The latest facts about health, fitness and nutrition based on science
by Dr. Matthew Chircop
Some people have a lot of weight to lose, and/or have medical conditions that are aggravated by their weight. In such cases, prescription medication and even surgery might be recommended. This article is not about those cases, or those treatments.
There are various “weight-loss” preparations on the market. Some actually have well-documented effects that might aid certain individuals to lose weight. In particular, this refers to the numerous caffeine-containing preparations on the market. There are also others that do not specifically contain caffeine, but contain substances which have similar physiological effects as caffeine – i.e. appetite suppression, increased alertness, increased energy levels etc. In general, the long-term health effects of such preparations are unknown. As these products are classified as foods, and not pharmaceuticals, they are not tested for safety or effectiveness according to the standards of the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Certain individuals have had serious life-threatening reactions to some of these preparations. As there is no way of predicting who might react in the same way (and at what dose or after what duration of use), I think that the safest course of action is to avoid such preparations altogether.
What about just caffeine, then? Well, caffeine has been shown to contribute to weight loss whilst you are taking it on a regular basis. I anticipate that as soon as you stop taking the caffeine regularly the weight-maintenance effects would dissipate. Then there is the risk, in some individuals, that caffeine aggravates anxiety, sleep disturbances, or triggers heart rhythm disturbances. I would suggest that, rather than taking extra caffeine in a pill or powder form, those who already drink tea or coffee can just have an extra cup a day (e.g. morning tea and afternoon tea) – within your daily calorie allocation, of course. The trick is not to add sugar to it (use a stevia-based sweetener instead), or eat any treats with it. Drinking more than 3-5 cups of tea or coffee per day is likely to start hindering weight loss, as it will begin to significantly interfere with sleep.
If you don’t already drink tea or coffee then don’t start having it. It can rapidly become an expensive and addictive habit. Just exercise instead. Exercise that is intense enough will trigger the release of adrenaline, which will temporarily suppress your appetite and give you energy, just like caffeine. The best thing is it won’t cost you anything to walk briskly up a few flights of stairs.
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