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Nutrients that boost weight loss

All your body systems, including lymphatic drainage, circulation and metabolism, play a part in regulating your weight. When one is not functioning well, it has a domino effect on all the others, reducing their efficiency and forcing them to compensate for each other. One of the fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine is “treat the person, not the disease” and this has never been more pertinent than when it comes to weight loss in our modern world.

Poor diet depletes the body of nutrient stores, while stress causes us to burn up our nutrients faster than we should. So, even when consuming a healthy diet, the foods you eat may not provide the range of nutrients your body needs to function at an optimal level.

Improving digestion for weight loss

Sub-optimal digestion may manifest in a variety of symptoms, such as indigestion, reflux, flatulence, bloating or constipation, which can then lead to all sorts of other problems including lethargy, bloating and weight gain. Optimising the function of your liver, gall bladder, pancreas and digestive tract can help to prevent these uncomfortable symptoms and improve the absorption of nutrients.

Your small intestine

Absorption of nutrients occurs mainly in the small intestine. Small intestinal function may become impaired for various reasons, such as a lack of gastrointestinal secretions that help protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (the mucosa), food intolerance or allergies, low immune status or excess consumption of refined sugars.

Nutrient support: L-glutamine

This is an amino acid that plays a role in the health of the digestive system as well as the immune system and muscle cells. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is predominantly synthesised and stored in skeletal muscle. It serves as a source of fuel for the cells that line the intestines, helps to protect the gastrointestinal mucosa and enhances gut function.

Glutamine can be quickly depleted by numerous factors, such as exercise, infection, surgery and trauma. High-protein foods such as meat, fish, beans and dairy products are excellent sources of glutamine. L-Glutamine can be taken in a powder form or in tablets or capsules.

Your large intestine

If elimination of waste products is inadequate, your health can become extremely compromised. Constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, diverticulitis, haemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome are just some of the problems that can stem from an unhealthy bowel. It’s not just your digestive health that becomes severely compromised, but your immune function can also be impaired.

Nutrient support: Fibre

Fibre is essential for a regular and healthy bowel function. Insoluble fibres include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignan. They provide bulk to the gastrointestinal contents, help to absorb cholesterol and stimulate peristalsis to promote more frequent defecation and shorter passage time. Soluble fibres include pectins, gums and mucilages. Soluble fibres slow down gastric emptying, delaying digestion and absorption of sugars, starches and fats.

Though the recommended daily intake is 30–35g of fibre a day, most Australians manage to get only 20g from their daily diet. Fibre supplements such as slippery elm and psyllium can help you achieve your daily fibre requirements, promote a regular bowel habit and help you to feel fuller for longer. Eating wholemeal and wholegrain varieties of rice, bread, pasta and crackers is another good way of ensuring additional fibre in your diet.

Nutrient support: Probiotics

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in your intestine. Dietary sources of probiotics include natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, buttermilk and miso. A healthy human digestive tract contains hundreds of different types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system.

The positive effects of supplementing with probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus on many different body systems cannot be understated. In addition to enhancing the health of the digestive tract, probiotics also have a positive effect on the immune system, helping to reduce inflammation.

Probiotic supplements come in powder or tablet form with differing strengths and levels of good bacteria. Probiotic drinks have also become increasingly popular, but it’s important to watch that they don’t contain too much sugar or sucrose, which will negate some of their positive effects.

Your pancreas

The pancreas is the body’s enzyme factory. It produces 1.5 litres a day of potent digestive juices that contain water, salts, sodium bicarbonate and numerous enzymes. The pancreatic enzymes include a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme (eg amylase), protein-digesting enzymes (such as trypsin and chymotrypsin) and an enzyme that helps break down fats (eg lipase).

The pancreas also regulates the production of insulin, which acts to lower blood sugar levels by transporting glucose into your cells. The secretion of insulin is directly affected by your diet and it determines whether blood sugar is used right away for immediate energy or is stored as fat instead.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Digestive enzymes

These improve digestion as food is broken down for transit through the gastrointestinal tract. Deficiency of digestive enzymes results in the malabsorption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Research has shown that people who are obese may, for example, be low in the enzyme lipase. Many digestive enzymes are derived from natural plant sources. The plant-based protein bromelain, a common ingredient of digestive enzyme supplements, comes from the stems of pineapples, while papain is sourced from unripe papaya.

Cellular energy and weight loss

The mitochondria are found in every cell of the body and serve as cellular powerplants, processing the nutrients and oxygen that feed the cells. One of the key jobs of the mitochondria is to convert fatty acids and glucose into energy, so if this engine of your cells is not working properly, you are more likely to gain weight. As we age, mitochondrial function becomes impaired by toxins or disease and begins to shut down.

Studies show that high levels of fat accumulation in liver and muscle tissue are associated with lower metabolic activity of the mitochondria. The good news? There are effective nutritional supplements that can support cellular energy production and improve the mitochondrial function of your cells.

Nutrient support for weight loss: L-carnitine

An important amino acid, L-carnitine is synthesised from the amino acids lysine and methionine within the kidneys, liver, heart and brain. Dietary sources include red meat, avocado and tempeh. L-carnitine is involved in cellular energy production. It assists the transport of fat across cell membranes in muscle tissue for use as an energy source and helps with the removal of fatty acids from the mitochondria. L-carnitine’s role in fat transport as well as its ability to lower triglyceride levels makes it useful for preventing fat accumulation in the liver. It’s available in powder or tablet form.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10 is located within the mitochondria of every cell of the body. It’s a powerful antioxidant and supports the mitochondria in producing energy to help fuel the body’s daily activities. Supplementation with CoQ10 renews cell and tissue stores and improves the efficiency of cellular energy production. The antioxidant action of coenzyme Q10 will prevent cellular damage that can occur from excessive inflammation. CoQ10 comes in powder or supplement form and may be included in fat-loss nutrient formulas.

Fat burning and storage

The liver is the largest internal organ and plays a vital role in hormone balance, immune function and metabolism. Among its various roles, the liver can be seen as the body’s own “fat-burning machine”. It produces bile, which is stored by the gall bladder and released after eating a meal containing fat. This helps to emulsify (break down into droplets) and absorb the fat as it travels through the small intestine.

If your liver and gall bladder are not functioning efficiently, inadequate amounts of bile are produced. This means dietary fat is poorly emulsified and absorbed, often resulting in feelings of nausea following a rich or fatty meal. It may mean you also gain weight. Signs of liver and gall bladder dysfunction include lack of appetite on waking in the morning, coated tongue, dark circles under the eyes, bad breath, abdominal bloating, flushed facial appearance and itchy eyes or itchy skin.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Lecithin

Lecithin was first discovered in eggs in 1846, so its name was derived from the Greek word for egg yolk, lekithos. Lecithin is found in all living organisms and is therefore, readily available in foods. In addition to egg yolks, good dietary sources also include liver, peanuts, corn, spinach, and whole grains. Made up of choline, linoleic acid and inositol, it is a type of lipoprotein that is a large component of the membranes of every cell in the body.

Lecithin assists in the proper functioning of the liver and gallbladder by helping to repair damage and prevent fat accumulation. Lecithin breaks down fats such as cholesterol and removes them from the body, thereby protecting arteries and vital organs from fatty build-up. Lecithin is available in capsule or granule form. Taking lecithin supplements before each meal can help with the digestion of fats or, alternatively, you can sprinkle lecithin granules on your breakfast cereal or add them to soups, juices or breads. Lecithin supplements are usually derived from soybeans.

Nutrient suppor for weight losst: Hydroxycitric acid

Derived from the rind of the Southeast Asian fruit, Garcinia cambogia, this nutrient is also known as brindleberry or Malabar tamarind. It is commonly used in Indian and Thai food as a condiment or flavouring, so you can add it to cooking or as a side dish. This acid prevents the production and storage of fat through inhibiting the enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates into fat as well as those involved in stimulating glucose production in the liver.

Nutrient support: Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)

This is found in dairy, eggs and grass-fed animal meat such as beef and lamb, with the highest concentration found in kangaroo meat. As a tablet supplement, CLA is only just beginning to come onto the marketplace in Australia. Sourced from safflower oil, it’s used to help reduce body fat. Research on the effects of CLA supplementation suggests it may reduce body fat mass and waist-hip ratio while increasing lean body mass.

Balancing blood sugar for weight loss

After a meal, glucose molecules are absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the cells where they are used for energy. If you take in more glucose than your body needs at the time, your body stores the extra glucose in your liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. When you are having trouble pushing yourself through the day after a bad night’s sleep or heavy-duty schedule, your body can use the stored glucose to provide energy between meals. The trouble is, before you get to use this excess glucose it’s often converted to fat and stored in fat cells.

If too much insulin is secreted in response to elevated blood sugar levels, a severe drop in blood sugar can result, which causes low energy and sugar cravings — a condition known as hypoglycaemia. Other symptoms of hypoglycaemia include hunger, nervousness and shakiness, perspiration, dizziness or light-headedness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking and feeling anxious or weak. This cycle of fluctuating blood sugar levels results in a state of chronic fatigue and weight gain.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Cinnamon

If you think cinnamon is simply a delicious spice that appears in your fruit muffins or in your cup of chai, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Cinnamon has become well regarded for its efficacy in reducing blood sugar, making it a valuable tool in the armament against obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Cinnamon is available in the form of a supplement, cinnamon quills or powder. The polyphenols found in cinnamon have been shown to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, as well as reduce blood glucose levels and LDL cholesterol.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Chromium

This is an essential trace element that enhances the action of insulin. One of the richest dietary sources is brewer’s yeast, but chromium is also found in bran cereals, broccoli, wholegrain products, green beans and many spices. Chromium assists blood sugar control by improving the ability of insulin to bind to cells and increasing the number of insulin receptors, thereby aiding the passage of glucose into the cells. Chromium is also useful in lowering triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels. As well as food sources, chromium is available in individual supplements (chromium pincolinate is the best absorbed) and is often included in mineral formula tablets.

Inflammation prevents weight loss

Fat cells release inflammatory hormones such as leptin, which play a central role in insulin resistance, immunity and inflammation. Elevated leptin levels create an inflammatory state within the body, disrupting sugar and fat metabolism. This disruption ultimately causes your cells to become resistant to insulin and the subsequent elevated insulin levels cause a further increase in inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle and one that is important to break. Removing sources of inflammation, such as heavily refined, processed foods, helps to keep your weight in check.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Fish oil

Fish oil assists with weight loss through a number of mechanisms. In a report from the University of South Australia, researcher, Alison Hill found: “The omega-3 found in fish oil increases fat-burning ability by improving the flow of blood to muscles during exercise.” Omega-3s also help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which promotes optimal health.

Studies in animals have shown fish oil is able to improve intestinal fat metabolism as well as stop the conversion of pre-fat cells into fat cells by causing them to die off. The end result is a significant decrease in the accumulation of fat in areas such as the tummy. There are also many other reasons to supplement with fish oil, particularly in relation to its positive effects on the nervous system and its role in enhancing brain function and benefiting heart health.

Fish oil supplementation with capsules or liquid oil, combined with exercise, has been shown to result in more fat loss than exercise without supplementation. However, the best source of fish oil is fresh fish. Aim to eat the oilier varieties of fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines at least three times a week.

Brain chemistry

How many times have you felt too worn-out, depressed, anxious or stressed to even bother with trying to lose excess weight? One of the reasons for this is the intricate link between hunger and brain chemistry. Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, has a major influence on appetite and eating behaviour. Lack of exercise, stress and poor nutrition can all contribute to a decrease in serotonin levels. When serotonin levels fall, appetite often increases significantly. The body may then try to right the chemical imbalance by making you crave carbohydrates, which help to produce more serotonin in your brain.

Nutrient support for weight loss: Vitamins and minerals

The B group vitamins, often referred to as the “stress vitamins”, are very important for the nervous system and brain function, particularly vitamin B6, which is used to create serotonin. To boost your B group vitamins, eat more wheatgerm, yeast, wholegrains, legumes and sardines. Magnesium also helps with nervous system function due to its role in nerve conduction (it has been found that people with serotonin deficiency often have low magnesium levels). Good food sources of magnesium include wheatbran, oats, wholemeal bread, prawns, spinach, Brazil nuts and almonds.

Other minerals important in serotonin production are zinc, copper, manganese and iron, which can be taken via a good-quality mineral supplement. Vitamin C is useful because of its role as a co-factor for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. To increase vitamin C, reach for citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes.

Finally, don’t forget exercise! Regular exercise benefits all body systems and is extremely effective in increasing serotonin levels — to help put you in a better mood all day.

Minerals matter

Magnesium: Magnesium helps with cellular energy, muscle relaxation and fatty acid oxidation (fat burning).

Deficiency signs: Muscle twitches and spasms.

Potassium: Potassium helps prevent excess fluid retention, assists in building muscle, maintains a healthy electrolyte balance, optimises nerve function and is involved in the release of energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates during metabolism.

Deficiency signs: Water retention, muscle weakness, fatigue, constipation.

Zinc: Zinc is needed for the correct functioning of hormones such as insulin and helps to regulate appetite.

Deficiency sign: White spots on finger nails, loss of taste sensation.

Calcium: Studies have shown optimum levels of calcium can reduce the risk of gaining weight.

Deficiency signs: Brittle nails, vertical ridges on fingernails, muscle cramps, sleeplessness.

Chromium: Chromium helps with carbohydrate metabolism to control cravings and reduce hunger.

Deficiency signs: Sugar cravings.

Manganese: Manganese assists with fat metabolism and blood-glucose regulation. It also promotes healthy thyroid function.

Deficiency signs: Manganese deficiency in humans has not been clearly established. However, symptoms of manganese deficiency may include depressed growth of hair and nails, failure in normal hair pigmentation and dermatitis.

Nutritional supplements for weight loss

  • Fish oil: Increases good cholesterol levels, reduces bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the cardiovascular system and cells.
  • Vitamin E: Reduces blood pressure and has an antioxidant effect.
  • Coenzyme Q10 : Reduces blood pressure, improves the function of the heart and has an antioxidant effect.
  • Taurine: Helps stabilise high blood pressure and improve liver function.
  • Vitamins B12, B6 and folate: Benefit mood, glucose metabolism and utilisation. They reduce the level of homocysteine in your blood, high levels of which increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Antioxidants: Have an anti-inflammatory effect on the cardiovascular system and protect your blood vessels from oxidative damage.
  • Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D have been shown to increase your risk of having a heart attack.
  • Lipoic acid: Is a potent antioxidant and may also help stabilise blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.

Saskia Brown is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist specialising in weight loss, allergies and asthma.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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