5 Herbs to Promote Weight Loss

One of the most important things you can do to lose weight is develop and maintain a muscle-building and metabolism-boosting exercise routine. The other is to eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on whole foods (which, of course, must provide fewer calories than you are burning in the course of your daily activities).

But diet and exercise sometimes need a little help. Want to give yourself a healthy dose of energy to help you stick to your exercise routine? Increase your metabolic rate? Reduce stress? Curb your appetite? A number of herbs are available that can speed up your weight loss efforts, usually without any unwanted side effects. Here are five which studies and real life experience have proven to be particularly useful.

Hoodia

In 1937, a Dutch anthropologist studying the San tribe of the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa reported that the tribespeople relied on the herb hoodia to suppress hunger and thirst when making long treks across the desert. In today's climate of obesity producing diets, low exercise lifestyles, and heavy emphasis on physical appearance, this one claim alone would probably be enough to garner hoodia a certain amount of attention as a weight loss supplement. But it's more than just a claim.

For starters, the San tribe really does use hoodia for appetite and thirst suppression, and it appears to work for them. Many decades later, journalist Leslie Stahl travelled to the Kalahari as part of a 60 Minutes segment, and reported that after eating a few bites of the raw plant (which she described as "cucumbery ... but not bad"), she felt no hunger or thirst until the next day. All of her crew members who sampled it with her reported similar results. None of them developed any adverse reactions or side effects.

A number of clinical trials have substantiated these claims. Animals given hoodia have consistently lost weight in trials dating back to 1963. South African scientists have isolated what they believe to be the active ingredient, a steroidal glycoside they dubbed P57. Of the 13 types of hoodia, only hoodia gordonii is known to contain P57. In recent years, hoodia has become better known, and its popularity as a weight loss supplement has soared. Just remember that hoodia is best used in the context of an overall weight loss regimen consisting of healthy eating and regular exercise. Avoid metabolism-lowering crash diets, and make sure you're eating sufficient calories and drinking at least eight glasses of water a day even if you're not feeling hungry or thirsty.

Guggul

A popular Ayurvedic herb, guggul is the resin of the mukul myrrh tree. Guggul is a traditional Ayurvedic treatment for many ailments. Aside from its role as a weight loss remedy, gugul is known to be beneficial for arthritis, metabolic disorders, and inflammation. More recently, it has also been used to lower cholesterol levels.

While gugul weight loss research is still in the beginning stages, guggul derivatives, with an emphasis on the steroid guggulsterone, significantly outperformed the placebo in several clinical trials. Researchers believe the ability of guggulsterone to stimulate the thyroid is the key to its usefulness as a weight loss supplement. Guggul extracts should contain 5-10% guggulsterone extract to be effective. The recommended dosage is 2.25 grams twice a day. Guggul should not be taken if you are pregnant or on thyroid medication.

Green Tea

Green Tea is best known for its antioxidant properties, but more recently it has gained a reputation as an excellent fat-burning herb as well. Several recent studies published in peer reviewed medical and nutrition journals have shown that green tea and green tea extract consumption lower both body fat and cholesterol. The ingredients most responsible for these results are caffeine and most especially compounds known as catechins. Catechins are a type of antioxidant that appears to speed up the metabolism and stimulate fat burning activity.

One recent study compared participants receiving green tea extract, caffeine pills, and a placebo over a period of three days. The participants in the green tea group burned 5% more calories than the placebo group and 3.2% more than the group receiving only caffeine.

Researchers believe green tea may have fat-burning abilities that surpass its direct metabolic effect. EEG, another compound found in green tea, appears to trigger thermogenesiss (fat burning) by stimulating nervous system activity so that the body draws energy from fat cells before depleting glucose reserves.

Garcinia

Derived from a small Indian fruit that resembles a miniature pumpkin, garcinia extract has recently become popular as a weight loss supplement. The active ingredient in the extract is hydroxycitric acid (HCA). Advocates claim HCA stimulates thermogenesis and suppresses appetite. Research on animal subjects appears to substantiate these claims, as extensive animal studies have shown garcinia diminishes appetite and food intake sufficiently to reduce body fat.

Human garcinia trials have generated mixed results. Several reputable studies have shown participants receiving garcinia extract with a standardized amount of HCA losing up to three times as much weight as the group receiving a placebo over a 12 week period. But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed no statistically significant difference between the group receiving garcinia and the control group. It's been speculated that the high fiber diet consumed by the participants of this study interfered with the absorption of HCA, but more research is clearly needed. In the meantime, the bulk of the scientific evidence as well as plenty of anecdotal reports are still in favor of garcinia's usefulness as a weight loss supplement.

While healthy adults generally report no adverse side effects from taking garcinia supplements, scientists recommend that children, pregnant or lactating women, diabetics, and people suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia avoid taking this herb.

Siberian Ginseng

As with green tea, Siberian ginseng traditionally was (and still is) taken for purposes other than weight loss. The most immediate benefit of Siberian ginseng for weight loss purposes is its ability to stabilize blood sugar, which in turn reduces the body's desire for foods high in simple sugars. This makes Siberian ginseng particularly helpful for dieters with carbohydrate cravings.

In the past, Siberian ginseng supplements have primarily been used by athletes and others seeking increased energy and greater stamina. What is the obvious benefit of more energy and stamina? Higher levels of physical activity, of course. It means you will be able to exercise more often and for longer. If you are having trouble motivating yourself to begin a vigorous exercise program, Siberian ginseng appears to be the herb for you! Not only will it increase your energy levels, but it reduces stress and anxiety, making it the perfect supplement to help you get in the habit of working out while controlling your appetite.