As the average weight of American adults (and Americans in general) continues to rise, weight loss is a topic that is increasingly on the public’s mind – and due to societal expectations regarding female beauty, this is especially true of women. This article will offer a short introduction to some of the leading fat burning supplements for women, with an emphasis on evaluating effectiveness and safety. While no one product or set of products will be right for everyone, with a little effort and experimentation, anyone can find a supplement or set of supplements that will be useful to them in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid related to theophylline (primarily associated with black tea) and theobromine (primarily associated with chocolate), and is one of the leading ingredients in weight loss/fat burning supplements. Caffeine promotes weight loss in multiple ways. First, caffeine tends to suppress appetite, resulting in the ingestion of fewer calories throughout the day. Second, caffeine tends to increase the basal metabolic rate, resulting in the body burning an increased number of calories, even in a resting state. Third, caffeine increases the oxidation of fat, meaning that the body disposes of more fat while caffeine is present in the body. Fourth, caffeine has a well-known energizing effect (this being the reason that hundreds of millions of people consume it daily), and can enhance one’s motivation during exercise. Fifth, caffeine has diuretic effects, which means that the body loses more “water weight” while caffeine is present in the body.
The first four of the above-listed effects are the most relevant for any woman who is interested in a serious weight-loss program. The diuretic effect only causes transient weight-loss; additionally, if one is exercising regularly, one wants to make sure that one is hydrating properly and not losing an excessive amount of fluids. Fortunately, the diuretic effect of caffeine tends to be mild to non-existent at typically consumed doses, and tolerance to it develops rapidly when caffeine is regularly consumed. Caffeine in fat burning supplements is frequently in the form of synthetic caffeine, or may be provided by plant products such as guarana or green tea.
Women should be careful to limit their consumption of caffeine to recommended amounts (250-300 mg or less per day), as excessive caffeine consumption can lead to tremors, anxiety, increased heart rate and other undesirable side effects, especially in combination with exercise. It should also be noted that caffeine use can lead to physiological and psychological dependence, and that cessation of regular use can lead to headaches, lethargy, depression, nausea and vomiting. Caffeine itself is a fairly weak fat burning supplement when taken on its own, and typically works more effectively in this regard when taken in conjunction with supplements like EGCG, yohimbine, and synephrine, to which we now turn our attention.
EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is an antioxidant (like caffeine) found in green tea (again, like caffeine). It has been reported to increase the basal metabolic rate (like caffeine), reduce appetite (like caffeine), and potentially block the absorption of some carbohydrates. EGCG works better as a fat burning supplement when it is taken with caffeine – and caffeine works better as a fat burning supplement when taken in conjunction with EGCG. Together, these facts suggest that the utilization of green tea extracts in fat burning supplements are doubly beneficial for women who are hoping to lose weight. EGCG has a relative lack of serious side effects, and also has a myriad of other proven and potential beneficial health effects, but these are less relevant to our present purposes.
Yohimbine, a psychoactive tryptamine, is the primary active alkaloid found in the Pausinystalia yohimbe plant. While yohimbine is best known for its reputed aphrodisiac properties, it is a stimulant, like caffeine (though it has a different mechanism of action), and has similarly beneficial effects in reducing appetite and promoting increased fat burning within the body. On the other hand, unlike caffeine, yohimbine (both as a pure compound and when provided in the form of the yohimbe plant) has a significantly more narrow margin of safety than caffeine, and has a risk of causing serious adverse side effects including (but not limited to) significantly elevated heartbeat, significantly elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and, with overdose (or idiosyncratic sensitivity), renal failure and seizures. The risk of all of these side effects becomes more serious when yohimbine is combined with caffeine.
In addition, the evidence for the beneficial fat burning oriented effects of yohimbine is more limited than that seen for caffeine, or caffeine + EGCG. Undoubtedly, many people have successfully used yohimbine (either alone or in combination with caffeine and other weight-loss supplements) as part of a weight-reduction program, and sensitivity to the adverse effects of yohimbine varies widely among different individuals. Nevertheless, caution is advisable – and advised – when using any supplement containing yohimbine, especially if it is combined with other stimulant compounds such as caffeine or synephrine, and doubly so when yohimbine is provided in the form of yohimbe or yohimbe extracts, where the total dose may be uncertain.
Synephrine is a stimulant compound found in Citrus aurantium (commonly known as “bitter orange”), and is related to neosynephrine (phenylephrine), a compound now found in many OTC decongestants since the more strict controls instituted on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that have been enacted in recent years. The amount of research that has been performed on synephrine is limited, but the research that is currently available suggests broad similarities in desirable and adverse effects to ephedrine. Ephedrine is currently banned by the FDA as posing an unreasonable risk to the health of consumers (as are products containing ephedra, the botanical source of ephedrine), and numerous reports of adverse effects relating to the ingestion of synephrine-containing products are now extant.
It has been claimed that synephrine reduces appetite, increases basal metabolic rate, and has a desirable energizing effect similar to that seen with ephedrine. While it may be reasonable to assume that synephrine will have some beneficial effects on weight loss similar to those seen with ephedrine/ephedra (or more potent synthetic derivatives thereof such as the amphetamines), the currently available evidence does not favor making synephrine an adjunct to a weight-loss program. Some enthusiastic testimonials to its effectiveness do exist, and, as with yohimbine, some people can doubtless tolerate the effects of this compound, alone or in combination with substances such as caffeine. On the other hand, anyone deciding to use a product containing synephrine (either alone or in combination with other weight-loss supplements) should be very careful to monitor themselves for any signs of potential adverse effects.
In this short review, we have examined some of the most popular of the current leading fat burning supplements available for women concerned about their weight. There are many more that could have been examined (and that likely will be examined in a future article), including aspirin, capsaicin, ginseng, and vitamin D. It is important to emphasize that no one supplement or combination of supplements will be right for every consumer, and that none of these supplements are a substitute for exercise and a healthy diet. On the other hand, with careful attention to her mind and body, any woman would likely benefit from one or some of these products. Here’s to your health!