If you’re looking to lose weight, then by far the best option available to you is to spend more time in the gym and less time in the fridge. Nothing compares to making lifestyle changes when it comes to improving your shape and getting the body composition you want.
But while that may be the case, there are certainly a lot of supplements on the market that claim to be very helpful in helping us accomplish those goals as well. And they can’t all be lying, can they?
Well, thermogenic fat burners are either essentially ineffective or dangerous and fat ‘blockers’ aren’t even half as effective as the manufacturers try to make out. So that leaves us with appetite suppressors… How do these stack up?
What Is an Appetite Suppressor?
The idea behind an appetite suppressor is really rather self-evident based on the name. These are products that aim to suppress our appetites and prevent us from raiding the fridge. Thereby, they can in theory help us to curb our appetite and improve our ‘adherence’ to the diet of our choosing.
How this actually works is a little less straightforward. The body and brain actually work in unison to provide a number of measures of hunger and satiety and this takes into account all kinds of things from the physical fullness of the stomach, to blood sugar levels.
One way that the body measures blood sugar and uses this to gauge hunger, is via the indirect action of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurochemical that many of us know as the ‘feel good hormone’. This is released when we feel happy and it is negatively correlated with depression.
Serotonin is also released after we eat. Once we spike our blood sugar levels, this leads to a subsequent increase in insulin, which then absorbs the sugar and nutrients from the blood. When this happens, many amino acids get used up but tryptophan is left behind. As it just so happens, tryptophan is a chemical precursor to serotonin and so this indirectly raises levels of serotonin in the brain, leading us to feel happy and content. In turn, this also results in the production of leptin – the satiety hormone.
Some appetite suppressors then work by actually increasing the amount of tryptophan, which is often accomplished via 5-HTP or ‘5-Hydroxytryptophan’.
Others include the likes of hoodia, which is another ingredient that acts as a natural appetite suppressant. Hoodie essentially works by affecting the brain in a similar manner to glucose and thereby stimulating the hypothalamus to inhibit hunger signals such as ghrelin (1).
Do They Work?
This all seems to make logical sense and at this point you may have high hopes for appetite suppressors.
Like so many of these things though, it definitely pays to dig a little deeper.
For starters, using 5-HTP can actually be harmful in a number of ways. If you use 5-HTP regularly for instance, it can actually reduce other important neurochemicals such as dopamine – a key chemical that’s used to improve focus, to create a sense of reward and to aid memory and other cognitive faculties. Neurotransmitters do not work in a vacuum – changing one will almost always affect others and this can be unpredictable. In fact, if you take too much 5-HTP it can actually end up reducing serotonin and worsen your snacking behaviors! (2) 5-HTP can also have dangerous interactions with antidepressants and other medications.
Hoodia doesn’t have similar known side effects but it does come with other concerns. People with diabetes for instance should not use hoodia as it may exacerbate their condition – the same also goes for heart disease and high blood pressure. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many appetite suppressants you might buy online may contain unwanted ingredients. One product called ‘P57 Hoodia’ was discovered to contain sibutramine in 2011, which is a substance banned by the FDA believed to cause high blood pressure and possibly even strokes.
There are other problems here too. As mentioned, there are multiple hormones and systems at play that tell us whether or not it’s time to eat and it’s unlikely any supplement is going to have a significant impact on all of them.
Then there are factors like lifestyle, habit, mood and addiction. Some people eat at certain times because it has become a habit and this behavior will be enforced through repeat experience and reward – it won’t be easily fixed by marginally increasing serotonin.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that appetite suppressors are much more risk than they’re worth. These are substances that are liable to have a marginal effect if anything and that may carry a number of unwanted side effects.
If you have trouble sticking to your diet, then it might be that your diet is overly punitive or harsh. Alternatively, you may be suffering with depression, or you might have another condition such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, insulin resistance or polycystic ovaries.
If you feel that your body is not properly regulating your appetite then you should see a doctor – don’t try and fix it yourself with overpriced supplements from the internet!