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Hydroxycut and other thermogenics
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Q. I keep seeing adverts for Hydroxycut - will this help me with my BFL challenge?

What do thermogenics do?
The idea of thermogenics is to mobilize and burn fatty acids, using what are essentially stimulants. Phen-Free uses a fruit extract called Citrus aurantium, which contains the mild stimulant synephrine. Your adrenal glands respond to it by releasing norepinephrine which stimulates nerve, muscle and fat cells. The caffeine and St. John's Wort act to reduce "inhibitory feedback" which would normally shut this process down. In effect, Phen-Free kicks your metabolism into a high-response condition.

When are thermogenics useful?
Now, if you mobilize fatty acids without burning them, they go right back into the fat cells, so thermogenics are best used before workouts and about a half-hour before meals, when your glycogen stores need replenishing. If you've depressed your metabolic rate through restrictive dieting in the past (which is a really bad idea, particularly if you've been fat since childhood), Phen-Free may help to normalize it. Ditto in the unlikely event you have the "fat gene", since synephrine stimulates the beta-adrenergic receptors (more about this on my Q&A page).

I'm specifically interested in Hydroxycut, so cut to the chase:
Hydroxycut is a thermogenic based weight loss drub that has proven effective for many users. It (used to - see next entry) contain ephedrine (ma Huang), guarana extract (caffeine), green tea extract, willow bark extract (asprin) and several other ingredients. The new version has all the same ingredients, minus the ephedra.

Hydroxycut has been around for a while now, and lots of people experienced excellent weight loss results on the original formula; although I couldn't find much on the new formula.

One of the most valueable outcomes from Hydroxycut (and other diet supplements) is the motivation they can provide. When you see yourself loosing weight and start seeing progress, that feeling can't be beat. It sounds swell and all, but like all good things, there's a downside - even without the ephedra; the pure amount of caffeine in these can cause:

Hydroxycut side effects:
Increased blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Headaches, light - headedness and dizziness
Loss of appetite (not necessarily bad)
Feel restless and hyper active
Nose bleeds
Blurred vision
Outbreak of acne

You may experience some of the side effects of Hydroxycut listed above. However, after you stop taking Hydroxycut, these side effects should go away.

Did you know the state of Missouri is sueing a marketer of Hydroxycut?
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has filed a false advertising suit against the marketers of Hydroxycut, an epehdra-containing product claimed to be a safe and "clinically proven fat burner." The suit charges that the manufacturer, MuscleTech Research and Development Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario, had:
- Failed to disclose that the product contained ephedra or that ephredra posed serious health risks.
- Failed to disclose that its own research showed that Hydroxycut has no efficacy as compared to placebo with the possible exception of an appetite-suppressing effect.
- Manipulated "research" results by failing to disclose when subjects dropped out because of adverse effects, including one case in which hospital care was required.
- Used "before" and "after" photographs obtained with different lighting and poses to create the false impression that people who used the product were trimmer.

MuscleTech states that the Hydroxycut it is producing now is ephedra-free, but Nixon said there are unknown quantities of Hydroxycut still being sold that contain ephedra. The current ingredients include 200 mg of caffeine, the amount in two cups of brewed coffee. Nixon wants the company to stop making misrepresentations, pay restitution to Missouri consumers harmed by the misrepresentations, and to pay undetermined penalties and investigative and court costs to the state.

Let's talk about other thermogenics:
Studies indicate that thermogenics can contribute to a significant increase in fat loss from exercise. But thermogenics are not for everyone, and should be avoided if you are pregnant, lactating, taking anti-depressants or other nervous-system drugs, or have high blood pressure. If you don't use a thermogenic pill, you can still get some benefit from a small cup of caffeinated coffee before your morning workouts.

Consider Methoxy Factor for example. This contains methoxy-isoflavone and beta-ecdysterone. Methoxy-isoflavone suppresses cortisol levels and is used to increase lean tissue in livestock. Beta-ecdysterone is an insect hormone which controls the metamorphosis of butterflies and moths. It is also present in unrelated plant seeds and roots (which is the source EAS uses). It doesn't seem to have an effect on human hormones, so it can't really be classified as a "steroid", but both methoxy-isoflavone and beta-ecdysterone do seem to have a significant effect on lean mass. The studies I've seen are on livestock and Japanese quail, but these substances have also been used to medically treat muscle atrophy in humans. Are they safe? Probably.

So should you take Methoxy Factor? Or a different thermogenic?
It's up to you - it depends on how "natural" you prefer to be, versus how willing you are to be a lab mouse. The evidence suggests that supplements can be effective, but then again, weight training and carefully modulating your cortisol and insulin are also going to be effective. Do you need it to be successful? No.

Other useful and less esoteric supplements that are backed by research:
Vitamin C (anywhere between 500-4000 mg a day), green tea extract (another good antioxidant, improves insulin response, and stimulates the uncoupling proteins responsible for thermogenesis), and fish oil (also stimulates uncoupling proteins - 20 to 40 calories a day of this is sufficient). For people who suspect they are insulin resistant (diabetic family history, fat mostly in the abdominal area, easily fatigued, tend to get the jitters between meals), insulin response may be improved by supplementing with alpha lipoic acid (ALA, anywhere between 100-400 mg daily), and chromium picolinate (generally 200-400 mcg daily, but follow the label on whatever brand you get). Again, it's not advisable to take some supplements if you're pregnant or lactating - always check with a doctor.

Take away?
Remember, supplements are exactly that - supplements. They're not going to help much if you don't do effective workouts or follow a proper nutrition plan. By the way, none of these are "steroids" - the supplements I've listed are mostly just naturally occurring proteins, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and food derivatives that support various metabolic processes, but don't exceed the recommended intakes.

The Myoplex makes the meal planning much easier, and the other supplements can enhance your progress, but the main thing you need for success is within you, not in a bottle.

References:
http://www.hussman.org/fitness/#nutrition
http://www.quackwatch.org/02ConsumerProtection/AG/MO/hydroxy.html
http://www.bodybuildingforyou.com/hydroxycut/hydroxycut-review.htm
http://www.bodybuildingforyou.com/hydroxycut/hydroxycut-ephedrine-free.htm

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