3 Herbs for Weight Loss Support

Okay, so I don’t need to tell you what a huge issue weight loss is; nor do I need to tell you that there are countless factors to take into consideration when deciding the ‘best’ approach to weight loss. For example, there’s your activity level, your current state of health, whether you have a parasite or yeast (Candida) overgrowth (which makes it nearly impossible to lose weight, by the way), or a glandular dysfunction.

That said, I’ll give you the good news. Herbs are powerful, multi-tasking little guys. They’ll work for you on many levels: healing what needs to be healed, kicking out any creatures hitching a free ride in your innards, boosting your metabolism, giving you energy you need to pursue a healthy lifestyle, and adding flavor to your foods so that they are more interesting (and you won’t desire to eat as much in order to be satisfied). Groovy, right?

A few reality checks that I feel it is my karmic and moral duty to impart to you: One—with age your metabolic rate drops. This is just the truth of the matter. Your activity level drops, along with your ability to burn fat and build muscle. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means that there is no easy fix and no product (no matter what it promises) can completely reverse the effects of aging. Full stop.   

Two: true and permanent weight loss is a whole body/whole lifestyle change. Your attitude, your habits, and your mind must change in order to change your body. Can herbs help? You betcha. Will they do it for you? No siree. If you have a lot of weight to lose (we’re talking 30 pounds here), talk to your doctor first. You may have health issues (high blood pressure/cholesterol, diabetes) to take into consideration.

Finally, if you let it, this can be a joyous journey of transformation. Don’t focus on the end goal. Let each day, each minute, be a destination in and of itself. It’s not going to be fast or (necessarily) easy, but it can be exciting, challenging and revolutionary to your body, mind and spirit.

1. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)

Cinnamon is a pretty remarkable herb—it helps to stabilize and regulate blood sugar (slowing the absorption of food so that you’re full for longer periods of time with the same amount of, or fewer, calories). It adds a sweet flavor to foods, which can help discourage cravings. Cinnamon (Ginseng, too) also helps move fat from the liver so that the body can use it for energy. Metabolizing fats more readily also lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Now, a note: cinnamon won’t necessarily cause your body to release stored fat or increase metabolism. What it does, however, is normalize the burning and digestion of fat. This can make a huge difference in your weight loss efforts (incidentally, other herbs do this too: mustard, black pepper, and cayenne—use these as much as you can in your daily cooking).

Cinnamon, too, is an anti-fungal and may help to kill off parasites and yeast overgrowth (Candida). Ridding your body of these little creatures is paramount to permanent weight loss. Here’s why (and it ain’t pretty): parasites need fuel (easily digested sugars, mostly) to reproduce. They will cause, in their host, intense sugar cravings and the desire to overeat. Also—the body will try to rid itself of these freeloaders and if it’s spending energy on that, it’s not going to have much left for metabolizing fat. What can you do? Well, you can have a doctor test you for parasites, or you can try one of the parasite cleanses on the market (commonly found at any health food shop), or you can incorporate more cinnamon, black walnut hulls, cloves, and wormwood into your daily supplement routine.

Side note: though it is most likely safe, cinnamon can be a common allergy food so please avoid regular use if you’re pregnant or nursing.

2. Garcinia (Garcinia cambogia):

Garcinia is a berry, usually found in herbal weight loss supplements, though you can find the whole fruit supplement as well, which has a good reputation as an appetite suppressant and prevents the body from making and storing fat. It’s also the source of the extract hydroxycitric acid (HCA) commonly found in weight loss formulas such as CitriMax.

The beautiful thing about this herb? It’s not a stimulant. Research seems to show that garcinia can block an enzyme that converts carbohydrates into body fat. To use garcinia as a weight-loss supplement, eat normally and don’t fill up on high-fiber foods. When scientists have studied garcinia in clinical settings, the HCA supplement reduces weight only if it's simply added to the regular diet. It doesn’t seem to help if it's taken in addition to a high-fiber diet.

So right about now, you’re probably thinking, bring it on! Okay, here’s how to take it: over-the-counter weight loss supplements usually offer HCA in dosages of 250 to 1,000 mg 3 times daily. However, I would recommend finding a garcinia extract (in capsule or tincture form), which utilizes the whole fruit (and not just the HCA component). Why use the whole fruit? Well, first, it’s a whole food and herbalists will always recommend you take an herb in its full, unadulterated form. Herbs are designed so that all of their parts work together. Garcinia fruit contains potassium, which allows the HCA in the whole fruit to be readily absorbed into the bloodstream. The isolated HCA in supplements is bound to calcium, and the body will have a harder time absorbing it.

Side note: Clinical studies confirm that HCA is safe for the heart. BUT!—consult your physician, if you take statin drugs for cholesterol and avoid if you’re pregnant or nursing. Garcinia should not be taken by those with diabetes or Alzheimer's as it may negatively affect blood sugar levels.

3. Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus):

In order to lose weight (permanently) you must, must exercise. My recommendation? Walking and yoga (which offers cardio work, flexibility and strength training all in one easy package). In order to support a new workout, try this adaptogen herb (adaptogens help the body adapt to the stress of change—both physical and mental). Ginseng isn’t a miracle supplement (well, in my humble opinion, all herbs are miraculous, but you know what I mean) and won’t re-sculpt your body overnight. It will, however, give you more access to stored energy, make you less tired and, therefore, more likely to stick to a new routine. Try capsules or a tincture, following recommended doses (and remembering that these doses are designed for a 150lb adult, so adjust accordingly). For optimum results, take ginseng in an on-again, off-again fashion (i.e. one month at a time, take a two-week respite from the herb, then repeat).

***

If you were to Google “herbs for weight loss,”  you’d be inundated and overwhelmed with results for supplements, diet plans, and anything else you’d be willing to spend money on. I don’t argue that there are other herbs out there to support your weight loss efforts. However, the three herbs I’ve compiled here are, in my opinion, the most effective. And, to be honest, three is a good number—when you barrage your system with ‘health aids,’ you may be undermining your efforts. Everything you introduce to your system needs to be vetted through the liver and kidneys and if they’re too busy cleaning your new supplements from your blood, then, guess what? They’re not focused on weight loss. (That said—if you are attempting to lose weight and you currently take lots of prescription meds, try bringing in daily doses of dandelion root in order to reduce water retention and to tonify the liver and kidneys).

The natural world is of immeasurable support to our weight-loss goals. Not only does nature give us herbs which are healthy, safe and filled with nutrition, nature also gives us a free and ready-made gym. Get outside—breathe, walk, run, climb a tree or a mountain, pick flowers, meditate. Find fulfillment in the world around you instead of in a…oh, I don’t know, a salted caramel dark chocolate bar (my personal weakness). Change your surroundings and, by changing your surroundings, you change your mind. By changing your mind you change your body.

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About the Author

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, 500 RYT yoga instructor, Ashtangi, and master herbalist. She makes her home at quietearthyoga.com and regularly counsels clients from around the country on matters of health, wellness, and herbal support. Hop on over to her website for her newest offerings, including a six week ecourse for combating anxiety. She can also be reached through Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or Facebook at Quiet Earth Yoga. Her upcoming book on yoga and herbs, The Herbal Goddess Guide, is due out in April, 2015. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

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