Helpful Herbs for Weight Loss

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Forego conventional drugs by using a vegetarian diet and natural herbs for weight loss.
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Q and A expert Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa.
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Q and A expert Terry Willard.

These helpful herbs for weight loss make a difference by allowing you a safe, natural way to drop weight.

Read about herbs that can be used to treat ADHD: Helpful Herbs for ADHD.

Helpful Herbs for Weight Loss

I am trying to lose weight the safe way. I try not to use diet pills, because I don’t know which ones are safe. I also have high blood pressure and asthma. I need to lose about 20 pounds. I need help!
Dalton, Pennsylvania

Khalsa responds: I’m glad you are concerned about safety, and are eschewing weight-loss drugs. If used appropriately, natural methods are quite safe.

Natural diuretics, such as uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), cause fast weight loss from water loss, but the effect is short term. Herbal laxatives eliminate a few pounds of weight from stool, and may reduce absorption. They work fast, but are a temporary fix. Both have side effects if used to excess. Neither targets fat.

Soluble fibers, such as psyllium (Plantago spp.), provide a feeling of fullness, and reduce fat absorption from the digestive tract. Start with a very small amount (a miniscule 1/4 teaspoon), and increase (by 1/4 teaspoon) with each meal. Drink a copious amount of water with the fiber.

To burn off accumulated fat calories, we can increase metabolic rate (daily calories burned), with a process called thermogenesis, which is popular these days, and effective. Helpful herbs in this category contain caffeine derivatives (chocolate-based products), ephedrine derivatives (ma huang), or yohimbine derivatives (yohimbe). All of these suppress appetite and increase metabolism. Plus, they are energizing, which helps with the fatigue from reduced food intake. But they are not suitable for someone with high blood pressure.

One standout weight-loss herb that is set to become popular is chá-de-bugre (Cordia ecalyculata), from Brazil. Widely promoted in Brazil as a weight-loss remedy, this herb is on its way to the United States. There is scarce science to back this up, though. Chá-de-bugre contains caffeine, so it is mildly energizing, decreases appetite and boosts urination. Little more is known about active constituents. Interestingly, it also heals cold sores and wounds, and reduces pain and swelling when applied topically.

Chá-de-bugre often is taken as tea. Rather than cutting off appetite, it creates a feeling of being full after a few bites. Drink it 30 minutes to one hour before a meal. Use 2 to 3 grams of powdered leaf in capsules one to three times daily, or the equivalent in tea.

Vegetarians weigh less than meat eaters, regardless of food intake or exercise, according to a recent published review. The scientists found that average body weight of vegetarians is 3 to 20 percent lower than that of meat eaters, without increased exercise or restrictions on portion sizes, calories or carbohydrates.

Said Susan Berkow, Ph.D., “Our research reveals that people can enjoy unlimited portions of high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight without feeling hungry.” According to the scientists, the mechanism may involve the way the body metabolizes plant foods. Apparently, a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, so plant-based foods are used more efficiently as fuel, rather than being stored as fat. Insulin sensitivity is increased in vegetarians, easing nutrient absorption. 

Willard responds: Our modern diet and lifestyle make it virtually impossible for many individuals to maintain a normal, healthy body weight. Consequently, and unfortunately, weight control has become an obsession in our society. Other factors, such as nutritional deficiencies, metabolic abnormalities and, in some cases, glandular disturbances also might be present. These can contribute to weight management difficulties and must be remedied first before weight can be controlled effectively.

Often, adopting a healthy diet is all we really need to do in order to lose 20 pounds. This might mean keeping the calories low, but often it just means making better food choices—for example, avoiding fast foods, dairy, flour and sweets. It is useful to find out if you have Syndrome X (insulin resistance) or a candida problem. By adopting the programs for Syndrome X and/or candida, you often can lose weight while being able to eat as much approved food as you want. To determine if Syndrome X or candida is affecting you, try the free questionnaires on my clinic’s website,

The supplements that I use the most for weight loss are garcinia (Garcinia cambogia), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and digestive enzymes.

Garcinia grows along the west coast of India, where it has been used in food preparation for centuries. It supposedly makes a meal more filling. Studies on this plant go back to the late 1960s, but it was not until the 1970s that the pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-La Roche started taking a serious look at its ability to stimulate weight loss. Over the next several years, garcinia was shown to decrease the production of cholesterol (especially bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, reduce appetite and increase energy while increasing thermogenesis. In 20 years of clinical use, it has been proven that garcinia continues to be effective even after extended use. It does not cause a rebound or the “yo-yo” effect associated with many weight-management plans. Long-term consumption is safe, even for diabetics, although the herb is not indicated during pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children. It does not stimulate the central nervous system and does not cross the blood-brain barrier. It can combine nicely with other nutrients. I suggest 500 to 1,000 mg, 30 to 90 minutes before meals. This both lowers appetite and reduces fat production.

CLA from sunflower oil may prove to be the biggest breakthrough in weight management yet. Studies indicate that CLA can help decrease body fat while maintaining muscle. It also is useful in reducing sugar-related problems, such as hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance). Research shows that CLA increases the conversion of stored fat to usable energy and also inhibits the conversion of extra calories into stored fat. The dosage is 2 to 3 capsules, twice daily.

Digestive enzymes are important for weight management. By using a preparation of buffered hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, you ensure the proper breakdown of foods and absorption of vital nutrients. This can reduce the appetite, while preventing the growth of candida in the system. I suggest 1 to 3 capsules, depending on the size or density of the meal.

The best time of the year to try and lose weight is April to September. In the winter months, it is much more difficult. By adopting the above program, you should be able to lose 20 pounds and get back to a normal healthy weight, within four months.

Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.

Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.

Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; fax (785) 274-4305; or e-mail us at Provide your name and full address for verification, although both will be kept confidential.

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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