Weight Loss Herbs

January 18, 2012

I’ve said right from the beginning that Weight Loss pills and potions, including supposedly ‘natural’ remedies, are a waste of time, a waste of money and potentially damaging to your health. You just don’t need them at all.

Well, here’s a great article from Health Canada, that talks about not only the potential toxic effects of this stuff on your own health, but also on the environment.

Are weight loss herbs environmentally safe?Hoodia in bud

Faster than you can say “Jenny Craig’s a millionaire,” the feasting season is behind us and weight loss resolutions are in full swing. Gyms are bursting at the seams, ab rollers are flying off shelves and, yes, so are slimming supplements. So, are they good for you or the planet?

You may be tempted by all the “natural” products on shelves claiming they can help melt away the pounds, but far too many have proved dodgy in some way or another.

Health Canada actually recalled 68 specific brands of so-called natural or herbal weight loss supplements in 2009 because they contained undeclared prescription-only ingredients (including phenolphthalein, now off the market because of cancer concerns, and phenytoin, whose side effects include speech and vision problems).

But what about all those other slim-quick supplements still on shelves? Many are dogged by sustainability headaches, while others raise concerns about contamination. In 2010, ConsumerLab.com found that a couple of herbal weight loss formulas (Mega-T Green Tea and Dexatrim Max) were tainted with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium (the pollutant made famous by Erin Brockovich).

Probably one of the biggest environmental fiascos of the dieting world is hoodia. When 60 Minutes dedicated airtime to the potentially amazing appetite-suppressing power of an African cactus called Hoodia gordonii, sales went through the roof. Fabulous and all, except that the Kalahari only has so much hoodia, much of it heavily stressed. Though it’s a protected plant in most of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, illegal harvesting is a massive problem.

Environment Canada says illegal shipments of the diet pill are intercepted daily at mail centres, courier offices and airports in every major Canadian city. During the summer of 2006 alone, 2,000 shipments were stopped.

Environment Canada warns you to buy only from a company that can show you the proper CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permits – but come on, just leave the poor hoodia plant alone. Even Unilever walked away from developing a hoodia product when trials found it raised blood pressure and had little impact on calorie consumption.

Forskolin is a rising diet supplement made from the root of the Indian plant Coleus forskohlii, which is endangered in India. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says efforts to cultivate C. forskohlii for medicinal use will protect the plant. But even though cultivation is expanding, supply is still limited, so prices are high.

To make sure you’re not buying wild-sourced forskolin, look for certified organic, which guarantees it wasn’t plucked from the wild willy-nilly.

If you want a sustainable weight loss supplement, you’re better off swallowing trendy konjac root before your meals. (The root, which looks like a yam, is grown in India, China, Korea and Japan).

Konjac’s glucomannan fibre bulks up in your stomach and keeps you feeling full longer (plus, it’s a cholesterol lowerer). Highly touted PGX contains the stuff, although really, high intake of any dietary fibre will help do the same thing.

Try psyllium husks that are certified organic for a better price. Another promising compound without environmental concerns is fucoxanthin, or brown seaweed extract. Green coffee extract is in the clear if you get it organically sourced. Glucose-metabolizing chromium polynicotinate is pretty environmentally neutral.

Vegan alert: most CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) supplements are made from beef extract, but vegetarian versions are available. Of course, you’ll want to run any weight loss supplement plans by your health provider, and I’m not vouching for the efficacy of any of the above.

What I can promise is that no weight loss pills will live up to your slim-fast dreams. If you really want to lose a few pounds and save the planet at the same time, eat less carbon-heavy red meat and dairy, fill up on lots of fibre-rich organic veggies and legumes, unplug from your computer/gaming machine/TV more often and get moving.

Walking, cycling, running and old-fashioned yoga (not the “38°C in winter” kind) are all optimal ways to slim down and shed a few pounds of carbon, too.

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