Herbs aren't the magical solution to your weight-loss efforts, but they can play a role--especially if managing your appetite is a challenge. Just exercise caution with herbs that tout weight-loss properties. In their book "Best Choices from the People's Pharmacy," Joe and Teresa Graedon warn that scientific support generally is lacking and that "even when a study is done, the difference between those who took the product and those who took placebo is generally quite modest."
If your serotonin levels drop while you are dieting, that can cause cravings for carbohydrates and binge eating. By taking the amino acid 5-HTP 30 minutes before eating, you might reduce hunger by increasing serotonin. Doses usually start at 50 to 100 milligrams but can be increased to 200 to 300 milligrams if the lower dosage is not effective, according to Deborah Mitchell in "A Woman's Guide to Vitamins, Herbs and Supplements."
Fiber supplements containing psyllium, a gentle, bulk-forming laxative, can help you feel full and decrease your hunger cravings. Use 1 teaspoon dissolved in 6 to 8 ounces of water before each meal.
Taking supplements of the mineral zinc might increase levels of leptin, a molecule produced by fat cells that plays a role in regulating appetite and energy use. Higher levels of zinc can lead to a decreased appetite. Take 20 milligrams daily, along with 1 or 2 milligrams of copper to help absorption.
This trace mineral helps metabolize carbohydrates. Some diabetics take it to help stabilize their blood sugar. It also can be used to curb cravings for sweets. Susan Brown, a certified clinical nutritionist in East Syracuse, New York, participated in a newspaper series called "Renovate Your Plate" in The (Syracuse) Post-Standard in June 2007. She recommended 200 micrograms of chromium four times per day to a woman who craved sweets. The woman was amazed at how quickly her cravings were tamed, admitting that she still liked Splenda in coffee, but "as far as searching around, looking around the house for something sweet to eat, I haven't. And that's amazing," she told the newspaper.
The herb garcinia cambogia, which comes from a pumpkin-shaped fruit in Southeast Asia, supposedly can suppress appetite and help with fat metabolism. It is found in some weight-loss formulas marketed in the United States. However, a study in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" in November 1998 reported that garcinia cambogia "failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo."
A phytonutrient called epigallocatechin gallate in green tea extract seems to boost metabolism. Deborah Mitchell, in "A Woman's Guide to Vitamins, Herbs and Supplements," says the suggested dose is 250 milligrams twice a day. Katherine O'Neill, writing for the Colon Therapists Network, says drinking three to five cups of green tea can help you burn an extra 70 calories per day.
Made from the gummy resin of a tree native to India, gugulipid extract sometimes is used for weight loss because it seems to affect the way the body metabolizes fat and cholesterol by stimulating the thyroid gland. The Nutritional Supplement Educational Centre says "more studies are needed to substantiate this benefit."