In my last post, I addressed the lifestyle changes that help to gently shift metabolism to a healthier state, which naturally results in achieving optimal weight. Excess weight is often a multi-faceted issue—not surprisingly, the best results are gained with a comprehensive approach. As I stated in my last post, I am not an advocate of a restrictive diet. Instead, I’ve found that providing the body with the nutrients it needs (including botanicals that enhance healthy metabolic function), in conjunction with a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle, results in almost effortless loss of surplus pounds.
Excess weight is not simply a problem of eating too much or exercising too little. Our bodies have finely tuned mechanisms for maintaining weight within an optimal range. However, these systems can go awry if they are derailed by excessive dieting, food restrictions (eliminating carbohydrates or fats), or hormonal imbalances (caused by menopause, aging, sleep deficits, or stress).
In addition to a healthful balanced diet and lifestyle designed for optimal weight (see my last post), I recommend botanicals that target six specific areas that work synergistically for helping to achieve optimal weight. These include:
1) Adaptogens: cellular energy enhancement; stress protection (i.e. ashwagandha, eleuthero, Panax ginseng, rhodiola)
2) Thermogenics: metabolism enhancement (i.e. black pepper, cayenne pepper, fucoxanthin, green tea, Panax ginseng)
3) Anabolics: anabolic hormone sensitizers (i.e. ajuga, cordyceps, rhaponticum, Panax ginseng)
4) Thyroid-trophic: thyroid support (i.e. ashwagandha, coleus forskohlii, rhodiola)
5) Insulin-trophic: insulin and leptin sensitizers (i.e. bitter melon, green coffee bean, fenugreek, Panax ginseng)
6) Nervous system support: enhance neurotransmitters involved in weight management and appetite control (i.e. green tea, rhodiola)
At the most fundamental level, weight management is the process of bringing the body into a more harmonious state and encompasses all aspects of health.
Adaptogens: Foundational Support for Weight Management
At the core of the ETMS philosophy is the use of adaptogens to help normalize and optimize endocrine and neuroendocrine functions. In addition, adaptogens enhance cellular energy efficiency. When used long-term, adaptogens assist in reducing the dysfunction of obesity-promoting hormones such as insulin and leptin by maintaining a healthy state of allostasis and endocrine response. One of the pronounced benefits adaptogenic remedies have in relation to weight loss is protecting against stress-induced endocrine alterations that cause metabolic shifts involved in weight gain.
While diet and physical activity have traditionally been the primary focus for preventing and treating obesity, other mechanisms are now being considered in the quest for understanding obesity. An often-overlooked factor in the obesity equation is the effect of stress. During times of stress (physical or mental), the body and brain require increased amounts of fuel. Research is just beginning to unravel the relationship of stress and obesity, including the question of whether stress is the cause of excess weight, or the result.1 Whatever the answer may turn out to be (and both may be true), managing stress with lifestyle adjustments and specific stress protective botanicals provides the support needed for the hormonal balance that encourages optimal weight.
Adaptogens provide support in the following ways:
- Reduce the negative effects of prolonged stress, maintaining optimal neuroendocrine response during stress, as well as the reestablishment of optimal allostasis.
- Increase cell capacity to manufacture and use fuel economically by activating the enzyme glycokinase during the build up of the cell fuel glucose-6-phosphate.
- Help cells build “energy factories” by activating certain “workers,” including mRNA (messenger) and tRNA (transcription).
- Ensure anabolic metabolism, particularly during and after stress, and combat the catabolic effects that occur as we age. Adaptogens also increase glucose, fat and protein efficiency.
- Act as redox/antioxidants, improving oxygen utilization and the reduction of free radical damage, thereby protecting the cell membrane—the protective enclosure that regulates transportation of nutrients and waste products into and out of the cell.
- Support immune system responsiveness, thereby reducing the frequency of illnesses and shortening recovery time.
- Assist in reproductive hormone balance, enhancing sexual energy and helping with a healthy change of life—menopause and andropause.
- Adaptogens with enhanced anabolic actions also contribute to efficient cellular metabolism. Adaptogens support memory and concentration, enhancing mitochondrial energy transfer by improving:
- glucose and insulin signaling, sensitivity, utilization and disposal;
- fatty acid utilization, while reducing fatty acid oxidation (inhibiting LDL oxidation);
- oxygen utilization, while reducing and quenching oxidative waste. Phase II liver detoxification in particular requires large amounts of ATP.
Botanicals For Supporting Optimal Weight
In addition to the foundational support of adaptogens, the following botanicals are some of my favorites for naturally achieving and maintaining optimal weight.
- Green Coffee Bean Extract
Green coffee beans contain an array of polyphenols with potent protective properties that help reduce free radical damage in the body. Green coffee bean extract (GCE) is rich in chlorogenic acids that have been shown to influence glucose and fat metabolism. Research indicates that GCE is an effective nutraceutical for reducing weight in preobese adults, and can prevent obesity in overweight adults.2-3
In addition, GCE has demonstrated a remarkable ability to lower blood pressure in animal and human studies. CGA is a precursor to the formation of ferulic acid, which acts on nitric oxide (NO) derived from the vascular endothelium, thereby inducing vaso-relaxation.4
- Coleus Forskohlii (Coleus forskohlii)
Coleus forskohlii’s primary active constituent, forskohlin, is proven to increase cellular levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP is a vital cell-regulating compound that plays an indispensable role in diverse cellular functions, including several important tasks related to weight management.5-6
Increased cAMP levels promote the breakdown of fat (lipolysis) to be used as energy. Another mechanism relevant to the weight loss effects of forskohlin involves its thyroid stimulating action, comparable in strength to thyrotropin or TSH. This action may contribute to the increase in metabolic rate and thermogenesis associated with its use.
Forskohlin is also involved in the regulation of insulin secretion, an important hormone that regulates the metabolism of major macronutrients, i.e. carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Lastly, forskohlin may help to elevate mood, which can decrease food cravings related to stress, depression and anxiety.
Along with its ability to increase lean muscle mass and maintain healthy body composition, forskohlin is indicated in conditions such as eczema, asthma, psoriasis, cardiovascular disorders, and hypertension, where decreased intracellular cAMP levels are implicated. cAMP has been shown to reduce inflammation, encourage bronchodilation, reduce blood pressure, inhibit glaucoma, induce positive inotropic action in the heart, and reduce platelet aggregation.
- Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis)
Green tea extract (GTE) supports healthy body composition via several mechanisms.7-9 Clinical studies have shown that it activates thermogenesis and increases metabolic rate and fat oxidation. In addition, the catechin polyphenols interfere with carbohydrate absorption by inhibiting several digestive enzymes, including alpha-amylase and pancreatic lipase.
Increased thermogenesis generated by green tea is generally attributed to its caffeine content. However, studies show that GTE stimulates brown adipose tissue thermogenesis to an extent which is much greater than can be attributed to its caffeine content alone, and that the thermogenic properties could be the result of an interaction between its high content of catechin-polyphenols and caffeine with sympathetically released noradrenaline (NA).
Since catechin-polyphenols are known to be capable of inhibiting catechol-O-methyl-transferase (the enzyme that degrades NA) and caffeine to inhibit trans-cellular phosphodiesterases (enzymes that break down NA-induced cAMP), it is proposed that the GTE, via its catechin-polyphenols and caffeine, is effective in stimulating thermogenesis by relieving inhibition at different control points along the NA – cAMP axis. Such a synergistic interaction between catechin-polyphenols and caffeine to augment and prolong sympathetic stimulation of thermogenesis could be of value in assisting the management of obesity.
Green tea may also have a lipolytic activity due to the mechanism by which the vitamin C contained in it inhibits triglyceride accumulation. When mature adipocytes are exposed to vitamin C, the triglyceride concentration decreases and the activity of glycerophosphate dehydrogenase, a marker of adipose conversion, is significantly inhibited.
A large body of research demonstrates that green tea has numerous other health benefits, including protection against cardiovascular disease. Green tea lowers total cholesterol levels and improves the cholesterol profile (the ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol), reduces platelet aggregation, and lowers blood pressure. By affecting the activity of receptor and signal transduction kinases, both catechins and theaflavins (the major ingredients of green and black tea) exert a variety of cardiovascular beneficial effects.
- Fucoxanthin (Undaria pinnatifida)
Fucoxanthin is a carotenoid found in edible brown seaweeds, of which Undaria pinnatifida is the richest source. It possesses the ability to oxidize fat and release energy by adaptive thermogenesis within fat cells of white adipose tissue, the abdominal fat of adult humans. By breaking apart the coupled-proteins within stored fat cells, it releases them to be effectively utilized by the body as energy.
Fucoxanthin increases fat loss by enhancement of metabolic thermogenesis through the action of UCP-1. Mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1(UCP1) is usually expressed only in brown adipose tissue (BAT) and is a key molecule involved in metabolic thermogenesis. This effect is thought to be an evolutionary mechanism for maintaining ideal body temperature in cold climates. However, there is little BAT in adult humans. Therefore, UCP1 expression in tissues other than BAT is expected to reduce abdominal fat.
A recent study showed that abdominal white adipose tissue (WAT) weights in rats and mice was reduced by feeding them lipids from Undaria pinnatifida. Clear signals of UCP1 protein and mRNA were detected in WAT of mice fed the Undaria lipids, although there was little expression of UCP1 in WAT of mice who were fed the control diet. The Undaria lipids mainly consisted of glycolipids and the seaweed carotenoid, fucoxanthin. In the fucoxanthin-fed mice, WAT weight significantly decreased and UCP1 was clearly expressed in the WAT, while there was no difference in WAT weight and little expression of UCP1 in the glycolipids-fed mice. These results indicate that fucoxanthin upregulates the expression of UCP1 in WAT, which may contribute to reducing WAT weight.10-12
- Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, bitter melon is well known for its hypoglycemic and anti-diabetic effects. It grows in tropical areas of the Amazon, East Africa, Asia, India, South America, and the Caribbean and is used traditionally as both food and medicine. Clinical conditions for which bitter melon extracts (BME) are used include diabetes, dyslipidemia, infections, and as a preventive and possible treatment for certain types of cancer. BME possesses profound anti-obesity, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant actions.
Research studies on the anti-diabetic effects of BME have demonstrated increased glucose utilization by the liver; decreased gluconeogenesis via inhibition of two key enzymes (glucose-6-phosphatase and fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase); improved glucose oxidation through the shunt pathway by activating glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase; enhanced cellular uptake of glucose, promoting insulin release and potentiating its effect; and an increase in the number of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas of diabetic animals.
Closing Thoughts On Weight, Health, And Happiness
Know that herbal medicine, and good medicine in general, yields better results over extended periods of time. Healing medicine focuses on enhancing vitality, improving detoxification, addressing deficiency and excess, relaxing and stimulating—in short, doing whatever is necessary to gently restore the body to health and optimal weight. When approaching weight management, it’s important to be patient. Take your time, slowly implement the suggestions I have outlined here and in my previous post, and you’ll be happy with the results.
- Foss B, Dyrstad SM. Stress in obesity: Cause or consequence? Med Hypotheses. 2011 Mar 26.
- Vinson JA, Burnham BR, Nagendran MV. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, linear dose, crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012;5:21-7. Epub 2012 Jan 18.
- Song SJ, Choi S, Park T. Decaffeinated green coffee bean extract attenuates diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance in mice. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:718379. doi: 10.1155/2014/718379. Epub 2014 Apr 10.
- Zhao Y, Wang J, et al. Antihypertensive effects and mechanisms of chlorogenic acids. Hypertens Res. 2012 Apr;35(4):370-4. doi: 10.1038/hr.2011.195. Epub 2011 Nov 10.
- Han L, Morimoto C, et al. Effects of Coleus forskohlii on fat storage in ovariectomized rats. Yakugaku Zasshi. 2005 May;125(5):449-53.
- Godard M, Johnson B, et al. Body composition and hormonal adaptations associated with forskolin consumption in overweight and obese men. Obes Res. 2005 Aug;13(8):1335-43.
- Kovacs E, Lejeune M, et al. Effects of green tea on weight maintenance after body-weight loss. Br J Nutr. 2004 Mar;91(3):431-7.
- Hasegawa N et al, 2002, Vitamin C is one of the lipolytic substances in green tea, Phytotherapy Research, 16 Supplement 1:S91-2, Vol. 285, No. 5, August 3: 1102-1106.
- Navamayooran Thavanesan, The putative effects of green tea on body fat: an evaluation of the evidence and a review of the potential mechanisms, British Journal of Nutrition, 14 November 2011 106 : pp 1297-1309.
- Maeda H, Hosokawa M, et al. Fucoxanthin from edible seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida, shows antiobesity effect through UCP1 expression in white adipose tissues. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Jul 1;332(2):392-7.
- Maeda H, Hosokawa M, et al. Dietary combination of fucoxanthin and fish oil attenuates the weight gain of white adipose tissue and decreases blood glucose in obese/diabetic KK-Ay mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Sep 19;55(19):7701-6. Epub 2007 Aug 23.
- Kang S, Shin S, et al. Petalonia binghamiae Extract and Its Constituent Fucoxanthin Ameliorate High-Fat Diet-Induced Obesity by Activating AMP-Activated Protein Kinase. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Apr 4;60(13):3389-95. Epub 2012 Mar 22.