Weight Loss or fat Loss.

Often the first stage of weight gain involves no gain of weight at all, but rather the loss of muscle tissue and its displacement by fat tissue. Only after the metabolism has begun to slow because of the loss of the energy-burning muscle does the individual begin to markedly put on weight and then find this weight difficult to remove. This is the situation that many Americans find themselves in following several bouts of dieting and it is compounded by the normal loss of lean tissue after middle age. For dieters, then, there is often a hard choice to be made: weight loss or fat loss?

As I point out in my books, Anti-Fat Nutrients (4th edition) and User's Guide to Weight-Loss Supplements (Basic Health Publications), there are chiefly two factors that explain why successful dieters win the war against the bulge. These connected factors are insulin response and metabolism. Insulin is the hormone that your body uses to store blood sugar, to store fat, to convert carbohydrates to fat and so on. Metabolism, in this case, refers to how your body burns fuel for energy. Improve both of these and you have greatly improved your chances of staying lean.

Insulin response is very important because it helps to regulate the body's choice of Fuels and how much fuel is burned for energy. Fat metabolism uses different pathways than does carbohydrate metabolism and the body cannot easily switch between the two. The higher the percentage of all calories that are derived from fat, the more difficult it is for the body to respond to calories derived from carbohydrates. If most of the carbohydrates in the diet are complex and slow to digest, then this does not pose a great problem. However, the American diet consists of at least 25 percent added sugars--mostly fructose--and 40 percent or more of the entire diet typically is made up of simple rather than complex carbohydrates. Add 35 percent fat and you have a real issue to contend with. Under standard American conditions, the body responds poorly to insulin. Because of this, more and more insulin is released to control blood sugar levels. This surge of insulin reduces the body's ability to burn fat for fuel and encourages the storage of calories as fat.

Fructose Increases Fat Absorption, Reduces Fat Oxidation, Makes You Hungry
Bad food combinations can really hurt! The fast food that makes up approximately 40 percent of all meals eaten in this country typically combines sugars with fats. For instance, the supersized soft drink (16 teaspoons of sugar) usually accompanies the burger and fries. How bad can such combinations be? Taken in a milk shake, 30 grams of the common sugar fructose increased after meal blood fat levels by 37 percent compared with control. Sugars eaten with fats increase the absorption of those fats because all simple carbohydrates increase the levels of insulin, the storage hormone. At the same time, sugars eaten with fats radically reduce the amount of fat that is burned for fuel. If the fat that you do not burn for energy is stored, then the combination of sugar with fat is obviously a bad one. Worse still, recent work has confirmed once again that one of America's favorite sugars, fructose, may make hunger return faster. (J Clin Endocrinol Metab. June 2004; Vol. 89(6) pp. 2963-72.)

Before starting with nutrients that may help promote fat metabolism, promote proper insulin regulation. Try one or more of these: trivalent chromium, alpha-lipoic acid or crepe myrtle extract (sold under the name Glucosol™).

Sometimes Eating Fat Makes You Leaner: Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Given the choice between being thinner and being leaner (heavier, but carrying more muscle), always choose to be leaner. Muscle burns fat. Paradoxically, some fats preserve muscle. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid nutrient that occurs naturally in beef and in many dairy products.

CLA was discovered in the mid-1980s by researchers who found that a compound in beef exerted a cell-normalizing effect. Further investigations indicated that CLA is an immune system modulator--it alters some immune functions and how the body reacts to immune stimulation. Experimentally, CLA has been shown to protect animals against some of the adverse effects of being injected with toxins or certain types of vaccination. It has demonstrated anticancer and immune-enhancing benefits.

Currently, scientists believe that CLA alters the way that fats are broken down and stored in various membranes and tissues. The ratio of saturated fats to monounsaturated fats in tissues is altered in a favorable manner. The effect of this change in the several species of animals studied is a reduction in food consumption, a reduction in stored fat, a better ratio of high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, the "good" cholesterol) to low density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol, and a reduction in atherosclerosis.

A year-long study in Europe, recently published, showed that CLA does reduce body fat mass, that is, it does make people leaner. (Am J Clin Nutr. June 2004; Vol. 79(6) pp. 1118-25.) However, clinical trials with CLA have been mixed with regard to insulin resistance (Syndrome X). Although supplementation yields health benefits through the promotion of greater leanness, lower body weight in diabetics and even anti-inflammatory effects, at least in males already experiencing Syndrome X, results have been a slightly increased insulin resistance. This suggests that CLA should be utilized for its virtues (promoting leanness, enhancing immune function, etc.) in conjunction with supplements that directly address blood sugar regulation.

Carnitine, Essential For Energy
The primary role of L-carnitine in the body is as a biocatalyst or coenzyme. One of the most important functions of L-carnitine is in the oxidation of long chain fatty acids, a process that takes place inside of mitochondria, the "energy factories" of the cells. This process is known as beta-oxidation. L-carnitine acts as a shuttle for bringing fatty acids into the mitochondria and then removing waste afterwards. Fats are the preferred source of fuel for the skeletal muscles and even more so for the heart muscle. As much as 70 percent of the energy generated in muscle tissues comes from the oxidation of fats.

L-carnitine also increases the rate of oxidation of fats in the liver, and this suggests that it plays a role in improving energy generation from this angle as well. Some writers argue that in the proper amounts, L-carnitine supplementation during dieting can help to control the negative effects of ketosis (the accumulation of waste products of fat metabolism) in those who are susceptible to this problem. Similarly, there is evidence that some forms of obesity may be related to a genetic propensity to produce less L-carnitine, and liver and kidney problems will reduce the body's production since some four-fifths of our total L-carnitine is produced internally by these organs.

Acetyl-L-carnitine (acetyl carnitine) is considered by many to be the most stable and bioavailable form of L-carnitine. It is involved in the same metabolic functions as is L-carnitine in its other forms, but acetyl-L-carnitine has a greater affinity for the brain and neurons more generally. As an antioxidant, acetyl-L-carnitine protects neurons from damage caused by superoxide radicals. The molecular structure of acetyl-L-carnitine resembles that of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Recommended supplement amounts of acetyl-L-carnitine typically are roughly half that of other forms of L-carnitine. For most purposes, these compounds are similarly effective. However, research on preventing age-related mitochondrial decay and declines in mental abilities--perhaps even reversing some age-related mental declines--has stressed the combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and alphalipoic acid. This combination also appears to prevent the more generalized age-related decline in metabolic functioning.

The big question for dieters, of course, remains this: Does supplementing with L-carnitine lead to greater weight loss.) The answer is that taken by itself without any changes in diet, probably not much. Animal studies have shown, however, that in conjunction with a mild reduction in caloric intake, L-carnitine can quite significantly improve the weight lost on a diet program compared with placebo over a period of many weeks. Therefore, use this supplement in conjunction with some form of mild caloric restriction and do not expect to lose pounds merely by taking L-carnitine alone. Of course, it also helps to reduce fatigue, improve mood, improve the HDL-to-LDL ratio, support kidney and liver functioning, etc.

Thermogenesis Revisited: Green Tea and Green Maté
For roughly a decade, the buzzword in weight loss was "thermogenesis." Too many claims were made, yet it is Certainly true that some quite healthful plant extracts can improve not only the number of calories burned, but also the amount of fat utilized for energy. In the case of green tea extract, clinical trials have found increased 24-hour energy expenditure with three doses per day of caffeine (50 mg) and 90 mg epigallocatechins from green tea. This level of intake of caffeine plus epigallocatechins leads to a "significant increase" (greater than 4 percent) in energy expenditure. Supplementing with 150 mg caffeine alone does not lead to a significant increase in energy expenditure.

In European trials, the individuals taking green tea extract used more fat calories than did those taking the placebo. What does this translate to in terms of a supplement.) A serving of 500 mg of Jarrow Formulas™ Green Tea 5:1 extract supplies approximately 140 mg epigallocatechins (as EGC and EGCG), hence two servings per day would match the epigallocatechin intake found to be useful in these studies when consumed with a moderate amount of caffeine. There is only 40 mg caffeine in each 500 mg capsule, typical of a cup of tea and sufficient to activate the thermogenesis.

Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) traditionally was used as a tonic, diuretic, stimulant (to reduce fatigue) and as an aid to gastric functions. It also was used to promote internal cleansing and the elimination of wastes from the body. In Europe it is used for weight loss and to combat physical and mental fatigue. The anti-fatigue benefit is explained in part by the small amount of caffeine found in the herb--on par with what is found in tea--plus theobromine and some related compounds. However, the presence of this small quantity of caffeine does not explain the effect of the herb on fat metabolism.

Swiss researchers performed a human study (published in 1999) that suggested that yerba maté might be beneficial as an aid to fat loss. In this trial, there was a drop in respiratory quotient, a marker that indicates a rise in the proportion of the body's energy that is derived from fat as a fuel source. An effect much harder to explain is found when matt is taken in combination with certain other herbs and there is a change in appetite. In a clinical study, yerba maté was given in combination with the plants guaraná and damiana. This combination prolonged gastric emptying (slowed how fast the food left the stomach) and led to a reduction in food intake and lessened body weight.

Other tests have demonstrated inhibition of lipid (fat) peroxidation in a human study in which LDL (low-density lipoprotein) oxidation was decreased, plus it has been shown that the extracts combat inflammation. Unfermented or "green" matt (available from Jarrow Formulas) is especially rich in antioxidants.

These four dietary supplements, through a process called "partitioning," convince the body to use more of the calories consumed to feed lean tissues and for energy rather than to add to fat stores. They address the issue of fat metabolism at the biochemical level. Do not expect the supplements to do all the work. Nevertheless, by choosing to include these nutrients in the diet, you can support the body's own energy-regulating mechanisms for health.

References available upon request. Send a SASE to totalhealth.

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By Dallas Clouatre, Ph.D.

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