A lot of people want to lose weight, but it’s not always easy. The most effective regimen for weight loss is to eat less and exercise more, which requires a lot of personal effort, organization, and lifestyle change.
In particular, eating less is difficult when we have become accustomed to our typical daily food intake. Simply eating less food leaves us feeling hungry and worsens our mood.
Appetite suppressants are an appealing idea, but do they work, and are they safe? And should we be doing that in the first place, or is it a bad idea to mask the body’s natural signals?
The answer is yes; they can be effectively and safely used as a part of a weight loss program. We’ll go over eight natural appetite suppressants that work – but let’s first learn about why we need to eat less to lose weight, and why doing that is so hard.
The Obesity Epidemic
The percentage of Americans who are overweight has been increasing every year for decades. The most authoritative source of health data in the United States is the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is taken annually.
According to the NHANES, obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) over 30. This is calculated from a person’s height and body weight.
Health Risks Of Being Overweight
The negative consequences that come with being overweight or obese are among the most significant among all health risks nationwide today.
The list of health risks goes on, but it is not necessary to mention them all. It is important to note that these risks can dramatically decrease life expectancy and quality (6).
Most of us know that being overweight is unhealthy, but it is very difficult to lose weight. It takes a considerable amount of effort to completely overhaul one’s whole lifestyle. A good place to start is understanding the basics behind why our bodies put on or lose weight in the first place.
Energy Storage In The Human Body
When we eat food, our bodies break down the energy-containing molecules – fats, carbohydrates, and proteins – to produce the form of energy used by our body cells, ATP.
If you had to survive off the amount of ATP currently stored in your body, you wouldn’t last very long. Fortunately, the body is very efficient at turning glucose sugar into ATP as we need it. Your blood takes glucose around your body, where it can be turned into ATP as needed (7).
Your body must maintain a consistent level of blood glucose, so it stores some in a form called glycogen. This is mostly in the liver, but also in your muscles. When you expend a lot of energy, like when you exercise, your body uses these stores to replenish your blood sugars. When you eat, it replenishes the stores.
You don’t have a whole lot of glycogen, either. One study that measured the glycogen content of muscle cells before and after exercise found that 84% of the store was depleted after two hours of working out (8).
That’s where fat comes in — fat stores most of your body’s energy reserves at any given time. Compared to burning glycogen, it takes a bit longer for your body to convert fat stores into ATP, the form in which it can be used.
Whether you burn or store fat depends on the energy balance of your body. That is the difference between ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out.’ ‘Energy in’ consists of the food you eat. ‘Energy out’ is divided into three main categories:
- Physical activity – the energy burned by the voluntary movement of your body.
- Metabolism – the energy burned to complete all of the biochemical processes that keep you alive and run your body.
- Temperature regulation – the energy burned to keep your body at a constant temperature.
The interactions between all of these factors are complex. There is a dynamic range of genetic, mental, and physical factors at play.
Still, scientific evidence shows that the role of exercise in weight loss is overestimated. Even intensive exercise programs only burn a fraction of the average adult’s daily caloric intake. Exercise alone cannot cause significant weight loss (9).
The amount of food consumed, and the timing of eating are the most important factors in determining whether the body burns or stores fat (10).
8 Proven Natural Appetite Suppressants
We evolved in a time when food was scarce, so we’re hard-wired to eat a lot of whatever we can find. That’s especially true for energy-rich foods, of which we now have plenty available.
It’s no surprise that so many people struggle with losing weight due to this imbalance. Suppressing our appetites can be a very helpful tool when embarking on a weight loss diet, but some may bring with them unwanted side effects.
These eight natural appetite suppressants are proven to work, and won’t cause any unpleasant or harmful side effects.
Fenugreek has been used as a herbal remedy for metabolic and nutritional disorders for centuries. Modern science agrees – in a study of healthy volunteers, fenugreek extract reduced calorie consumption by 17% compared to a group who were given a placebo (11).
Fenugreek has a high fiber content. Fiber slows down the passage of food through the gut, meaning that you stay full for longer and eat less food (12).
The fiber found in fenugreek also helps to regulate your blood sugar levels. When these go too high or too low, your mood can decrease, and you can feel hungrier, making it more likely that you’ll stray from your diet (13).
The fiber in fenugreek is water-soluble, so a tea made from fenugreek also worked to suppress appetite in a trial of obese women (14).
Fenugreek is safe, with almost no side effects (15).
2. Gymnema Sylvestre
A tropical plant that grows all across Africa, India, and Australia has some surprising benefits that can help in a weight loss regime – especially if you’re finding you eat too much sugar.
Gymnema Sylvestre contains gymnemic acid, which blocks sweet receptors on the tongue, making sugary foods taste a little less good (16).
That’s important since our perception of how good food tastes can affect your caloric intake more than how hungry you actually are. One study measured that a group who had Gymnema Sylvestre extract an hour before eating ate significantly less sugar and fewer calories overall than a group who didn’t – even though both had been fasting (17).
Sweet receptors are also present in the gut, and gymnemic acid blocks these also. It reduces the amount of sugar you absorb from the food you’ve eaten, with the result of lowering your blood sugar levels (18).
3. Garcinia Cambogia
A fruit native to Indonesia called the Malabar tamarind, or Garcinia Cambogia contains high concentrations of hydroxycitric acid (HCA) in its peel. Extracts containing this acid can act to suppress the appetite and reduce caloric intake.
A study on overweight human volunteers came to the same conclusion, but the effect was more variable. Success depended on the amount of HCA consumed, when it was consumed, and the physiology of each individual test subject. As well as decreasing caloric intake and making subjects report feeling less hungry, HCA supplements resulted in overall weight loss during the test period (21).
It is generally safe, but some side effects can occur at higher doses. These include headaches and nausea, and again, these varied with the individual (22).
When you start taking HCA supplements, you should start with a small dose first, then move to a higher dose when you are sure you are not experiencing side effects.
4. Yerba Mate
If you’re trying to suppress your appetite, you might consider replacing your morning coffee with Yerba Mate.
The beverage mate is made from this plant, and it is popular in Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay. Like coffee, it contains high concentrations of caffeine, but it also has some other properties that affect your appetite.
It increases the blood concentrations of a protein called GLP-1 and the hormone leptin (23).
Both of these compounds are part of natural signaling pathways involved with energy metabolism. GLP-1 directly affects appetite, while leptin communicates about the state of your fat stores, telling your brain you’ve got enough and to stop eating.
Exercising made these effects stronger, according to one study of women who were asked to cycle for 30 minutes after consuming Yerba Mate. The study also found that the subjects’ metabolisms, which also can help weight loss (26).
Yerba Mate has no known side effects, but it does contain quite a lot of caffeine, so don’t have too much (27).
5. Griffonia Simplicifolia
Griffonia Simplicifolia’s appetite-suppressing qualities come from its high concentration of 5-hydroxytryptophan, more commonly known as 5-HTP. Any 5-HTP supplement should have similar effects.
5-HTP is a molecule used by the body to make serotonin. This neurotransmitter is well-established as a regulator of appetite and is currently the subject of ongoing research to produce anti-obesity drugs. The major effect of serotonin on appetite is to decrease desire for high-carbohydrate foods (28).
In one study, 900mg of 5-HTP per day helped obese patients feel full earlier, consume fewer calories and carbohydrates, and lose weight (29).
In another, overweight volunteers who took 5-HTP lost weight and reported feeling more full after meals than the group who didn’t (30).
Unfortunately, there are a few side effects associated with the long-term use of this supplement. These are mild and include nausea and headaches (31).
Ginger is one of the oldest herbal medicines, having been used since ancient times to treat metabolic disorders (32).
After consuming ginger, the body uses more energy to digest the same quantity of food. As a result, the body may react as if it has eaten more food. In one study, overweight men were less hungry after a meal when they had consumed a ginger beverage beforehand (33).
Ginger also increases serotonin concentrations, adding another mechanism to its appetite-suppressing qualities (34).
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world, and it also helps to suppress your appetite. There may be some evidence backing the (unhealthy) habit of substituting the beverage for breakfast after all.
Numerous studies show that caffeine decreases food intake throughout the day. These effects were observed in subjects who were overweight and who weren’t. Appetite suppression is strongest from 0.5-4 hours after consumption (35).
Caffeine also speeds up your metabolism, making it a valuable weight loss aid in multiple ways (36).
As far as side effects go, too much coffee can cause anxiety, jitters, and high blood pressure (37). If you are experiencing any of these side effects after drinking coffee, you might want to try a beverage with less caffeine, like tea.
With the added benefit of being the most readily available of the appetite suppressants on this list, water is effective in reducing food intake when drunk before a meal.
Fourteen healthy male volunteers were randomly assigned to drink a glass of water before a meal, or not. The men who drank water ate less than the men who didn’t (38).
Another study of overweight subjects found that this effect also applied when they increased their volunteers’ overall water consumption beyond normal. Upping daily water intake decreased their food consumption and helped them to lose weight (39).
At least a part of this effect is probably due to the liquid simply filling up the stomach – the same effect was found in a study that used watery soup instead of water (40).
Your body burns or stores fat depending on the energy balance of the body. Even though this balance is controlled by a dynamic mix of factors, the most important is caloric intake. Thus, the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories.
However, our bodies are hard-wired to keep consuming calories due to our ancient roots, evolving in a context where food was scarce.
Appetite suppressants can be a valuable tool to help us adhere to our weight-loss diets, but some available commercially have undesirable side effects.
Low-impact, natural appetite suppressants are available, and many are very simple – like drinking more water. Other herbal supplements have other effects that also help with weight loss, like speeding up your metabolism or interacting with hormone signaling systems.
Using appetite suppressants is a valid and effective way to help stay on a weight loss diet. Finding the right one for you may take a couple of attempts, but it will be worth it.