SEATTLE — Dec. 22, 2005 — After the holidays, when gym memberships surge and people's thoughts turn from eggnog to egg-white omelets, they also may turn to over-the-counter supplements to rev up their metabolism and boost their weight-loss efforts. But do weight-loss supplements really work?
A study conducted earlier this year by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that long-term use of multivitamins, vitamins B6, B12 and chromium among obese or overweight middle-age people may help prevent additional weight gain. The study was published in the October issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
In the study of 15,655 western Washington residents surveyed about their supplement use and cancer risk over a 10-year period, researchers found that obese or overweight consumers of certain supplements experienced less weight gain than those who did not use the supplements. Factors such as race/ethnicity, education, calorie intake and physical activity were accounted for in analyzing the data.
In the case of chromium, which may help control blood sugar fluctuations, the researchers found that obese or overweight men who took more than 150 micrograms daily for 10 years lost 3 pounds, while those who didn't take the supplement gained 11 pounds over the same period. Among obese women, the trend was similar: those who took high levels of the supplement daily gained only 3 pounds in 10 years, as compared to those who did not, who gained 14 pounds.
Lead author M.C. Nachtigal, a doctor of naturopathy who conducted the research in collaboration with investigators in the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division, is available for interviews upon request.
Understanding the mechanics of metabolism
The magazines make it sound easy: ditch the daily donut and lose 5 pounds in a month. Swap your breakfast burrito for bran and fit into your swimsuit by summer. Few would dispute that the contents of your lunch box influences the size of your jeans. Yet when it comes to figuring out a formula for weight loss — or for achieving any other changes in our body composition — there are no predictable calculations.
While it's long been thought that the body's metabolic pathways were well understood, scientists are now beginning to learn that metabolic pathways aren't fixed — they're flexible. They can be rearranged in response to conditions that our bodies are unfamiliar with, such as changes in diet or physical activity. In other words, calorie restriction may result in temporary weight loss, but the body's metabolism will compensate in some way to fight it.
Marc Van Gilst, Ph.D., an assistant member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division, whose laboratory has identified various fat-metabolizing genes in the worm C. elegans, can discuss the interplay of diet and metabolism on weight control and how glitches in the metabolic system can lead to serious diseases like diabetes and even cancer. His research focuses on molecules called "nuclear hormone receptors," which may be potential drug targets for diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer or other diseases in which metabolism goes awry.
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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, our interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists and humanitarians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Our researchers, including three Nobel laureates, bring a relentless pursuit and passion for health, knowledge and hope to their work and to the world. For more information, please visit www.fhcrc.org.