many in weight loss supplements. To date there have only been few studies conducted on the plant and the active component, HCA. Its potential as a weight loss ingredient, according to a recent article in Prevention, seemed to be less impressive when compared to other weight loss products and the human studies that have been conducted with the herb have found no effect on weight or fat loss and no correlation between high doses of HCA and increased calorie burning; the only studies that have found weight or fat loss results have been conducted in rats.