RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc. Pharm., “The Holistic Pharmacist”
This last part of the “Fit or Fat” series explores how supplements – vitamins, minerals, essentials fatty acids, antioxidants, phytochemicals, nutritional supplements, and herbs – can speed recovery from the effects of chronic stress, support the reduction of blood sugar levels, and thereby help reduce abdominal fat, and encourage significant and healthy weight reduction (read “Fit or Fat” parts 1, 2, and 3 for more details).
Dietary supplements: How they can help weight reduction
Stress causes chemical changes that lead to cellular damage and increase the body’s demand for dietary supplements in the form of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and antioxidants. For instance, high sugar and insulin levels are reduced by antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and alpha lipoic acid. Fat burning regimes work more effectively when the right amounts of these and other nutrients are taken daily. The following nutrients are known to be involved as cofactors in the chemical reactions that have to take place for healthy metabolism, and are important for maintaining a healthy weight.
1. Vitamin C
Nearly all mammals convert glucose to vitamin C (glucose and vitamin C possess nearly identical chemical structures) in the liver or kidneys. Most animals produce impressive amounts of vitamin C, the equivalent of 2,000-13,000 mg daily in an adult human. Due to a genetic default in early primate evolution, vitamin C cannot be made by descending species – which includes the human being. The consequence of this evolutionary accident helped lay the genetic foundation for a number of impaired glucose conditions, including pre-diabetic conditions such as glucose intolerance and diabetes. Too much glucose, which might otherwise be converted to vitamin C, over-stimulates insulin production and generates large numbers of dangerous free radicals. Diabetics and pre-diabetics are frequently deficient in vitamin C. Supplementing with vitamin C (2 grams daily with 1 gram of bioflavinoids taken in divided doses) seems to lower blood glucose levels, normalize insulin function, neutralize dangerous free radicals, and decrease total cholesterol. Remember that high cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels, as well as obesity, are commonly associated with diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Vitamin C is probably the most important of all the vitamins needed for adrenal metabolism (see “Fit or Fat Part 1” – How stress can cause weight gain), which includes the production of cortisol and all the adrenal steroid hormones: progesterone, testosterone, and the estrogens.
2. Vitamin E
Vitamin E has an influence on glucose and insulin levels, and improves glucose control. Vitamin E is necessary to maintain proper adrenal function during oxidative stress (a condition defined by abnormally high levels of free radicals commonly found in individuals with pre-diabetes or diabetes). Vitamin E absorbs and neutralizes free radical molecules inside the adrenal glands, thereby protecting the adrenal hormones from destruction. By quenching free radicals, vitamin E also reduces the formation of glycosylated proteins, which speed the aging process and the progression of degenerative disease (one of the main concerns for obese individuals). 800 IU per day (with meals) of the mix tocopherols supplement form of vitamin E, specifically high in beta- tocopherols, is recommended by Dr. James Wilson, one of the founding fathers of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Toronto, and a specialist in adrenal function.
3. Vitamin B Complex
Small quantities of the entire B-complex are needed for the adrenal cascade (a bio-chemical process in the adrenal glands involved in changing cholesterol to the various adrenal hormones). Thus the B-complex vitamins are known to be anti-stress vitamins. Most of the B-vitamins are involved as cofactors in sugar metabolism, energy generation and fat burning, and they are crucial for carbohydrate metabolism. All the B vitamins work together to combat stress, support healthy blood sugar levels and reduce fat, yet the following individual B-vitamins are the most important, and are required in larger amounts.
4. Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Commonly known as the anti-stress vitamin, vitamin B5 helps the body adapt to stress and is converted by the body into acetyl Coenzyme A, a substance critical to the conversion of glucose into energy. Pantothenic acid is also involved in a number of other biological reactions, including the breakdown of fatty acids and amino acids, the proper synthesis of fatty acids, phospholipids, cholesterol and steroid hormones, and the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The body’s synthesis of acetylcholine is vital because of the neurotransmitter’s role in motor behavior and memory. Low levels of acetylcholine can contribute to lack of concentration and forgetfulness, and may cause light sleep. Acetylcholine helps control muscle tone, learning, concentration, primitive drives and emotions, and is particularly important in the stimulation of muscle tissue, which is needed to build muscle. The combination of vitamin B5 with vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium increases energy production without over-stimulating the adrenal glands. A recommended quantity of pantothenic acid is typically 1,500 mg. per day, taken in divided doses to support the reduction in weight gain due to post-stress overeating.
5. Niacin or Niacinamide (B3)
Niacin plays an essential role in the activities of various enzymes involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism, the function of the nervous and digestive systems, the manufacture of sex hormones, and the maintenance of healthy skin. When an amide molecule attaches itself to niacin, it becomes niacinamide, another form of B3. One major difference is that in doses exceeding 50 mg, niacin typically produces a flushing of the skin. Niacin and niacinamide also have different applications. Niacin is an effective reducer of high cholesterol levels; niacinamide is useful in arthritis and diabetes. Niacinamide enhances insulin secretion and increases insulin sensitivity. For adrenal fatigue, 25 to 50 mg. per day of B5 is recommended. For supporting a diabetic or pre-diabetic condition, the daily dose of niacinamide is based on body weight, 25 mg. per kilogram (2.2lbs). The studies in children used 100 to 200 mg. per day, according to research by Michael T. Murray, N.D. Periodic testing (minimum every 3 months) of cholesterol and liver function is recommended when a high-dose (2 – 6 gm.) per day of any form of niacin is being used.
6. Pyridoxine (B6)
Vitamin B6 is necessary for the proper function of over 60 enzymes that participate in amino acid metabolism, helping to build muscle. It is involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism and is a co-factor in several of the enzymatic pathways in the adrenal cascade. As well, vitamin B6 is necessary for neurotransmitter production, specifically for the production of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, GABA, and glutamate, all of which can reduce depression, pain perception, and anxiety. When serotonin levels are normal, there is less craving for carbohydrates and sweets. As well, intracellular accumulation of magnesium is increased in the presence of pyridoxine. Even a small deficiency of pyridoxine is associated with mood disturbances such as depression, anxiety, and lack of energy. If an individual has trouble recalling their dreams, they often need vitamin B6. According to James Wilson, N.D., when adequate vitamin B6 is added as a dietary supplement (in the form of pyridoxine HCL, typically between 50 -100 mg per day) dream recall starts to recover. If an individual is still unable to remember their dreams, they may need a special form of vitamin B6 called pyridoxyl 5 phosphate (P5P). A small percentage of people have difficulty metabolizing the regular B6 (pyridoxine) and need the metabolically active coenzyme of Vitamin B6 known as P5P. Pyridoxyl 5 phosphate is a more bioactive metabolite of vitamin B6, and somewhat more expensive. Excessive protein intake (a high protein, low carbohydrate diet) can overtax the adrenal glands. Alcohol or contraceptive use can also indicate a greater need for B6.
The body uses biotin, a B-complex vitamin, to change glucose into glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates found in the liver). By improving the activity of glucokinase, an enzyme involved in glucose utilization in the liver biotin helps insulin sensitivity and early morning fasting glucose levels. Glucokinase levels are often quite low in people with blood sugar problems. However, the levels of glucokinase may be raised by supplementing with high doses (1 – 5 mg. daily) of biotin. Minerals, like vitamins, are catalysts for many systems, especially the energy-producing endocrine glands (including insulin, adrenal, thyroid and reproductive hormones). The presence of trace minerals works as a factor to synthesize the production of brain chemicals. Incorporating into the diet Celtic, Himalayan salt or plant sources of ionic minerals is an easy way to ensure the body is receiving all 84 or more elements that make up the trace minerals and major minerals. The following are the most important of the minerals required in large amounts for their ability to improve insulin sensitivity, generate energy, and help with weight reduction.
Magnesium’s importance is often over-looked, especially in regards to its role treating weight problems, as well as muscle pain or spasms, PMS, headaches, high blood pressure, depression, lack of concentration, constipation, and diabetes. Magnesium plays several central roles in the normal function of insulin and is necessary for the production and release of insulin. Without adequate magnesium levels in the cells, insulin becomes less effective at moving glucose for the blood into the cells, and diabetes can result. In the brain, magnesium is a co-factor in the production of mood-regulating chemical messengers such as dopamine, which control motivation, passion and addiction. The most common additive substances other than drugs are refined sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee. Estrogen enhances magnesium uptake and, given the decline in estrogen at menopause, it is possible for a woman to lose her ability to absorb and utilize magnesium optimally. This aggravates the problems that come with menopause: high blood pressure, weight gain, greater bone loss, insulin resistance and increased risk of heart disease. In order for a woman to get adequate magnesium, a supplement containing 200 to 300 mg. of elemental magnesium taken twice daily (morning and evening) may be necessary.
Chromium is pivotal in sugar metabolism. Chromium enables insulin to bind to receptors, so that glucose can enter the cell to be metabolized. It controls appetite, food cravings, and the desire for sweets. By helping to increase insulin sensitivity and by lowering high insulin levels, chromium also aids fat loss and weight control. Chromium provides other benefits for individuals wanting to slim down and firm up. It can increase total lean muscle mass, which in turn increases metabolism and the body’s ability to burn fat. Supplemental chromium (400 to 800 mcg. per day) works very well in conjunction with a healthy diet and daily physical activity.
Zinc, the second most abundant trace mineral in the body, is needed to help the pancreas produce insulin, allow insulin to work more effectively, and protect insulin receptors from free radical damage. Zinc also positively affects blood levels of leptin, a hormone that acts on nerve cells in the brain to regulate body weight by influencing appetite and increasing the burning of excess fat. At menopause, women show abnormal changes in leptin levels coinciding with an increase in body fat around the middle. Ideally, zinc supplementation for women hoping to increase leptin production and support proper insulin utilization is between 15 – 30 mg. per day.
In the form of vanadyl sulfate, vanadium helps normalize and maintain insulin receptor functions, markedly improving fasting glucose and other measures of diabetes. Recent research suggests that vanadium acts in a manner very similar to insulin, mimicking its action. Without adequate vanadium, the body is more likely to have insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Dosages of 100-150 mg. per day of vanadyl sulfate have shown remarkable success, and no adverse effect except possibly slight GI distress in the form of diarrhea.
Other Nutritional Supplements
While there is no magic bullet for reducing weight, some supplements can support the process when added to the above vitamins and minerals. They usually support the process of healthy weight reduction by enhancing metabolism, improving energy, lowering blood sugar levels, and protecting the body against free radical damage. One of the most beneficial of these is Alpha lipoic acid.
12. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha lipoic acid supports the process of healthy weight reduction by enhancing metabolism (the burning of glucose), improving energy, lowering blood sugar levels, and protecting the body against free radical damage. The body’s ability to produce ALA declines with age, so that the body burns glucose less and less effectively. An amount of 50 – 100 mg. taken daily helps replenish the body’s ALA levels. Supplements of 300 mg, taken twice daily, can lower glucose levels.
13. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A diet abundant in fish oils and flaxseed is associated with a low incidence of diabetes and also assists in the maintenance of hormonal balance and weight control. The recommended dose of flaxseed oil is 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls or one-fourth cup of freshly ground flaxseed. The suggested dose of fish oil in capsule form would contain the equivalent of 360 mg of EPA per day.
14. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
As a weight-reduction aid, CLA improves fat metabolism and insulin sensitivity. CLA has been shown to substantially reduce the amount of fat in the body, especially around the abdomen, when taken for 8 weeks or more. Positive effects with regard to weight loss have been found at doses of 2 to 4 gm. daily.
GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid in the form of evening primrose or borage oil, can promote weight loss. GLA has been found to activate dormant brown fat, enabling the body to turn on its fat-burning engine. Brown fat is a unique fat lying deep within the body, surrounding vital organs that burn calories for heat. If the brown fat is dormant or inactive, excess calories are stored as fat. Brown fat makes it possible to expend ingested fat as energy, rather that storing it as excess fat. An amount of GLA between 300 to 600 mg. taken in divided doses with meals, can also help PMS and perimenopause depression, and irritability.
16. Herbal Supplements
A wide range of natural, non-stimulating herbs have been shown to help induce fat reduction by curbing appetite, reducing carbohydrate and fat absorption, lowering blood sugar levels, inhibiting the conversion of sugars to fat, increasing energy, and supporting the body in its efforts to adapt to stress more effectively. The following are some examples of the most well used herbs:
Fenugreek, Gymnema Sylvestre, Green Tea, Bitter Melon – help to lower blood sugar levels
Phaseolus Vulgaris (white bean extract), Napol (prickly pear) – reduces carbohydrate absorption from the GI tract
Coleus Forskohlii, Gugulid, Bitter Orange, Garcinia Cambogia (HCA) – demonstrate fat-lowering effects and increases the cellular fat-burning rate
Griffonia Simplicifolia (5-HTP), Rhodiola, Ashwagandha – decrease appetite, relieve stress
Remember to keep daily water (2 to 3 liters) and fiber (25-30 gm.) intake very high in a diet intended for health and weight management. Fiber-rich foods and fiber from supplements of fenugreek and napol have a stabilizing influence on blood sugar levels. FenuLife is the highest standardized source of fenugreek galactomannans and is used for: blood sugar control, weight management, reflux control, heart health, and gut health. The fiber supplements chitosan, pectin, guar gum, ground flaxseed, and psyllium husk work by absorbing some of the dietary fat from the digestive tract.
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The therapeutic potential of insulin-mimetic vanadium complexes
RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc.Pharm, earned her degree in Pharmacy from Dalhousie University in 1972. After extensive studies in herbal and nutritional medicine, RoseMarie integrated these disciplinary practices with her pharmacy education to become Canada’s first Holistic Pharmacist.