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Friday, August 29, 2014

Don’t Expect any Miracles: The Hyperbolic Allure of Weight Loss Supplements

There is no magic pill
I could hear the noise down the hall and dread overcame me. As she walked into my office, she plopped down a giant tote bag and I heard what I jokingly call the death rattle: A massive supplement stock which, no doubt, she wanted me to go through during our initial consultation.

Hyperbolic promises underlie the weight-loss supplement industry. You know the claims: Swallow these capsules and lose 10 pounds in three days. Gain massive muscle with this nutrient cocktail.

And we buy those claims with their often-useless products.

I’m not judging. I’ve done it too. Even intelligent people and healthcare professionals occasionally fall sway to some Dr. Oz
-endorsed weight loss pill or that new “miracle supplement” that will melt away the pounds while helping you have the most orgasmic sex of your life. Uh, huh.

Supplement shopping can become confusing, and chances are like my client desperate to ditch 20 pounds, you’ve amassed a giant stockpile of capsules, tablets, powders, and other nutrient concoctions in your bathroom or kitchen cabinet.

I’ll break the news to you gently. No magic pill for fat loss or muscle building or sex drive or any other health claim exists. If it does, you can bet everyone in the nutrition and fitness world would be buzzing about it. We’re not.

Here’s what I told this client and numerous others about weight loss supplements. If you eat terribly and don’t exercise, you can swallow all the pills in the world and be unimpressed.

If you’re eating a clean diet, doing the right workouts, sleeping well, controlling stress levels, and doing everything else to meet your goals, maybe, just maybe, a few supplements can nudge the scales a little in your favor.

Why Professional Quality Matters
I’ve never met a Lululemon sample sale I didn’t love, and you’ll occasionally find me at Nordstrom Rack. I love a good bargain, but I never skimp on inexpensive supplements.

You know how you’re at the grocery store and you’re ready to buy Tide when you suddenly see a cheaper laundry detergent for half the price? You quickly learn why: It takes twice as much to do the job, and even then it doesn’t perform as well as Tide.

Supplements work very much the same way. I know the deals sometimes sound enticing. I recently found an online store that sold CoQ10 – a very pricy supplement – for less than half what I pay wholesale for my professional brand.

But CoQ10 absorbs very poorly. Professional brands develop high-tech delivery systems so you absorb more of this valuable nutrient. With inferior brands, you’re lucky to absorb even a few percent of that CoQ10. In the bigger picture, which is the better value?

Inferior nutrient forms, fillers, binders, preservatives, and other additives are among the things you’ll often find in mega-warehouse and chain store supplements. I wrote a blog about why you should only buy professional-brand supplements, and that goes double for weight loss supplements. One quick look at your local store will reveal a lot of shady stuff.

I’m not totally anti-commercial supplements, but why take that risk? If I sell you a Thorne supplement and you use it diligently, you expect results within a certain time, right? I stand by what I sell, because professional-quality supplements have a reputation to uphold.

So look for a bargain at your local TJ Maxx. With supplements, you get what you pay for.

“Does this Work?” My Most Asked-About Supplements

We’re clear that you’re not going to expect miracles, and you will only buy professional-brand supplements, right?
My client easily had 50 supplements in that bag, and I couldn’t evaluate them all. These are the ones I looked at because they’re most popular for weight loss.
My recommendations combine science with my decades-long experience working with clients. I don’t get paid to endorse anything. I do it because I believe in that supplement, peer-reviewed research validates it, and my clients get results using it.
I’m going to let you into a dirty little supplement-industry secret. Manufacturers actually fund studies that validate particular supplements.
Recently I researched Garcinia cambogia and found many “science based” studies – legit studies published in PubMed – came funded by specific manufacturers. Not surprisingly, these manufacturer-funded studies always yielded positive results. Gee, you think?
Be wary – very wary – even if a manufacturer offers copious evidence about a supplement’s efficacy. Do your homework and be smart here.
Rattling through my client’s bag, these are the top supplements that I classified as no (don’t work), maybe (possibly could work), or yes (I’ve seen great results when clients take these diligently).
What Doesn’t Work
·       Green coffee bean extract – “I ditched my last five pounds supplementing with green coffee bean extract,” said no client ever. Avoid this overhyped, under-studied supplement.
·       Garcinia cambogiadespite endorsements from Dr. Oz and a smattering of studies showing maybe, just maybe, you could burn a little fat, I’m not buying Garcinia cambogia and neither should you.
·       Raspberry ketones – sorry, a few mice studies validating that it can possibly burn fat don’t get me excited. Now, combined with other nutrients like green tea extract, you might get a minor nudge on the scales.
·       “Miracle,” celebrity-endorsed weight loss supplements – I know I’m painting a broad picture here, because some of these weight-loss combo pills – cleverly called “stacking” – do have nutrients I use and recommend for weight loss. But they’re usually in such tiny amounts, of such poor quality, and so overpriced that I can safely say anything endorsed by Paris Hilton or whoever the celebrity de jour is a big waste of money.
What May Work
·       Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – some studies do show this fatty acid, available in full-fat dairy and beef, can help people burn more fat. You’ll need to get the right amount – about 3.2 grams, or five softgels – to get any benefits, and even then, I haven’t seen miracles.
·       Vanadium – a trace mineral that can help balance blood sugar and normalize insulin levels that I frequently recommend for people with Type 2 diabetes.
·       Chromium – another trace mineral studies show can help you become more insulin sensitive. Better blood sugar control can help you lose weight and reduce your risk for insulin resistance and diabetes, but I would never recommend vanadium or chromium for fat loss alone.
·       Starch blockers – these became all the rage during the early-2000s low-carb frenzy. “You mean I can eat pizza and stay in ketosis!?” a friend excitedly asked me. Well, maybe. Some of the research was done by Phase 2, which manufacturers this white kidney bean extract. Like Alli, an FDA-approved fat blocker, those carbs have got to go somewhere. They don’t just disappear. If you really, really want to go the extra mile and indulge in carbs, starch blockers might provide a little extra insurance, but I wouldn’t expect much.
What Does Work
·       Caffeine – my drug of choice pre-heavy lifting is an organic dark roast. Nothing gets me moving quite like coffee, and its thermogenic (fat-burning) and ergogenic benefits are well known. Interestingly, I don’t see those effects when people use caffeine supplements. There’s something about coffee that adds a punch. And I mean really, do you need another excuse to get your Starbucks fix?
·       Green tea – we aren’t sure whether the epigallocatechin gallate  (ECGC), caffeine, or its combined effect does the legwork, but green tea can give you a mild thermogenic boost. Even if it doesn't, you get a ton of other benefits drinking green tea.
·       Coleus Forskohlii – Ayurvedic medicine uses this plant for a wide range of benefits including reducing inflammation and inflammatory problems like asthma. One study also found it could help overweight and obese men lose weight and increase testosterone, which should be a win-win in any guy’s book.
·       Yomhibe bark extract – this herb stimulates blood flow to the extremities (including down there) while increasing vigor and stamina. Great before a kick-ass workout. Heads up that overloading on yohimbe can increase blood pressure and send your heart racing, so if you have hypertension or heart problems, steer clear of this supplement.
·       L-carnitine – the late, great Robert Crayhon wrote a book called The Carnitine Miracle. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but especially if you’re deficient in this nutrient, supplementing can help transport fatty acids into the mitochondria, which burn fat for fuel. You’ll need to take several grams in divided doses – say, before breakfast and lunch – to get those results. Look for the tartrate form and be aware it’s pricy.
·       Fiber – like caffeine, fiber is a tried-and-true, inexpensive supplement that hands down works for fat loss by steadying blood sugar levels, reducing stomach emptying, and curbing your appetite so you eat less. As my friend JJ Virgin says, it also gives you poops to be proud of. You’re probably not getting enough in your diet, so consider that it helps you lose weight as a huge incentive to increase fiber intake.
·       Probiotic – good gut health is the foundation of staying lean and healthy. The microbiome, or second genome that houses gut flora, is a fascinating emerging field for weight loss and disease prevention.
·       Prebiotic – inulin and other prebiotics are food for your probiotics, or healthy gut flora, so feed them well. Some high-quality fiber supplements contain prebiotics, and fiber itself can help feed your gut flora.

I could write a whole book about what does or doesn’t work, yet I’ve focused on more popular supplements here. What would you add to this list about what does, doesn’t, or maybe works? Share your thoughts on my Facebook fan page.
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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