These days, it feels like the diet and health supplement industry has never been more competitive. We’ve looked at thousands of products, and most of them promise fast and healthy weight loss with no strings attached. Over the course of our research, we’ve noticed many diet supplement ingredients that keep showing up. Some of them are “buzz heavy” and trendy, while others just seem to be frequently included in all-natural diet pills. Here, we’ve put together a quick guide to help consumers understand what’s in that little capsule.
Acai: These days, you probably can’t open your email without seeing ads for a product that includes acai. But what is it? The acai included in all acai products is derived from the fruit of the acai palm tree, which is native to the Brazilian Amazon rain forest. Acai berries have always been popular in Brazil, but they recently got a ton of American press after Dr. Perricone classified them as a “superfood.” Since then, acai has been featured on the Oprah show and in most on most of the major news networks. Analysis has shown that the acai berry is a source of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids, all of which could yield numerous health benefits. The result of this analysis is that acai is marketed as a weight loss aid, an energy booster, an aphrodisiac and an anti-aging treatment. The problem with acai is that the berries are very fragile, which means that they are difficult for Americans to obtain in their raw form. When buying acai juices or other food products, be aware that additives like sugar or caffeine can negate the berry’s health benefits.
Hoodia: Hoodia is included in many herbal diet supplements as an appetite suppressant ingredient. Hoodia is derived from the Hoodia gordonii cactus, which is found primarily in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa. Scientists were intrigued when they learned that local tribes would chew the stem of the hoodia plant in order to stave off hunger when going on long hunts. Further research revealed that ingesting hoodia releases a molecule that has been named P57, and that has been patented by the English pharmaceutical company Phytopharm, who are currently undertaking further research with the goal of developing a prescription anti-obesity drug based around the molecule. However, hoodia is also available in hundreds of different diet supplements. It’s effectiveness is severely limited by how the hoodia was sourced, and also what concentration was included in the specific product. Some studies seem to indicate that hoodia’s effectiveness decreases with prolonged use since, in it’s original tribal context, it was only used for 3-4 day hunting trips when food was scarce. Currently, the medical community is split on the use of appetite suppressants in general, since some doctors worry that they encourage poor nutrition.
Resveratrol: Resveratrol is a botanical derivative extracted from several plants, most notably red grapes. It is found in the skin of the grapes and, in nature, it helps protect these plants against bacteria and harmful fungus. Resveratrol has become incredibly popular recently, due to a breakthrough lab study that indicated that it could fight cancer and extend age in lab mice. However, this study has yet to be replicated in humans. Resveratrol is famously found in red wine, although to replicate the amounts used on the mice in the trial studies, a human would have to drink literally 1,000+ bottles per day. Obviously, the effects of the alcohol would counteract the health benefits of the resveratrol. Many dieticians within the weight loss industry were also excited by resveratrol’s potential weight loss benefits, and some claimed that it finally explained the “French Paradox.” This is the anecdotal observation that the French typically eat rich foods and breads, but remain slender. Since the French are also known for indulging in red wine, one theory is that resveratrol could explain it. While resveratrol certainly looks highly promising, a lot of research is still being done to see how it may affect humans. There are many supplements available so, if you’re interested, be sure to get one with a high concentration of resveratrol.
Ephedra/ Ephedrine: Ephedra is an FDA-banned herbal extract, derived from the plant Ephedra sinica. It is common in Chinese medicine. Ephedra is a stimulant that increases blood flow to the heart, which can boost energy, but which can also cause serious risk of heart attack. Unfortunately, ephedra is still found in some supplements, especially in shady, smaller brands or brands that are imported from overseas. If a product claims to contain ephedra, stay far away, since ephedra-based products have been concretely linked to several heart attack deaths.
Green Tea Extract: Another popular ingredient in many diet supplements is green tea extract. As the name implies, green tea extract is a concentrated, and therefore more potent, form of green tea. When found in diet supplements, it primarily acts as a stimulant, providing more energy for workouts and increasing the metabolism. It’s good to know that green tea is also a good source of vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are beneficial antioxidants. However, beware of some products with “Green tea” in the name; green tea also contains caffeine, and many of these products are actually just strong caffeine pills hiding behind the “friendly” sounding green tea label.
Caffeine: Strictly speaking, caffeine is a natural molecule, which means that it is found in many herbal diet supplements that claim to enhance metabolism and boost energy. When taken in moderation, caffeine can do just that, and many athletes notice that their performance increases if they’ve ingested caffeine before working out. When used in moderation, caffeine can enhance a supplement’s formulation. However, taking supplements with high concentration of caffeine can certainly cause the classic and unpleasant “jittery” feeling typically associated with five cups of coffee. Similarly, if taking a supplement with caffeine, users may wish to consider cutting back on their coffee intake, or even quitting entirely when they start their new routine to avoid even the possibility of jitteriness. Once your body becomes acclimated to the supplement, you could gradually begin to phase coffee back in to your daytime routine.