Herbs are used as spices, supplements, foods and teas to aid in the control of weight. Spices that are used in cooking help in digestion, gastric secretions. Bitter herbs are usually taken as teas before eating to stimulate the breakdown of fat.
Some of them also add fibre to the diet, teas made from herbs usually act as an appetite suppressant and enhance metabolism that increases energy expenditure. Medicinal herbal preparations are also available to treat various diseases.
The use of herbs as weight loss supplements has been focused on the use of concentrated dos extracts of these herbs. However, herbs that induce thermogenesis should be used with extreme caution.
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10 Herbs Great For Weight Loss – Backed By Science
The following is a list of few herbs that help in weight loss:
Ginger is one of the most commonly used condiment in the world especially in Asian cuisine, it’s a member of the plant family that includes cardamom and turmeric.
The rhizome of the plant contains oleoresins with many bioactive compounds like gingerol, which is responsible for its spicy aroma and exerts variety of pharmacological and physiological activities1.
The rhizomes are commonly available in the market. Ginger is said to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-diabetic activity. It also has gastroprotective and anti-emetic effect . However, it has also been used in several herbal preparations for weight loss.
A study was conducted to assess the effect of ginger on energy expenditure, feelings of appetite and satiety in 10 overweight men with a BMI of 27-30. They were divided into two groups, Group 1- the control and Group 2- the experimental group.
The breakfast was followed by a glass of hot beverage with or without ginger powder (2g). The feelings of satiety were assessed on an hourly basis. The readings suggested lower hunger, lower prospective of food intake and greater fullness in the experimental group versus the control group.
The experimental group showed enhanced thermic effect of food as compared to the control group (thermic effect of food- the energy spent in the digestion of food). Therefore, this study suggests a potential role of ginger in weight management.
Ginger can be consumed in many forms- fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallised, candied or powdered. The simplest way of consuming ginger to reduce weight is to chew them directly after a meal or boil cut up pieces of ginger in water and then drink the ginger water after straining, even having ginger tea is a good option.
What does it mean?
Ginger contains a bioactive component- Gingerol, that may be responsible for bringing about weight loss by enhancing the thermic effect of food and reducing the sensation of hunger.
‘Ginseng’ refers to both- Korean ginseng, American ginseng. The Korean and American ginseng contain the bioactive compound Ginsenosides which is responsible for its pharmacological properties.
However, Siberian ginseng is also available but it’s a completely different plant and does not have the same active ingredients .
Mainly the roots and berries of the herb are most commonly consumed. It is not ready to be used as medicine until it has grown for about 6 months. Ginseng is often called an ‘adaptogen’, which help the body cope better with mental or physical stress. Thus, it prevents stress induced weight gain.
White or red ginseng root soaked in water and alcohol extracts are available in the market. They are also available in powders or capsules, or the root in its raw form is also available.
A clinical trial conducted on obese women also showed that supplementation with ginseng extracts for a trial period of 8 weeks led to reductions in the body weight and BMI .
Chinese ginseng prevents body weight gain, by increasing fatty acid oxidation in the liver and reduces the factors associated with the formation of adipocytes (cells that are specialised to store fat).
Ginsenoside Rb1 and saponins present in the ginseng extracts were found to have anti- obesity and antihyperglycemic effects . They interfere with mechanism at the cellular level and control the expression or suppression of certain genes that are involved in fat synthesis and blood glucose regulation .
Certain precautions need to be kept in mind before consuming ginseng so it is best to consult a herbalist or naturopath before taking ginseng.
What does this mean?
Ginseng extract (mainly prepared from the roots) contains Ginsenosides and saponins that interfere with mechanism at cellular levels that are involved in fat synthesis and bring about weight loss along with reduction in blood glucose.
With obesity becoming an ever-greater concern globally, the number of measures to combat it have also increased. Therefore, anything that helps to control weight loss attracts attention and its efficacy is questioned.
One such recent measure against obesity is the consumption of hibiscus in the form of hibiscus extract or hibiscus tea. Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) or shoe flower is widely known for its showy flowers and its use in making dye.
Apart from having anti-cancerous, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects hibiscus flower is also known to aid in weight loss .
A study was conducted to study the effect of hibiscus sabdariffa calyx extract on fat absorption-secretion and body weight in animal model. The study concluded that, with the consumption of 15 % hibiscus extract showed significant reductions in their body weight and food intake along with the excretion of fatty acids in the feces.
This property of bringing about weight loss can be attributed partly to the presence of hydroxycitric acid in the hibiscus extract, which inhibits fat production from carbohydrates .
Consult a herbalist before taking hibiscus extract supplements for weight loss.
What does this mean?
Supplementation with hibiscus extract resulted in the reduction in the body weight and food intake along with the suppression of adipogenesis (formation of fat cells). All these effects together help in obesity.
Cayenne pepper has been used by Native Americans as both food and medicine for at least 9000 years. It is also used in Ayurvedic, Japanese, Chinese and Korean medicines as an oral remedy for stomach, appetite and circulatory problems .
The spicy taste of cayenne pepper is attributed to the presence of a substance called Capsaicin in them18. On ingestion capsaicin activates a gene-TRPV1 in the digestive tract that sends signal to the brain that evokes activation of brown adipose tissue (body has two types of fat- brown and white fat) without the affecting the heart rate in specific dosages .
Thus, many clinical trials have assessed the impact of capsaicin ingestion on metabolic rate, respiratory quotient and appetite.
Most of these have concluded that capsaicin enhances the energy expenditure (increases the rate of metabolism), boosts fat oxidation and diminishes appetite. It increases thermogenesis by stimulating the secretion of catecholamines.
A clinical trial with 13 female subjects was carried out to observe the effects of addition of red pepper on energy metabolism and fat oxidation to a high fat and high carbohydrate diets .
The addition of cayenne pepper to the diet lead to higher rates of thermogenesis and lipid oxidation. This explains its role in weight loss.
Another human-based clinical trial suggested that the consumption of 2.56 g of capsaicin per meal promotes fat oxidation in negative energy balance (when energy spent is more than energy consumed) and doesn’t increase blood pressure significantly .
The hollow fruit grows in long pods that turn red, orange or yellow when they ripen. The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked or in dried powdered form. The powder can be added to juices or tea.
It’s also available in capsule form but its recommended that it be consumed in non-capsule form as the taste i.e. the spicy, burning taste in the mouth contributes to a rise in body temperature and energy expenditure along with appetite control .
What does this mean?
Capsaicin present in cayenne pepper is mainly responsible for its role in weight loss. It brings about an increase in the rate of metabolism, thermogenesis and breakdown of fat along with the suppression of appetite. It also activates the brown fat that has thermogenic activity and alleviates obesity.
5.Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Both modern medicine and Ayurveda have reported the potential benefits of Ashwagandha as an anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective and cardioprotective agent.
It is revered herb of the Ayurveda as a tonic. It’s also called as Indian Winter cherry or Indian ginseng. It’s used in a preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and relieves stress(adaptogen) .
The bioactive components of ashwagandha include alkaloids, saponins, steroidal lactones (withaferins). The Sitoindosides and Acylsterylglucosides are the anti-stress agent present in it .
A placebo controlled trial was conducted on young males undergoing weight training to study the effect of Withania somnifera extract on muscle and body fat percentage .
A prominent increase in the muscle size and muscle strength was noted along with more significant reductions in the body fat percentage in the treatment group (consumed ashwagandha extract) as compared to the placebo group (consumed placebo).
This study suggests the use of ashwagandha extract to increase the percentage of body fat reduction in individuals who are engaged in heavy physical activity.
Ashwagandha has been found to reduce the cortisol levels thereby relieving the body of stress . The overcoming of stress reduces the chances of weight gain in individuals with chronic stress.
What does this mean?
Ashwagandha combats stress related weight loss by reducing the level of hormone cortisol. It enhances the reduction of body fat in individuals engaged in heavy physical activity. It also reduces weight loss in overweight individuals by inhibiting growth of fat tissue.
6.Turmeric or Haldi (Curcuma longa)
The use of turmeric dates back to the Vedic culture in India where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. Its commonly called as haldi in India and is basically the crushed form of the rhizomatous roots of the plant curcuma longa.
The uses of turmeric are multi-fold. It’s used as a culinary spice, in textile industry for colouring, it’s thought to have many medicinal properties including strengthening the overall energy of the body, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gall stones, anti-inflammatory action, among many others.
Recently is been given the name the “golden spice” as its uses are being recognised all over the world. The main components of the root are the volatile oils and the curcuminoids. Curcumin is the major curcuminoid and is the principle anti-inflammatory component of turmeric.
Experimental evidence suggests the activity of curcumin in promoting weight loss and reducing the incidence of obesity and its related diseases. Obesity is characterised by low-grade metabolic inflammation. Therefore, the use of curcumin having anti-inflammatory activity has gained importance in the treatment of obesity .
Curcumin activate the brown adipose tissue thus helping in weight reduction .
Curcumin administered group showed more weight loss and more reduction in body fat percentage, increased waistline reduction and an increase in the reduction of BMI as compared to the control group. Curcumin accelerated and increased weight loss outcomes of diet and exercise.
Turmeric can be consumed in many ways. However, its most commonly consumed in powdered form (the rhizome is dried and crushed to form a powder). It’s easily available in the market and can be added to milk. It is best consumed with black pepper and/or fats for better absorption.
What does this mean?
Curcumin present in turmeric with its anti-inflammatory action and its role in activation of brown fat results in the reduction of weight.
7. Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Black pepper is a highly-reputed plant in the Ayurveda system. It’s an extensively used spice both in the eastern and western food. It is known to help with digestion and weight loss because it stimulates the breakdown of cells.
The active principle present in black pepper that is responsible for its various physiological effects is Piperine.
An investigation conducted on animal model revealed that piperine supplementation along with their diet brought about reductions in their visceral fat and total body weight, indicating that pepper suppresses the accumulation body fat mainly through the action of Piperine.
Another way in which piperine aids in weight loss is that it acts as a Melanocortin agonist (a chemical that binds to the receptor and activates it). Melanocortinis a hormone whose activity is related to decrease in appetite, an increase in the energy expenditure thus its activity helps in reducing adiposity and its related metabolic syndromes .
Black pepper can be incorporated in the diet simply by adding black pepper powder to juices, lemon water or sprinkled over salads and other food items.
What does this mean?
Piperine present in black pepper increases satiety, thermogenesis and inhibits the formation of fat thereby reducing obesity.
Cinnamon (the bark of cinnamon tree) is a key ingredient in almost every household. Apart from its use as a spice its used as a household remedy for respiratory and digestive ailments.
Scientific studies have suggested its use as an anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, anti-cancer, antidiabetic, antioxidative and an antimicrobial agent .
All these properties of cinnamon are mainly attributed to the essential oil, Cinnamaldehyde present in it . A clinical trial was conducted to determine the effects of water soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome.
In this trial, 22 subjects with pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome were given a supplementation of cinnamon extract or a placebo for a trial period of 12 weeks and the effects on their body composition and fasting blood glucose were measured.
Subjects in the cinnamon group increased their lean mass by 1.1 % and a reduction in their fat mass by 0.7% along with 10.3 % reduction in fast blood glucose (FBG) than the subjects in the placebo controlled group .
It’s safe to say that its consumption at 1 g per day may have no toxic effects on the body. Cinnamon also contains a chemical called coumarin in it, which might cause or worsen the condition for people with liver disease. Therefore, it’s safe to use it in moderation.
What does this mean?
Cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil present in cinnamon interferes with pathways at the molecular level and brings about reduction in weight. Cinnamaldehyde activates the brown adipose tissue thus helping in weight reduction.
Fenugreek is used as a traditional medicine especially in the Ayurveda and Unani systems in India. It’s been used as a folk medicine for various diseases such as diabetes, fever, abdominal colic, as a poultice for boils and carbuncles among many others .
Fenugreek contains polyphenols like trigonelline, orientin, gentianine and the dietary fibre, Galactomannan, that forms a viscous gel in the intestine and inhibits glucose and lipid absorption which are responsible for its use in weight loss54.
Findings demonstrate the preventive effects of fenugreek on fat accumulation due to inhibition of lipid digestion and absorption.
A research study recruited 49 men who underwent resistance training for a period of 8 weeks, the aim of which was to determine the effect of fenugreek supplementation on body composition and strength.
The results of this study concluded that the group which consumed fenugreek along with their regular diet showed reductions in their body fat percentage and increase in their lean body mass along with increase in their body strength as compared to the group that consumed the placebo .
Fenugreek extract can be prepared for consumption by soaking the seeds in water overnight and filtering the water. Around 1-2 g/day of fenugreek seeds were used in the clinical trials mentioned above and did not show any toxicity in the subjects.
What does this mean?
Active ingredients as well as fibre present in fenugreek seeds helps in weight loss.
Licorice is also known as “sweet root” as it contains a compound that is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used by eastern and western medicine to treat a number of illnesses. The roots of this plant are most commonly consumed and are brown on the outside and yellow on the inside.
One study found that a licorice supplementation reduced body fat. In this study 15 people were given 3.5 g of licorice every day for a trial period of 2 months. Body fat when measured after the treatment with licorice showed significant reductions as compared to before the treatment .
Another study found that a topical application of glycyrrhetinic acid which is a component of licorice reduced the thickness of the subcutaneous fat on the thigh in human subjects .
A third study found that people who consumed 900 mg of licorice flavonoid oil daily for a period of 8 weeks experienced reductions in body fat, body weight, body mass index (BMI), LDL and cholesterol levels .
A flavonoid present in licorice, Chalcone, inhibited the activity of pancreatic lipase for preventing obesity . Inhibition of pancreatic lipase decreases the absorption of fat by the Gastrointestinal tract.
Another flavonoid, Glabridin present in liquorice was found to have anti-obesity action. Further studies revealed that glabridin exerts anti-obesity effect by increasing the energy expenditure and by reducing the food intake .
Glycyrrhizin is a saponin present in liquorice root that is responsible for its sweet taste.Glycyrrhizin has been found to have adverse effects on the body in few clinical trials.
Therefore, deglycyrrhizinated liquorice products (extracts and powders)are also available in the market. They are made from the peeled and unpeeled dried liquorice root, for teas, tablets and capsules .
Instead of buying capsules and tablets you can even chew a piece of licorice root or drink licorice tea. Large amounts of licorice doses have been proven to have adverse effects but sometimes even if consumed in small amounts might cause these adverse effects.
What does this mean?
Licorice contains various flavonoids whose resultant effects cause reduction in body fat and weight. Licorice oil has also been found beneficial in combating obesity.
No herb or herbal combinations can simply melt the excess fat away, but some herbs have found to complement diet and exercise and support weight loss.
They might act in various ways as discussed above to bring about weight loss like reducing stress, promoting metabolism, acting at the molecular level among many other.
Herbs can be incorporated in one’s diet as food, teas or herbal medicines and should be supplemented with positive changes in the lifestyle to experience significant weight loss.