Article by Ian Finlayson
Excess weight and obesity is a growing epidemic.
It is tempting and easy to say that simply eating less and exercising more will make you lose weight. When I was a teenager I ate like a horse. My nickname was skinny Finny, and that’s what I was – skinny. And I hated it! Now, in later years, I’m no longer skinny and I eat a fraction of what I did as a youngster.
Dad didn’t have a car then. He did later but it certainly was not used for dropping me off at school or university. I cycled. I cycled everywhere. I cycled all over Scotland up to 200km a day. And I still wondered why I was skinny.
I think if our metabolism continued through life to work as fast as it did when we were teenagers there would not be too much obesity around. If we walked or cycled to work, swam 20 laps of the pool, went to the gym…but that’s not being very helpful, is it? Our body changes with age.
Our metabolism slows down; our digestive system doesn’t work so well. The bowel clogs up, our liver and kidneys have too many toxins to get rid of efficiently. Our vascular system is less effective in getting blood supply to the vital organs and nothing works as well as it used to. All of that leads to putting on weight – and it ain’t the muscle that skinny Finny wanted. Muscle you have to work for, fat is easy. Being overweight is often associated with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Diabetes related illnesses affect 70 million people in the USA alone and is a common cause of premature death and disability.
So – what do we do about it? There is no doubt we have to get more exercise into our lives. We are different people and we do that in different ways. Some people like the social interactions of the gym; the motivation of having your peers or trainer whipping you along. I go for walks with the dog, do my own routine of exercises, garden. I also park the car at the far end of the shopping car park, so that I have to walk further; and so on. I suppose it’s a matter of working those things into your lifestyle. And the good thing about it is that the more you exercise, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. Then it becomes self-motivating simply because you are enjoying it, or, at least, you are not huffing and puffing at the very thought of exercise.
But motivation is not that easy when it comes to eating less. It’s not much fun to have to cut back, and doesn’t become easier with time. That’s why most “dieters” give up and go back to their old ways pretty soon. The whole “going on a diet” thing makes me shudder. It’s like “going on a holiday” or “going on a picnic”. Things you “go on” generally have a finite life. It’s OK while it lasts but it never lasts forever.
And who says eating less is the ultimate answer? Maybe it is more to do with eating the right things. Eating foods that will speed up rather than slow down your metabolism. Two of the herbs I am highlighting in this article (I thought I’d better get round to talking about herbs at some point) are the currently popular appetite suppressants, hoodia gordonii and garcinia cambogia. But they are not to stop you eating. They serve to help you control and manage your intake, so that you can regulate the quantity and sort of food you are eating, and cut back on, maybe even eliminate, the snacks. You haven’t got a hope in Hades of winning the weight battle if you are ravenous all the time. You need to give yourself a chance by curbing that appetite.
Also, as you get older, you need to give your digestive/evacuation system all the help it can get. The longer your food hangs around your system the more toxins there are in your body to drag you down. You are never going to feel a hundred percent if your food, including all the fats and toxins you consume, is going through your system at a snail’s pace. A number of herbs are particularly effective in helping to achieve a smoothly working system, from mildly laxative herbs, such as dandelion ( taraxacum officinale ) to bulking herbs, to be consumed with lots and lots of water, such as psyllium (plantago psyllium ), which contains mucilage, which builds bulk to push the waste out. Cascara sagrada is the herb generally recommended for persistent and/or severe constipation. It is commonly supplied in supplements that combine it with other herbal ingredients that soothe the intestinal tract.
But the big weight loss success story of the past two and a bit years in Western society is the hoodia gordonii plant. African Sans Bushmen have used hoodia for centuries to curb appetite while on their long hunting treks. In 2004 the West “discovered” it and much research has been carried out to establish the processes which make it work and to ascertain whether there are any adverse side effects. It seems the hoodia plant is rich in steroidal glycosides, which actually fool the brain into thinking the stomach is full, as if you have just eaten a big meal. And, seemingly, it has no discernable detrimental side effects. Certainly at this point in time the hoodia plant appears to be a blessing, with no negatives, particularly for those people who are grossly overweight and whose uncontrollable overeating is likely to lead to diabetes and other diseases.
Another traditional weight loss plant being currently researched is garcinia cambogia. It is being promoted for weight loss due to various possible beneficial effects it may have on the body. It has an effect on an enzyme which is used by the body to store fat, possibly resulting in a greater portion of fats consumed to be eliminated. Also it seems to cause the body to use up fat stored for energy during prolonged exercise whereas normally carbohydrates are used up before fats during exercise. Other sources suggest that the hydroxy citrate acid (HCA), which is contained in the rind of this Indian fruit, appears to block the conversion of sugars and starches into fats. It is also surmised that HCA may suppress appetite by raising levels of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin, a key stimulator of appetite. Although more research has to be carried out with this fruit, importantly it has not shown any negative side effects so far.
Other ingredients in herbal weight loss products include elderberry for its beneficial effect on the urinary tract and bladder; raw, they are a laxative and diuretic. Cranberry, vaccinium oxycoccus, and bearberry, uva ursi, are also herbs that support urinary tract health. Bearberry, dandelion and gallium aperine, are also diuretic and bearberry and yarrow (milfoil), achillea millefolium, promote kidney health. Anise, pimpinella anisum, calendula, calendula officinalis, and licorice, glycyrrhiza glabra, are commonly included for stomach, digestion health and carminative properties. Senna ( cassia senna ) is a well-known stimulant laxative and diuretic but is not often used on its own. Yarrow is also known for cardiovascular support and licorice used for constipation, and liver problems. Two culinary herbs sometimes included in weight loss products are parsley and mint, mentha piperita, for their property of aiding digestion.
Of course, as with any medicinal regime, whether it comprises a combination of pharmaceutical, herbal, vitamin or mineral components, it is absolutely essential that you are aware of potential detrimental interactions. It is also important that you don’t double up on an active ingredient that could be part of more than one of the components. I am not a great fan of mixing pharmaceutical and herbal medicines, although there are many other experienced and knowledgeable herbalists who are happy to use herbal products as complementary to pharmaceuticals. That is an issue for another day’s debate. If in doubt, if you are mixing and matching medicines, if you are unwell, or pregnant (actually or possibly), or a nursing mother, make sure you get advice from a professional with herbology training. Reduce your food intake; look after your digestive system. Make sure your system is evacuating waste efficiently and eat foods that will speed up your metabolic rate, not slow it down – and exercise. The right choice of herbs can help with all of that, except maybe the exercise – you are on your own on that one.
About the Author
Ian Finlayson, webmaster and author of The Herb Spiral, at http://www.theherbspiral.com has spent two decades studying the therapeutic properties of medicinal herbs. The Herb Spiral provides information to consumers of herbal supplements who seek to learn more about the properties of the ingredients of products they are using, or are considering using