It's the new year! That means about 1 million commercials and ads for the latest greatest system that will guarantee that you lose weight, feel better than you ever had, and have the life of your dreams. Thus, let's dive into some things to look into when considering a dieting system.
We all want to be at a healthy weight, and the sooner the better. However, we also want to be able to maintain the weight we've lost, so that we don't gain it back (and more) in the years to come. Thus, before starting any type of dieting or nutrition system, it's important to look at the following criteria:
* What's in it?
* How does it work?
* Is it safe for me - in the short term and in the long run?
* Is it sustainable for me? Will I be able to (Do I want to?) continue this system for the rest of my life?
* Does it work with my body or against how my body is designed to function?
The particular system that has been running across my newsfeed most recently is called Xyngular, a multi-level marketing company based in Utah. Therefore, let's take this system as an example and walk through things we might look at if we were to consider starting the system. (Note: I have nothing against Xyngular, nor am I promoting it. This process could be done with any dieting system; I just don't have time to do them all!)
Disclaimer: I'm not a nutrition expert. All the following information I've found has been from the continuing education nutrition courses I've taken for my personal training certificate and the personal research that I've done. I hope you won't take my word on all of this, but I hope this will inspire you to start your own journey of digging in to research the products that you consume.
First: What We Need to Know About Supplements
One of the most important things we need to know about supplements is that, according to the FDA website: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed."* This means that it is the responsibility of the manufacturers and the distributers of a supplemental product to make sure that the product is safe and effective before putting the product on the market.
Let's break down that statement again: It is the responsibility of the company trying to sell you the product to make sure that supplemental product is safe for you and effective for you, without outside and unbiased research, certification, or approval. A manufacturer can place claims on a bottle that are untrue, can choose not to disclose all ingredients, and can add any ingredients they see fit, and until a complaint is filed with, reviewed by, and action taken against the offending company by the FDA, that company can continue these unsafe practices. Not to say that all companies that sell supplements are trying to be sly, sneaky, or are naive to what they are selling; my point is that it is extremely important that we do our own research and evaluation into the supplemental products that we consume and the companies that we buy them from. This is not easy to do, and so I strongly encourage you to do some further reading from the following articles and others that you find from reputable, research-based organizations:
"Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know" by the U.S. Food and Drug Association
"9 Things You Didn't Know About Supplements" by Time Magazine
"Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know" by the National Institutes of Health
"5 Reasons Why Most Supplements Are a Waste of Time and Money" by the American Council on Exercise
An Example in Researching a Supplemental System
What's in it?
As I mentioned earlier, the dieting system I have been encountering lately is called Xyngular. I found all of my information regarding the product ingredient lists from the Xyngular website. One of the first questions to ask when considering a product is: What's in it?
WebMD has a handy tool called "Vitamins and Supplements Center", where a person can search the name of an herb/vitamin and learn more about where it comes from, what it does, and precautions one might want to consider. Often we think that because something comes from a natural source, that means it's safe. However, some herbs interact with current medications we are taking, may not be recommended if we have certain chronic conditions, or are only recommended within certain dosages for certain periods of time.
If you have a medical condition (as many of us do), learning about the herbal ingredients in products can be a serious matter. Take for example, Willow Bark, which I found in the Xyng capsule in the Ignite Starter Kit: "Willow Bark contains a chemical called salicin that is similar to aspirin," and thus according to the Vitamins and Supplements Center: "People with ASTHMA, STOMACH ULCERS, DIABETES, GOUT, HEMOPHILIA, HYPOPROTHROMBINEMIA, or KIDNEY or LIVER DISEASE might be sensitive to aspirin and also willow bark. Using willow bark might cause serious allergic reactions. Avoid use."*
If we have a chronic condition, and we don't look into each of the ingredients in the system, we may not realize we're taking something that could exacerbate that condition. Thus, even when taking "all-natural" products, we need to be cautious and research the ingredient list.
Often when we encounter products that are "all-natural" or "only from plant-based resources", we equate that with meaning "safe" products. This is not always the case. For example, there are components in some plants that can affect our hormone (endocrinological) system. Our endocrine system effects our brain and mood, our kidneys, our pancreas and blood sugar regulation, our sex organs, our ability to sleep effectively, and our immune system's ability to function properly, among other things. Hormones are really important, and how they interact in the body is complex. While taking products with hormone-altering properties may be helpful for some individuals, it may be harmful for individuals with some conditions. For example, when reading about panax ginseng (which is included in the New Global Blend drink in the Ignite Starter Kit) on WedMD's Supplement Center, I learned that, "Panax ginseng is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth, long-term (more than 6 months). Researchers think it may have some hormone-like effects that could be harmful with prolonged use."* Because of it's hormone-like behavior in our bodies, it can have adverse effects in people with auto-immune diseases, bleeding conditions, heart conditions, diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions (such as cancers of female productive organs), insomnia, and more. Even without a serious condition, throwing our hormones out of whack can have long-term consequences for any individual. Due to pollutants in our environment, the types of plastics that we use, and chemicals present in/on our foods, we tend to live in a very estrogen-dominant environment. Taking supplements that further affect our hormones often compounds the problem and leads to further adverse health consequences.
Want to read some more about plant supplementation and hormones? Check out this article:
"Research Review: "Natural Supplements Wreak Hormonal Havoc" by Precision Nutrition
When exploring a supplemental system, we also need to explore dosage. For example, I saw that the Accelerate capsule in the Ignite Starter Kit contains several components with caffeine, such as Guarana seed and Kola Nut. "Guarana is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taking by mouth in high doses for a long time. Doses greater than 250-300 mg daily have been linked to side effects."* However, the Guarana seed was listed in a "Proprietary Blend", along with Green Tea Leaf Extract, Oolong Tea Extract, Kola Nut Extract, and Cayenne Pepper. The total Proprietary Blend was listed as 850mg per serving size of 2 tablets. Because the Guarana seed extract is listed within the proprietary blend, we're not sure how many of the 850mg is made up of Guarana, which makes it hard to discern whether we would be consuming above recommended amounts.
Taking too much of a good thing also can be bad. For example, Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that if you get more than you need, it can build up in your system over time and cause toxicity issues. One then would want to be careful of combining products that have heavy doses of vitamins and minerals. For example, both the Lean and Axion products in the Ignite Starter Kit contain Vitamin A (Lean = 3,000 IU per dose of 1 scoop; Axion = 5,000 IU per dose of 2 tablets). That's a total of 8,000 IU of Vitamin A if consumed in the same day. According to Mayo Clinic, the "The recommended daily amount of Vitamin A is 900 micrograms (mcg) for adult men and 700 mcg for adult women."* IU is converted to mcg by multiplying the IU amount x 0.3 for Vitamin A retinol and x 0.6 for Vitamin A beta-carotene (I found that conversion here), so taking the Lean (3,000 IU retinol) and Axion (2,500 IU retinol & 2,500 IU beta-carotene) products in the same day would result in taking 3,150 mcg per day of Vitamin A. There is also the possibility a person may consume Vitamin A from other sources, such as dairy products, which are often supplemented with Vitamin A as well, or a multivitamin. So one would need to be mindful of what one was eating alongside taking these products.
How ingredients interact with each other can make a difference too as to whether a products is safe for us personally. For example, the Xyng capsule (mentioned above) in the Ignite Starter Kit contains bitter orange. "But bitter orange is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken as a supplement for a medical purpose such as weight loss. Bitter orange, particularly when taken with stimulants such as caffeine or caffeine-containing herbs, increases the risk for high blood pressure, fainting, heart attack, stroke, and other severe side effects."* And I know from looking at the above Accelerate product that I would be consuming caffeine-containing herbs alongside the bitter orange in the Xyng capsule if I were to take both simultaneously in the Ignite Starter Kit.
In addition to thinking about medical conditions and dosages, if you have any allergies, you should be particularly careful when researching supplements. For example, the Lean powder found in the Ignite Starter Kit contains Bromelain: "If you are allergic to pineapple, latex, wheat, celery, papain, carrot, fennel, cypress pollen, or grass pollen, you might have an allergic reaction to Bromelain."* Some plant products we may not have encountered before are related to other products to which we are allergic, and therefore may cause a reaction in us.
The examples above are by no means exhaustive - of this dieting system or of the host of herbal supplements on the market - but meant to serve as examples of how a person could start to examine the ingredients in a dieting system, individually and how they interact with each other. When we are researching a dieting or nutrition system, we first and foremost want to make sure that it's safe for us personally.
Not just the ingredients, but what's the premise behind it's success?
Ingredients aside, a dieting system should be evaluated on how it works. Why is it successful? Are the premises behind its success principles that work with how my body is designed to function? Am I working with my body or against it? Is it going to be sustainable for me, or will I need to continue to take the products for the rest of my life to see the success I desire?
Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything on the Xyngular website as to how to use the system, and other sources I was not able to verify as reputable. Thus I won't be able to explore the exact principles of how my researched system works, but I can highlight some things I would look for if I were to have access to all the information.
When looking at a nutrition system, one should be careful as to the amount of total calories eaten. According to the American College of Sports Medicine: "How [calorie restriction] affects metabolism: Although cutting an extreme amount of calories from your daily diet seems like the pathway to quick weight loss, self-starvation actually slows metabolic rate down significantly. How you can change it: Don’t send signals to the body to conserve calories by detoxing or fasting. According to ACSM guidelines, women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day, and men should eat at least 1,800. Small, sensible deficits lead to healthy, long-term weight loss."*
Our bodies have a Basal Metabolic Rate. This is the amount of energy (calories) needed to support our very basic living functions - the amount of energy we need to keep our brains working, our heart beating, etc., if we were to theoretically sit still all day. Our BMR doesn't take into account any movement from daily activities or exercise (or someone who is pregnant/nursing and thus sustaining another life). For an example of a BMR calculator, try here.
The American College of Sports Medicine set a basic minimum caloric threshold because our bodies need a certain number of calories just to survive. When we don't ingest enough calories to keep our basic body functions going, our body has to going into "starvation mode." The brain requires glucose (blood sugar, attained primarily from eating carbohydrates), and when we don’t ingest enough, the body has to start breaking down other cells - fat cells and protein cells - to make the energy it needs. Metabolism slows, in order to conserve energy, and your body is deprived of essential nutrients it was meant to get from eating regular, well-balanced meals from real foods. And because the body wasn't meant to sustain such a low-calorie intake for long periods of time, very low-calorie diets can result in rebounding and a net increase in weight in years to come. Thus, extreme calorie cutting simply isn't sustainable - nor does it feel good, as we fight signals from our body telling us that we need more energy to thrive. Instead, we need to seek out weight-loss resolutions that are sustainable for a lifetime.
Read more here:
"How Low Can You Go?" by National Academy of Sports Medicine
"How Crash Diets Harm Your Health" by CNN
I think one of the biggest eye-opening moments to me in my research of the Xyngular system was when I looked into a product called Flush. It's a capsule that is included with the Ignite Starter Kit. One of the ingredients, senna leaf, yielded this information: "Senna is an FDA-approved nonprescription laxative. It is used to treat constipation and also to clear the bowel before diagnostic tests such as colonoscopy. [...] Senna contains many chemicals called sennosides. Sennosides irritate the lining of the bowel, which causes a laxative effect."*
Laxatives increase bowel movements. Also according to WebMD, "Regular use of stimulant laxatives is not recommended. Stimulant laxatives change the tone and feeling in the large intestine and you can become dependent on using laxatives all the time to have a bowel movement," and "[they] may change your body's ability to absorb of vitamin D and calcium. This can cause weakening of your bones (osteopenia)."* Laxatives can also apparently draw water away from tissues surrounding the GI tract, in order to promote bowel movement. This results in a drop in the number on the scale as fluids are lost from the body, and it also poses a risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Let's be clear: Laxative abuse (using laxatives for a purpose other than the occasional constipation) is a serious matter. While laxatives will result in weight loss, it's not their intention. It's not a recommended practice and can be dangerous to a person's health in the long run through the loss of fluids, electrolytes, and essential vitamins and minerals. It can also be dependence-forming, which isn't an added bonus any of us are seeking from our weight-loss program.
For more information on senna:
"Drug Record: Senna" by LiverTox, Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury
The Big Picture
As we can see, researching any weight loss system is essential. If you’re reading this and you use the researched Xyngular products or ones like them, please know that I’m not trying to form your opinion for you. Instead, I want to raise a call to arms for us all. Let's be discerning about what we consume. Let's be mindful that we learn about any herbs we're ingesting - that they won't react adversely with any medications we may be taking or any pre-existing conditions/allergies we may have, and that they are safe for long-term use. Let's dig deep for information about how our bodies are designed to work and so that we can work with our bodies to best fuel our bodies for a lifetime of health. Then we can be able to do the activities we enjoy, to do the work we're passionate about, to love the people in our lives, and to thrive in the only house in which we have to live:
According to Consumer Reports,
"'We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,' says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. 'It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,' says Crupain. 'We just don’t know enough about the health effects.'" (Find the rest of the article here.)
There are concerns from some scientists about the affects that this type of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals used to treat our produce can have on our bodies. The World Health Organization states, "But pesticides are also potentially toxic to humans. They may induce adverse health effects including cancer, effects on reproduction, immune or nervous systems" (Article here). It becomes more concerning when we consider our children:
"Studies have found that children who eat conventional diets have significantly higher levels of OP pesticide metabolites in their urine than do children who eat organic diets. In one study, children were switched from conventional to organic diets. Urinary concentration of the OP pesticide metabolite immediately dropped so low it was undetectable. When a conventional diet resumed, urine concentration of the OP metabolite increased to previous levels. When organic produce is available and affordable, buying organic is a relatively easy way for parents to reduce children's exposure to OP pesticides" (University of Washington Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health, article here).
We don't know yet exactly how dangerous or the exact effects of consuming produce treated chemically. Scientists are still studying these things. So right now, we have the choice - Do we take a conservative approach (It might be dangerous, so I will avoid it until proven safe)? Do we take a relaxed approach (It hasn't been proven unsafe, so I'll risk that it probably isn't)?
Organic produce is produce that has been treated without chemicals - and many scientists and nutritionists are recommending that we consume organic or mostly organic, for the potential safety of our bodies, our children, our environment, and workers in the produce industry.
It's also a fact that organic produce is usually more expensive than treated produce. Sometimes we have to make a choice about what items we'll buy organic or non-organic. Here's where the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen can be helpful resources.
Health isn't just about how many Calories we eat or how much we exercise. Holistic health includes topics such as our sleeping habits, nutrition principles, how our body systems function, mental and emotional health, and the health of the environment with which we surround ourselves, to name just a few.
Spring Cleaning - How Clean is Clean These Days?
Spring is a time of year for shaking out the old dust and grime of a pent-up winter and refreshing our spaces, often with a deep "spring clean".
In pursuit of health, we often focus on merely what goes in our mouths and the energy we expend in our exercise. This, however, is a rather limited view of health. One other aspect of our health is the environment with which we surround ourselves - including our home environment. Our skin is not a hard shield but a permeable membrane, and our lungs are impenetrable filters, but allow particles besides the gases in our air into our bodies. Especially in this time of year of spring cleaning, this bears the questions - How healthy is my home environment? What's in the air I breathe at home? What's touching my skin and the surfaces I encounter in my home?
There is growing concern about what's in the products that we use around the house, cleaning products including. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a "non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment" through research and educational materials, many common cleaning products can contain compounds that are toxic to our health over time. Such compounds can be carcinogenic or induce asthma in normally healthy people as they build up in our systems as we are exposed to them over time. Or, even if not proven to us humans, some chemicals within the cleaners that we use can cause harm to wildlife and plant life as they are washed down our drains and subsequently leaked into natural spaces.
According to this group, "A new EWG analysis of more than 400 cleaning products released last month showed only about a quarter of them adequately disclose their ingredients. Many companies use vague terms, such as 'preservative' or 'colorant,' instead of listing the specific chemicals they use. More than two-thirds of products list only 'perfume' or 'fragrance,' terms that can mask potentially harmful, persistent chemicals such as galaxolide, a skin irritant and possible hormone disruptor that’s highly toxic to aquatic life.
Moreover, most cleaning products contain ingredients that can cause harmful respiratory effects. They include common antibacterial agents such as sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) and quaternary ammonium compounds, or 'quats.'"
Yikes! There is a lot to learn about the chemicals contained in our cleaning products and how they affect us humans and the health of our world as we use them. To learn more, start with this interesting article by EWG:
"Time for Cleaning Products to Come Clean on Ingredients" - http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2016/05/time-cleaning-products-come-clean-ingredients
Wondering how your cleaning products stack up? Check out the EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning! The guide is a database where you can search from thousands of different cleaning products that EWG has rated for compounds including those that are of respiratory concern, skin irritants, developmental & reproductive toxins, cancerous, and those raising environmental concerns.
"Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning" - http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners