Natural remedies for fighting obesity

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Anti-obesity drugs can have some hazardous side effects which make the use of natural supplements more attractive. Most drugs that fight obesity either do it by reducing fat absorption or by suppressing appetite through neuronal regulation. There are some fruit and herbal extracts that are found to possess components that can regulate body weight through similar mechanisms.

Polyphenols inhibit pancreatic lipase
Pancreatic lipase (PL) is crucial in regulating the digestion of fats into absorbable forms. Saponins, polyphenols, flavonoids and caffeine have been found to possess PL-inhibitory activity. These compounds are found naturally in different types of tea, oolong, green and black. They are also found in fruits like berries, apples, lemons and in grape seeds and several other herbs. A multitude of studies have sought to explore the anti-obesity effect of polyphenol-rich extracts in animal models and have found promising results.

Hoodia and Garcina species suppress appetite
Another way to reduce weight gain is to suppress appetite by regulating the respective control centres of the brain. The perception of fullness has been linked with the intake of some herbal extracts like, Hoodia gordonii and Hoodia pilifera, leafless plants common in South Africa. Cissus quadrangularis and Garcina cambogia possess natural hydrocitric acid which boosts the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite. Garcina exerted anti-obesity functions by reducing lipid accumulation in adipocytes in experiments on cell cultures.

There are many supplements that contain extracts from Hoodia, Garcinia and Cissus plants and have proven to be effective in suppressing appetite and promoting weight loss. However, the exact mechanism by which this regulation is achieved by these extracts is not clear. Crude ethanol extract from Caralluma fimbriata, a type of cactus, and saponins from Korean red ginseng, have also been shown to have a suppressive effect on the hunger cycle.

Fish oil
Consumption of fish oil has also been linked to increased energy expenditure. Diet composed of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Dosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both components of fish oil, decreased body weight gain in mice. DHA caused 90% increase in lipolysis in different studies.

Caffeine, rich in oolong tea
The principal component of tea leaves, caffeine, has shown a reduction in weight gain through numerous mechanisms. Caffeine has lipolytic action and therefore increases lipid metabolism in the body. Increasing the energy expenditure of the body through non-shivering thermogenesis is also a way to regulate body weight. Caffeine and catechins found in tea have shown increased energy expenditure in multiple experiments.

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Ginseng
Panax ginseng, a type of berry common in Korea, expresses moderate anti-obesity properties by suppressing appetite, increasing energy expenditure, and downregulating accumulation of triglycerides. The active components of ginseng that are used in supplements are ethanol extracts, ginsenosides and saponins.

Resveratrol and quercetin
Naturally occurring compounds like resveratrol, found in grapes and berries and quercetin, found in teas, apples and onions, are also associated with reduced accumulation of triglycerides. Resveratrol and quercetin inhibit adipogenesis and promote apoptosis in adipocytes and can therefore be used as an anti-obesity treatment.

Other than the above mentioned compounds, extracts from cinnamon, garlic, capsicum, palm oil and green tea have also demonstrated anti-obesity properties in studies.

Dr Clovis Palmer heads the immunometabolism group at the world renowned Burnet Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. Dr Palmer is a reviewer for several top ranked international journals including Hepatology, AIDS and Antioxidants and Redox Signalling. He is the chief scientific editor for Natural Immunity-Health, Australia (www.naturalimmunity.com.au).