It’s often said that weight loss is simple but rarely easy. It’s simple because the basic concept is to expend more energy than you consume. It’s difficult, because we humans have a complex relationship with food.
I can relate to this personally – it’s been nearly 10 years now since I dropped 100 pounds. It was a long and challenging journey. I often considered turning to weight loss pills in the tougher moments.
I never did as I was afraid. There are so many horror stories about nasty side effects and even life-threatening consequences. Now I’ve had the time to look into the science of herbal appetite suppressants. Do herbal appetite suppressants work? And what are the best ones?
Appetite Control for Weight Loss
The experience of weight loss is different for everyone. We all face personal challenges.
Maybe you struggle with comfort eating (like me!). Perhaps food is a big part of your social life and ordering salad every time you’re out makes you feel like a pariah.
Something most of us will experience when decreasing our portion size is hunger. Our bodies adapt to the amount of food we usually eat. Even if this is too much.
It’s much harder to resist cravings when your tummy’s rumbling. I often found myself binging on junk food if I was hungry after a low-calorie dinner rather than eating the healthy veggie snacks I’d pre-prepared.
After a few slip-ups, I realised that keeping myself full helped me stay in control of my diet. It can be hard to stay full when you’re trying to cut calories. I tried to bulk out my meals with lean meat and fiber but it made for a pretty boring routine.
I think appetite suppressant pills could be a good option if you don’t have the time or inclination to balance your meals this way. Of course it’s not a long term solution but it could be the turning point for your weight loss success.
The Theory Behind Appetite Suppressants
Appetite is the desire to eat food. It’s related to hunger – a physical sensation our body creates when it “needs” us to eat.
Although healthy humans can survive for weeks without food, we experience hunger much more quickly. Usually only a few hours after eating. (source)
It makes sense to want to suppress this feeling when dieting. There are a few ways to do this.
If our stomach is stretched out, e.g. after eating a big meal, our body sends a signal to our brain that makes us feel full. We can trick our brains by filling our stomach with low or no-calorie substances such as fiber.
We can also slow our digestive system down so that food sticks around longer. This prolongs the “full” signals too. Other nutrients interact with these signals directly.
The Best Herbal Appetite Suppressants
1. Caralluma Fimbriata
Caralluma Fimbriata is an edible cactus native to India, Asia and Africa. It has been used by tribal Indians to suppress hunger and increase endurance. (source)
The exact mechanism for appetite suppression is not understood however it is believed to be due to compounds called pregnane glycosides. The appetite-suppressing plant Hoodia has the same substances. (source)
In a placebo-controlled randomized trial, overweight adults were given a caralluma fimbriata supplement for 60 days. Waist circumference and hunger levels over the 60 days declined significantly in the supplement group when when compared with the placebo.
Another study was undertaken in children with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi Syndrome is a congenital disorder associated with learning difficulties and obsessive eating. One third of participants taking caralluma fimbriata supplement noticed a significant decrease in overeating.
No significant toxicity or side effects have been recognised for Caralluma Fimbriata. (source) However, it has not been used as a supplement for long enough to guarantee its safety.
You can buy caralluma fimbriata supplement here.
Glucomannan is a fiber that comes from the root of the konjac plant (Amorphophallus konjac). It’s the also the main ingredient in shirataki noodles.
It acts as an appetite suppressant by absorbing water in the stomach and intestines to form a large bulk.
Including fiber in your diet has been shown to promote and prolong fullness, aid compliance to low-calorie diets and encourage healthy eating habits. (source)
A study found that glucomannan caused “a significant decrease in the desire to eat after 90 min”. Out of three fiber supplements compared in one study, glucomannan was found to be the most effective for weight loss.
Another study gave teenagers a glucomannan supplement 90 minutes before presenting them with an all-you-can-eat pizza meal. The glucomannan group consumed much less than the control groups.
Glucomannan is a safe dietary fiber. Side effects include diarrhoea and stomach upset but these are reduced with lowering of the dose. If you have diabetes, check with your doctor before taking glucomannan as it can affect blood sugar.
You can buy glucomannan here.
3. Yerba Mate Tea
Yerba mate or Ilex paraguariensis is a flowering tree. Its leaves are used to make tea in the Middle East and South America. (source)
Yerba mate contains caffeine and other chemicals which stimulate the brain, heart, blood vessels and other body systems. Caffeine is believed to be responsible for most of the appetite suppressing effects of yerba mate. (source)
In one study in rodents, yerba mate caused significant decreases in body weight and food intake. It was found to release fullness signals by various mechanisms in the body.
Another study gave yerba mate to overweight women followed by an all-you-can eat lunch. The yerba mate group ate much less than the placebo group.
Due to its caffeine content, yerba mate can cause insomnia, restlessness, stomach upset, nausea, high blood pressure and headache. WebMDsays that “when taken in large amounts or for long periods of time, yerba mate is possibly unsafe”.
You can buy Yerba Mate Tea here.
4. Saffron Extract
Saffron, or Crocus sativus is a flower commonly used as a spice. It’s actually the most expensive spice in the world due to the large volume of flowers needed to produce the powder. (source)
Saffron is said to “cleanse the stomach, increase digestion of food, strengthen the stomach and decreases appetite.” (source)
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study gave mildly overweight women saffron extract supplements with no restrictions on their diet.
After 8 weeks, there was a significantly greater weight reduction in the saffron group compared with placebo. It was concluded that saffron reduced snacking and creates a feeling of fullness that contributed to weight loss.
Saffron is most likely not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Side effects include dry mouth, anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and headache. (source)
You can buy saffron extract here.
5. Garcinia Cambogia
Garcinia cambogia is a small tree native to India and Southeast Asia. The rind of the fruit (Malabar Tamarind) contains a compound called hydroxycitric acid which has medicinal properties. (source)
Hydroxycitric acid can suppress appetite and inhibit synthesis. In rats,it was shown to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in appetite regulation. (source)
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial gave participants garcinia cambogia supplements with a high fiber, low-calorie diet for 12 weeks. There was no difference in weight loss between the group that received the supplement and the placebo. (source)
However, another study observed a 1.3kg difference in weight loss over 12 weeks in favour of garcinia cambogia. At this time, evidence is not sufficient to advise on use of this supplement or otherwise.
You can buy garcinia cambogia here.
6. Green Tea Extract
Green tea is a product made from the plant Camellia sinensis. Green tea contains caffeine and polyphenol antioxidants.
A study into the effect of polyphenol catechins on weight loss suggested that they increase nervous system activity, increasing energy expenditure and promoting the oxidation of fat. Caffeine “may act synergistically” with the catechins. (source)
A study examined the effect of green tea on appetite, measuring calorie consumption after taking the extract and comparing with placebo. The group who took the supplement consumed 8% fewer calories. (source)
One study combined green tea with fiber and caffeine to make a weight loss drink. When compared to the controls, the group receiving the active drink had “the lowest hunger and the highest fullness ratings”. They also had the lowest calorie intake at the following meal. (source)
Green tea is useful for weight loss both as a beverage and as an extract in supplement form.
You can buy green tea extract here.
7. Guar Gum
Guar gum is a dietary fiber derived from the seed of the guar plant. Like other forms of fiber, it may prevent fat absorption and helps you feel full. (source)
A study showed that taking guar gum with three daily meals significantly increased fullness. This lead to reduced calorie intake throughout the whole day. Another study supported this finding.
One study added guar gum to cookies and presented them to participants in a movie theater setting. When compared with the participants who got placebo cookies, people became full after fewer of the guar gum cookies.
In a comparison of three different fiber supplements – a guar gum beverage, a wheat bran beverage, an oat beta-glucan beverage and a control, the desire to eat was lowest for the guar gum group. (source)
When it comes to weight loss, not all fibers are created equal. It seems that the viscous nature of guar gum is the key to appetite suppression. Less viscous fibers have been found to be less potent in this regard. (source)
Side effects of guar gum include loose stool and gas but these ease off after a few days or with decreased dose.
You can buy guar gum here.
As you can see from the herbal supplements I’ve discussed above, there’s a wide variation in efficacy and safety.
Dietary supplements are considered food, not drugs in the US so they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
A big scare in the weight loss supplement market which most of us will remember is ephedra. It was removed from the market in 2004 after reports of serious health risks.
Unfortunately, data is limited when it comes to many of the products on the market, despite their widespread use.
Studies that do exist are often poor quality e.g. small studies, inconsistency with participant body weight, variation in length of studies, use of exercise, and differing dosages. (source)
All of this makes it very difficult for someone without a medical or healthcare background to make the right choices.
If you’re buying a herbal appetite suppressant, make sure it’s coming from a reputable source. Many online stores sell unregulated products that may contain harmful substances with deadly side effects.
If you’re not sure about a product, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. This becomes vital if you have an ongoing health condition or take a prescription medicine as many supplements can interact.
Of course the best way to guarantee weight loss is to control your portion sizes and include exercise as part of your routine. Herbal appetite suppressants are just a temporary aid, not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. You shouldn’t take these supplements long term.
Personally, I am very hesitant to use most herbal appetite suppressants. I like to use teas rather than tablets as I think they are safer. However I do think fibre supplements such as glucomannan are a good option.
Fibre is basically inert and not only will it help with weight loss, getting your recommended daily intake can help prevent colon cancer. If I had to lose the weight all over again, I’d probably choose a glucomannan supplement.