Dieting is one area where herbs have been widely used not always judiciously.
A variety of widely advertised herbal combination teas available over the counter usually contain the same formula: a potent laxative and diuretic. However, patients often complain of the see-saw effect of the preparation, which must also contain ingredients to mitigate against what is often its diarrhea-like effects.
Nevertheless, gentle appetite suppressants can often be used to good effect as a adjunct to a proper diet and exercise plan (Gen Pharmacol, 1987; 18 (5): 559-61). Grapple plant tea (Harpagophytum procumbens, also known as Devil's claw), has been shown to help patients with metabolic problems and to reduce elevated cholesterol and neutral fat levels (S Josenhaus, et al, Ausserschulische Methoden bei Rheumatischen Erkrankungen, E Fischer Verlag, Heidelberg, 1981). Because of large demand, some companies now prepare this herb from the whole root structure, although only the storage tubers are medicinally effective.
Many studies have found that ma-huang (Ephedra sinica) prompts the body to burn up fuel faster, causing weight loss (Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 1991; 5 (4): 413-8). In the UK, this herb, which is controlled under the 1968 Medicines Act, is only available through qualified practitioners.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has warned patients with heart, blood pressure, thyroid, prostate problems, diabetes or on anti-depressants to avoid taking non-prescription drugs containing ephedrine, like ma-huang.
Two experimental double-blind studies showed green tea powder (in capsules) promotes rapid weight loss. In one, those given green tea had lost three times as much weight (and reduced their waist measurement by four times as much) as the placebo group (Revenue de L'association Mondiale de Phytotheraie, June 1985). Another study examined the effect of green tea powder with wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), compared with a common amphetamine like anti-obesity drug (Arkopharma's Phyto-Facts, 1989; 2 (1): 2). After 45 days, the herbal medicine group had lost on average a pound and a half more than the drug group. Unlike the herb group, the drug group also complained of increasing blood pressure, some insomnia and nausea.
One writer discovered that one gm of malabar tamarind, a delicious fruit, eaten before each normal meal helped him to lose considerable weight (Med Hypotheses, 1988; 27 (1): 39-40).
The hydroxycitric acid (HCA) in malabar tamarind is thought to be responsible. Over the last 30 years, many reputable published studies have demonstrated HCA's natural capacity to reduce the desire for food and to inhibit the sythesis of fat and cholesterol safely and effectively (Biochem J 1990; 272 (1): 181-6; Federation Proceedings, 1985; 44 (1): 139-44.
At present, the NutriCentre in London (071-436 5122) exclusively stocks the standardized extract of HCA, called Citrimax; no doubt it will soon be more widely available.
Harald C Gaier
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.