The Joint Benefits of EGCG and Caffeine
As a society, we should be proud of the strides we’ve taken over the past 50 years in recognizing the damaging effects of discrimination against people because of their racial background or ethnicity. However, we should be ashamed that it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of people who are overweight. Turn on any late-night or cable comedy show and you’re almost certain to hear jokes made at the expense of people who are obese.
But obesity is no laughing matter. The shocking rise of obesity in America has come to rival heart disease and cancer as one of the most serious health problems facing our society: the incidence of this epidemic condition increased by an astounding 61% between 1991 and 2001.1 A new report in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined the estimated risks of developing obesity, through data gleaned from the long-running Framingham Heart Study.2 Researchers examined both the short-term (4 years) and long-term (10–30 years) risks for becoming overweight or obese among 4117 Caucasian women and men aged 30–59, all of whom were initially of normal weight or overweight, based on their body mass indexes (BMI).*
*BMI is a rough measure of health and life expectancy. It’s calculated as your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. (In English units, divide your weight in pounds by the square of your height in inches, then multiply the result by 703.) For the purposes of the study, it was assumed that a normal BMI is from 18.5 to less than 25; overweight is from 25 to less than 30; and obese is from 30 on up.
The Long-Term Risk Is Bad . . .
The results were sobering. Over a 4-year period, 14–19% of the initially normal-weight women became overweight, while for the initially normal-weight men, the proportion was much greater: 26–30%. In these same groups, the incidence of becoming obese was less than 1% for both sexes. For the initially overweight individuals, by contrast, the outcomes were very different in terms of the two sexes: 16–23% of the women progressed to obesity, versus only 12–13% of the men. When all the participants—normal-weight and overweight—were considered together, the 4-year risk of becoming obese was 5–7% in women and 7–9% in men.
That may not sound too bad, but 4 years is a pretty short time. Over a 30-year period, more than half of the initially normal-weight women and men became overweight or obese. The proportions that went all the way to obesity were about one-third of the women and one-quarter of the men.
. . . But the Lifetime Risk Is Horrible!
Overall, taking the baseline BMI values of all the participants (both initially normal-weight and initially overweight) into account, the researchers found that the lifetime risk of ever being overweight or obese was about 80% for women and about 90% for men. The lifetime risk of ever being obese was roughly 50%.
These figures are appalling—but the real situation is even worse, because, as the authors themselves pointed out, the study included only non-Hispanic whites, and it’s known that blacks and Hispanics have even higher rates of lifetime weight gain. Thus, if representative proportions of these two groups had been included in the study, the risk factors would have been higher still.
Obesity—A Huge Step in the Wrong Direction
Obesity incurs greatly increased risks for type 2 diabetes (which would be almost nonexistent without obesity) as well as cardiovascular disease and several forms of cancer, not to mention disorders of the joints (especially the knees). In light of all this, the authors concluded, “These estimates suggest that the future burden of obesity-associated chronic diseases may be substantial.” That’s putting it mildly. Not a disease, exactly, but a “substantial burden” of sorts, is another serious outcome associated with obesity, namely, death, primarily due to those associated diseases.
“Doctor, I Want to Lose Weight, but . . .”
While most people are aware of the health problems associated with obesity, most are perplexed on how to lose weight, or at least to stop gaining it. One of the most common complaints I hear in my office is, “Doctor, I want to lose weight, but I just can’t seem to do it!” I try to explain that wanting to lose weight and being able to lose weight are two different things. Considering the abundance of high-calorie foods that are readily available to us (foreigners from most parts of the world can’t believe their eyes when they first set foot in a typical American grocery store), it’s almost inevitable that a large percentage of the population will become overweight or obese.
So what can you do to avoid that fate, especially when gaining weight is so darned easy? First, commit yourself to the conviction—the certainty—that you can lose weight. Why? Because many others have done it, and they’re not better people than you are. If they can do it, you can do it. Second, recognize that there are no magic bullets for weight loss, despite the slick advertising of those who would have you believe otherwise: pharmaceutical companies (selling drugs such as Meridia® and Xenical®), weight-loss gurus (selling their diet of the month), and even some supplement companies.
You Can Win the Battle of the Bulge
To lose weight, you must do one of two things (preferably—highly preferably—both): decrease your energy intake (food) and increase your energy output (exercise), so that you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. This rule is as inexorable as the law of gravity—there is no way to get around it.
To decrease your energy intake, you can eat less food, or you can eat as much food as you currently eat, as long as it has fewer calories. In other words, you don’t have to go on a diet, but you do have to change your diet, and that’s not really so hard to do. You don’t have to give up ice cream, cookies, etc., just eat less of them—consistently. Eat more of the fruits and vegetables and nuts and grains you like best—consistently. Use more spices instead of fats to jazz up your foods. Be creative!
To increase your energy output, you should exercise regularly—at least four or five times a week, preferably for at least 20–30 minutes each time. This will not only help you lose weight, it will also help protect you from many disorders and diseases. It will make you feel better and look better. It will probably make you live longer. Exercise is the closest thing to a panacea there is.
EGCG Is a Natural Fat Fighter
In addition to the twin pillars of diet and exercise, there are nutritional supplements that can be helpful in an integrated weight-loss program—not as the primary method of weight loss (no supplement can fill that role), but as an auxiliary method, as the word supplement implies. One such agent is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a compound found in green tea.
EGCG is an effective stimulator of thermogenesis, the biochemical process by which fat in the body is “burned” to provide energy. Studies with humans have shown that, by stimulating thermogenesis, EGCG can help burn calories and contribute to weight
Caffeine Makes a Good Partner
EGCG is useful on its own, but adding caffeine, that well known stimulant in coffee and tea, can boost the thermogenic potential of EGCG and increase fat burning even more. A recent industry-sponsored study examined the ability of green tea extract and caffeine combined to help people lose weight and maintain their weight loss.6* In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 76 overweight to moderately obese men and women between 18 and 60 years of age were placed on a very-low-calorie diet for 4 weeks, resulting in an average weight loss of 13 lb, or 7% of their body weight.
*It must be noted that this study was funded by Novartis Consumer Health (Switzerland), which sells the products in question, and that its publication was paid for by Novartis. The article was therefore a paid advertisement, not a scientific paper in the usual sense.
For 3 months thereafter, with dietary restrictions lifted, they received either a green tea/caffeine supplement (270 mg EGCG plus 150 mg caffeine daily) or placebo, to see what effect this would have on weight maintenance following the weight loss. Normal caffeine intake was not restricted, and the subjects were categorized as either habitually low-caffeine consumers (less than 300 mg/day) or habitually high-caffeine consumers (more than 300 mg/day).
EGCG/Caffeine Combo May Offer Some Benefit
During the weight-loss phase of the trial, the high-caffeine consumers lost significantly more weight than the low-caffeine consumers, presumably due to a higher rate of thermogenesis. The question of interest was: what effect would the green tea/caffeine supplement have on the two groups during the subsequent weight-maintenance period? The answer: it had a significant effect in the low-caffeine consumers, who actually lost a little more weight, whereas the low-caffeine consumers taking placebo gained a little weight. By contrast, the supplement provided no benefits to the high-caffeine consumers, compared with their corresponding placebo group: both groups gained weight about equally.
The results described here are unfortunately clouded by a severe weakness in the study design: there was no reliable control or measurement of food intake (weight of food) or energy intake (caloric value of food) by the participants during any portion of the trial. Thus, although the results are encouraging and tend to agree with prior research on the thermogenic properties of green tea and caffeine, they cannot be considered as reliable as those of a well-designed study that would meet the publication requirements of most scientific journals (see the footnote above).
Looking Out for #1
There will always be people who will judge you by your looks, not by who you really are, whether you’re overweight or not. Ignore these small people as best you can, and focus instead on being the best person you can be—which includes the best health you can achieve for yourself. If you are overweight, get started today on a weight-loss program that integrates diet, exercise, and the judicious use of nutritional supplements, such as EGCG and caffeine. It can help you shed pounds and perhaps add years to your life.
There should no longer be any arguments that obesity is an independent risk factor for a variety of deadly diseases, including type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and cancer. But what about another scourge: dementia? There are good reasons to think that obesity can impair cognitive function, possibly increasing the risk for dementia.
A newly published study, this one too using data from the Framingham Heart Study, examined whether obesity was an independent risk factor for declining cognitive abilities.1 The researchers examined data regarding obesity and diabetes for 551 men and 872 women over an 18-year period before testing them for cognitive function. All the subjects were free of dementia, stroke, and cardiovascular disease up to the time of testing.
The findings were not good, especially for men. After adjusting for age, education, and other risk factors known to affect cognitive function, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the researchers found that obesity produced adverse effects on cognition in almost every test measurementbut only in men! The duration of diabetes turned out to be a predictor of poorer cognition, but only when the data for men and women were combined.
Here is yet another mysterious indication of how different men and women really are. In the authors’ dry words, “The gender-specific results for obesity, but not for diabetes, suggest that the underlying mechanisms linking them to cognition may be different.”