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Herbal Extract May Promote Heart-Healthy Weight Loss

Herbal Extract May Promote Heart-Healthy Weight Loss: Main Image
The caralluma group lost an average of 6.5 cm of waist circumference
Losing weight not only helps you look and feel better, it can also help you avoid heart disease, especially if the weight you lose comes off your middle. In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, people on a calorie-restricted diet and an exercise program who also used an extract from the plant, Caralluma fimbriata, reduced their waist circumference more than people on the diet and exercise program alone.

Adding caralluma to a weight loss program

Caralluma fimbriata, a cactus that grows in India, has been eaten as a vegetable for centuries. Because it has also been used traditionally to suppress hunger and increase stamina, it is sometimes referred to as "famine food."

The 12-week study included 33 people who were either overweight or obese. Each was given guidance on how to reduce their caloric intake to a level that was 500 calories lower than the amount recommended to maintain a normal weight for their height. They participated in regular exercise, attended weekly support sessions, and were randomly assigned to receive either 500 mg of Caralluma fimbriata twice daily or a placebo.

Caralluma users' bellies shrink

Food diaries showed that both groups ate approximately the same amount of calories and lost the same amount of weight (about 5.25 pounds) during the study; however, people in the caralluma group experienced some extra positive changes:

  • Waist circumference: The caralluma group lost an average of 6.5 cm of waist circumference compared with a loss of 2.6 cm in the placebo group.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio: The waist-to-hip ratio declined by 0.03 in the caralluma group and 0.01 in the placebo group, indicating a greater loss of abdominal fat in the treatment group.

Together these findings suggest that the caralluma group lost more abdominal fat than the placebo group. Increased abdominal fat is part of a condition known as metabolic syndrome and is closely associated with cardiovascular disease. The caralluma group also had less desire to eat, as measured by surveys done during the study, than the placebo group. Whether the herb's effect on appetite might support long-term dieting and weight loss could not be determined from this study.

"The decline in waist circumference following Caralluma fimbriata supplementation is vital as it implicates the potential role of this plant extract in the treatment of central obesity and the prevention of metabolic syndrome and other lifestyle related diseases," the study's authors said.

Use weight loss products wisely

While these findings add support for use of Caralluma fimbriata as a dieting aid, it is important to bear in mind that inaccurate marketing, sometimes to the point of deception, is common in weight loss products. If you decide to talk to your doctor about adding a caralluma extract to your weight loss program, here is some advice:

  • Do your research. Look for trusted brands that use independent labs to verify their ingredients.
  • Read labels carefully. Check both active and inactive ingredient lists to be sure you know what other nutrients and herbs are included, as well as their amounts.
  • Keep your wits about you. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is--there is no miracle cure for overweight and obesity, so make sure your expectations, and the product price, remain reasonable.
  • Lay a heathly foundation. While caralluma and certain other nutrients and herbs may support healthy weight loss, dietary change and exercise are the foundation of all effective weight loss programs.

(Complement Ther Med 2013;21:180-9)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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