Weight management's herbal stars

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 23 No. 2
Volume 23
Issue 2

Weight management's herbal toolbox could include everything from CBD to Ayurvedic approaches.

Photo credit ©Taniasv - Stock.adobe.com

At its most superficial, weight management is a matter of aesthetics-think bikini season, beach bods, rockin’ the yoga pants et al.

But anyone even remotely schooled in healthful living knows that keeping body weight and composition in check pays dividends in far more substantial ways, including with respect to metabolic health, cardiovascular health, joint health and-crucially-healthy aging.

Which is why supplement brands that cater to aging consumers should stay on top of the latest science around healthy weight management-and the best formulating strategies for addressing it.


Weighty Issues

In aging and youthful populations alike, it’s no secret that overweight and obesity exact a heavy toll, both on society and on indi-viduals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the medical costs of obesity in the United States amounted to approximately $147 billion in 2008 dollars. But those are only direct medical costs; CDC also notes that obesity’s absenteeism-related productivity costs could take anywhere from $3.38 billion, or $79 per obese individual, to $6.38 billion, or $132 per individual, out of the economy.1

On a more personal level, the obese pay a price in higher risks than their healthy-weight peers for developing serious conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke-even depression and all-cause mortality.

In fact, says Sarah Brewer, MD, a UK-based doctor and member of supplement brand CuraLife’s (Tel Aviv) medical advisory board, “Those who are overweight are 1.5 times more likely to have a heart attack than someone who maintains a healthy weight. Getting down to the healthy weight range for your height can reduce your risk of a heart attack by as much as 35%-55%.”

Where individuals store excess weight also affects health outcomes. “If you’re overweight and store fat around your middle-the classic ‘apple shape’-you’re twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease, especially if this runs in your family,” Brewer adds.



Time Is Not on Our Side

So regardless of whether one’s young or old, staying on a path of healthy weight maintenance pays off. Alas, maintaining a healthy weight is simply more complicated the older an individual gets.

As Brewer notes, weight tends to accumulate with age, starting with the infamous “middle-age spread” that descends sometimes around one’s thirty-fifth birthday. “We put on weight more easily in our later years,” she explains, “because of changes in both our bodies and our lifestyles.”

Those bodily changes can involve age-related shifts in muscle mass. Namely, between age 25 and 70, the average female loses about 11 lb. of muscle and the average man loses about 22 lb. “Because muscle cells burn more energy than fat,” Brewer notes, “your metabolism slows in proportion to the amount of muscle tissue lost”-on average, about 5% every 10 years following age 25.

The upshot of a slower metabolism is less need for caloric energy. That translates into about 300 fewer kcals needed per day for a 75-year-old woman than for her 18-year-old self, and about 130 kcals fewer than when she was 50. “Unfortunately,” Brewer points out, “many of us remain in the habit of eating just as much.”


Harnessing Endocannabinoids

Bending the weight-gain curve downward will necessarily involve, among other factors, training older individuals away from that habit-which, as anyone who’s tried to diet their way to a lower scale reading knows, can be like swimming uphill.

But, Brewer notes, “There’s growing interest in how our endocannabinoid systems and our gut bacteria help shape our food choic-es and snacking behavior.”

The endocannabinoid system, a complex network involving neurotransmitters and cell-signaling pathways, is a product of millions of years of animal evolution that ultimately helps control feeding responses, Brewer explains.

“In the tiny freshwater creature the hydra, for example, endocannabinoids regulate the opening and closing of the mouth when food is detected,” she says. “Something similar still controls suckling in newborn babies, and your responses to the sight and smell of food.”

Normally, this system helps keep feeding in balance by fine-tuning nerve transmissions passing to and from the brain and the rest of the body, she continues; but if that signaling malfunctions, cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) sites in the brain as well as fat cells can get turned on-and stay on. “This overstimulation,” she notes, “is believed to contribute to obesity by promoting excess food intake and fat storage.”

A potential solution: Block that overstimulation to reduce hunger signals and promote the burning of fat rather than its storage. “Although one drug was developed to do this-Rimonabant-it was later withdrawn because of side effects,” Brewer notes. “So scientists are still looking for an alternative, and there’s some indication that the hemp-derived cannabinoid supplement canna-bidiol, or CBD, may help reduce appetite and stimulate fat cells to burn more fat to generate heat.”


Diet and Lifestyle First

It’s a tantalizing prospect-and one that adds yet more sizzle to the already smoking buzz around CBD.

But, Brewer advises, its promise shouldn’t distract consumers, clinicians, or supplement brands from the basics. “Diet and life-style always come first” in the battle against excess weight, she says. “Exercise more and select the right foods.”

For instance, consuming too many carbohydrates-especially simple sugars-stimulates the release of insulin, the body’s main fat-storing hormone; by contrast, Brewer says, “Following a low-glycemic diet with minimal impact on blood glucose levels will help you lose weight more easily.”

Similarly, she points to protein’s prowess at satiating hunger more quickly than carbohydrates and even fat. “You also use more energy and generate more heat when metabolizing proteins,” she adds, “which helps to promote weight loss. We therefore recom-mend a Mediterranean-style diet that favors vegetables, fruit, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds.”


Ayurvedic Solutions

As for pointing people toward weight-loss drugs, Brewer acknowledges their availability, but says, “I prefer not to prescribe them, as they don’t retrain dietary habits. And when people stop taking them, weight will likely pile back on.”

But what about supplements and natural products?

If an overweight consumer with glucose intolerance or type 2 diabetes is already cracking away at the diet and lifestyle pieces of the puzzle, Brewer doesn’t hesitate recommending Ayurvedic supplements.

CuraLife’s product CuraLin contains 10 herbal ingredients with long Ayurvedic track records of helping people address type 2 diabetes, Brewer claims.

“While most of these help maintain healthy glucose levels through their complementary actions, neempan appears to slow the absorption of dietary glucose and aids satiety by slowing the rate of stomach emptying after eating,” she explains, “while Gymnema contains unique gymnemic acids that interact with taste receptors to block the ability to detect sweetness, reducing sugar cravings.”

She cites testimonials from users who “don’t feel hungry when cutting back on food to lose weight.” And while the ingredient is no panacea-nor is it for everyone-she advises those already taking diabetes medications such as metformin to consult with their physicians before introducing the supplement to their regimens. It’s another reason for hope in the fight against “spread” in mid-dle age and beyond.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. “Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences.” Updated February 4, 2020. Accessed at: www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html
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