Irvingia Gabonensis Supplement Craze: Weight Loss from an African Tree?By Tom Venutowww.BurnTheFat.com
Irvingia gabonensis is a weight loss supplement that hit the market, saturated the internet with all kinds of advertisements, ignited forum discussions and flooded my inbox with tons of questions.
In the weight loss market, it may gain the dubious distinction of becoming the next hoodia or acai berry scam.
But, I'll just present the facts to you, make my case and then let you judge for yourself if this is an effective weight loss supplement or not.
Irvingia comes from a West African tree known as the wild mango or bush mango. The tree bears edible fruits and they're known for their nuts which have many different names including ogbono, etima, odika or dika nuts.
Like other nuts and seeds, Irvingia gabonensis is very high in fat (50%) and oil can be extracted from them. Irvingia gabonensis also has 26.4% carbohydrate, 7.5% protein, 2.3% ash and 14% fiber.
First Irvingia Gabonensis weight loss study - 2005
Due to its use in African cuisine and reputation as a health food, a research group based in Cameroon (Western Africa) set up a randomized double blind study in 2005 to see if Irvingia gabonensis could actually help achieve weight loss.
Fourty obese subjects, aged from 19 to 52, were divided into placebo and experimental groups.
The experimental group received 1.05 grams of Irvingia seed extract 3 times per day (for a total 3.15 grams) for a duration of 30 days.
Subjects were examined on a weekly basis and measured for body weight, body fat and hip/waist circumferences.
Blood pressure was measured and blood samples were also collected after an overnight fast and tested for total cholesterol, triacylglycerol, HDL-cholesterol and glucose.
The subjects were interviewed about their physical activity and their food intake pattern during the trial period and were instructed to follow a low fat diet of 1800 calories per day and keep a daily record of food intake for seven days.
At the end of the 30 days, the Irvingia group had lost an average of 5.26 kilos (11.5 lbs) while the placebo group lost only 1.32 kilos (2.9 lbs). The group getting Irvingia also experienced a decrease in systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol levels increased.
This was the first study of its kind that suggested that Irvingia gabonensis has weight loss benefits. So, why did the Irvingia subject group lose more weight? It's not clear, but in studies of free-living subjects, weight loss often means that the experimental group eats less, and not necessarily because of a direct action on metabolism.
In-credible weight loss study
In March of 2008, the same research group (Oben and Ngondi) published the results of their second study about Irvingia Gabonensis and its effects on weight loss. This time around, Irvingia was combined with Cissus quadrangularis, a vine native to West Africa and Southeast Asia. Seventy two subjects were divided into three groups: placebo, Cissus extract only (150 mg 2 times a day) and Cissus-Irvingia combination (250 mg combined Cissus-Irvingia 2 times a day).
The same tests and measurements were taken as in their 2005 study. After 10 weeks, improvements were seen in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose. The placebo group lost 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs), the cissus group lost 8.82 kg (19.4 lbs) and the Cissus-Irvingia group 11.86 kg (26.1 lbs).
Attributing a 26 pound weight loss in 10 weeks to a fiber supplement is highly unlikely if not impossible, so the researchers (Oben and Ngondi) figured there must have been something else going on. They proposed that PPAR gamma, leptin, adiponectin or glycerol-3 phosphate dehydrogenase could all be potential contributing mechanisms by which Irvingia gabonensis affects body weight in overweight people.
Thus, they set up another 10-week randomized double blind placebo-controlled study to investigate further. This time, 120 subjects were divided into two groups: a placebo group and an Irvingia gabonensis group, which received 150 mg of Irvingia gabonensis extract two times per day.
Once again, total and LDL cholesterol levels fell more with the Irvingia group than it did with the placebo group (27% vs 4.8%). In the Irvingia gabonensis group, body fat levels decreased by 6.3% versus 1.9% in the placebo group. Weight decreased by 12.8 kg (28.1) pounds in the Irvingia gabonensis group vs 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) in the placebo group. Positive changes were also seen in Leptin (anti-starvation hormone that signals the brain & body about fat stores), adiponectin (protein secreted from fat cells - higher levels improve insulin sensitivity), C-reactive protein (marker of inflammation and cardiac risk) and fasting glucose.
To a lay person, a 28-pound weight loss (12.8 kilos) looks incredible. To those familiar with research methods and weight loss, these results look IN-credible, meaning NOT credible. To the informed and discriminating crowd, results like these don't send you running to the health food store, they raise all sorts of red flags, prompt more questions and demand better-controlled research.
What does "controlled research" mean?
The study subjects were advised not to change their diet or activity, but that doesn't mean they didn't alter it anyway. These were free-living subjects, free to eat whatever they wanted and the only way researchers knew how much the subjects were eating and how active they were was from self-reported food and activity logs. This means that the study was NOT controlled.
A true controlled weight loss study means that the subjects would have to stay in a hospital or research facility where all their food is prepared and delivered to them. This is the ONLY way to accurately know how much food is consumed. It also means that their activity and exercise levels are closely monitored. None of these controls were used in the above mentioned study and we have no way of knowing the true caloric intake or caloric expenditure of the study subjects.
Explaining the Anomaly
If the results of the African study are questionable, then how do we explain them? We're not saying the researchers were frauds, we're only suggesting that there were some anomalous result findings which spilled ver into a supplement craze and thriving business.
It’s possible that some subjects may have experienced a sort of "12 week fitness contest", where enrolling in the study meant that they wanted to impress anyone who saw the results. Therefore, they increased their exercise or activity leves in spite of instructions not to do so. Perhaps some subjects got sick and lost lean muscle mass. Or, maybe some were bloated and retained water and simply dropped a lot of water weight. The explanations are infinite.
But the story doesn't end here either. There's another twist to it! As it turns out, one person has done ALL current research and that SAME person "happens" own all the product rights.
Do you think I'm being overly skeptical?
I'm skeptical of all weight loss supplements. That's because I'm familiar with their history and I read most of the research. In case anyone thinks I'm just trying to pick apart this particular research just because I'm a diet pill and supplement skeptic, then think about the magnitude of the claim for Irvingia Gabonenses and decide for yourself:
The Dubious claim of Irvingia Gabonensis: "28 pounds of fat loss in 10 weeks with NO CHANGE IN DIET OR EXERCISE."
Let's do some math. Twenty eight pounds of fat loss in 10 weeks = 98,000 calories, or 9,800 calories per week, or 1400 calories per day. Thus, the researchers and manufacturers of this supplement are claiming that this product will raise your metabolic rate by 1400 calories per day.
Is it reasonable to assume that an over-the-counter African tree plant can cause an astronomical increase in metabolism that probably no prescription drug can even come close to? OR, is the research simply flawed?
Consumers in the weight loss market have a very short memory. Doesn't anyone still remember the last African superstar wonder pill - hoodia? What happened to that? How many of these products have already been buried in the weight loss supplement graveyard? Have we not learned our lessons (yet) from the past?
Irvingia Gabonensis - Bottom Line
Objectively looking at the evidence, we can conclude that Irvingia Gabonensis is a good source of fiber. Fiber can provide health benefits and play a role in body fat control. However, there are much cheaper ways to get fiber than from an expensive African supplement. A 30-day supply of Irvingia Gabonensis (60 softgels at 150 mg each) currently costs from $42 to $72.
Future research may shed more light on Irvingia Gabonensis. Current research already suggests health benefits including cholesterol improvements, glycemic control, antibacterial actions and antioxidant properties. It's possible that some of the proposed anti-obesity benefits may also be valid and confirmed. However, at this time, the evidence is still too thin to recommend Irvingia Gabonensis for weight loss.
About the Author
Tom Venuto is a fat loss expert, lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, independent nutrition researcher, freelance writer, and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat-Burning Secrets of The World’s Best Bodybuilders & Fitness Models (e-book) which teaches men and women how to get lean without drugs or supplements using secrets of the world's best bodybuilders and fitness models.
Learn how to get rid of stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting www.burnthefat.com
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