About a year ago, American television's Dr. Oz made sea buckthorn oil at least momentarily famous when he introduced it as "one of the most effective weight loss supplements on the market today."
Dr. Oz actually is right. If you are a dieter, the chances are good that sea buckthorn oil really can help you lose fat while you maintain muscle. The fact that gets lost in all the hype is that it's really you who does the hard work of losing weight. Sea buckthorn just makes your efforts a lot more efficient (usually). It does this by changing the rate at which your fat cells store fat and release fat. But it's not exactly a "fat burner."
This article explains how fat storage, fat burning, sugar levels, insulin levels, and sea buckthorn oil are all related. It gets a little technical. If you just want the executive summary, here it is:
Sea buckthorn oil lets fat out that excessive sugar consumption keeps in. Your body still has to burn it to make it go away, and you still have to reduce your overall calorie intake to make sure that you don't replace fat as fast as you get rid of it. But sea buckthorn oil can help smooth out the process so you get predictable results from your weight loss efforts.
Eat less, weigh less. And that's probably a better result than you usually get from dieting.
Fibs About Fat Burners
A lot of weight loss supplements are marketed as "fat burners." It's not because scientifically minded formulators of natural products want them to get marketed that way. I myself created the formula for a product that got marketed all over the United States as a "green tea fat burner."
My client's marketing department didn't pay a lot of attention, or any attention, to what I had to say on the subject. But they certainly knew how to name and package the product so it flew off the shelf, at least when it first came out.
The thing that is important to know about natural products and weight loss medications alike is that they don't burn fat. You burn fat. The so-called "fat burners" just alter the balance of fatty acids going into fat cells and fatty acids being released from fat cells so that your body has a chance to burn them. That is, your body will burn fat as long as you are not eating still more fat and you are doing something (even breathing counts) that requires the fatty acids as an energy source. No pill can do all the work. There just aren't any fat burners that let you eat as much as you want of everything you want any time you want.
How Fat Storage Works
Fat cells store energy in the form of triglycerides. A triglyceride is a molecule that combines three fatty acids and water. Triglycerides are more stable than the fatty acids from which they are formed. They don't readily combine with oxygen to form the free radicals that could damage DNA. They are bulky enough to provide the cells that store them a kind of "bounce" that keeps them from being damaged by stresses on the tissue, like getting punched in the gut.
A belly blow is a lot more damaging to a thin person than to a fat person. And when there is famine, something that world hasn't experienced on more than a local scale in about 50 years, fat people live longer.
Fighting famine is the reason fat cells are programmed to hang on to triglycerides until the body absolutely, positively has to use them for energy. Fat cells won't give up their fatty acids if they get hormonal signals that the body actually has more energy than it needs. In fact, the triglycerides inside fat cells are so bulky that they can't pass across the cell membrane to get back into the bloodstream to circulate to the muscles that would burn them.
The signalling chemical for fat cells is insulin. As long as there are high levels of insulin (the hormone the body uses to transport sugar into cells for energy), fat cells are more responsive an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, commonly abbreviated LPL. This hormone activates a series of processes that literally make them suck fatty acids out of the bloodstream for storage.
At the same time LPL is changing the chemistry of fat cells so that they take fat out of the bloodstream and store it as triglycerides, insulin makes the muscles--which actually burn fat--less able to absorb fatty acids. LPL tells the body to burn sugar first. Fat cells don't actually respond to blood sugar levels (at least in this regard). They respond to blood insulin levels.
If your insulin levels are high, your body is poised to store every extra calorie as fat and your fat cells won't let fatty acids go. That is, unless something changes the balance of fatty acid storage and fatty acid release. Is all of this a little hard to follow? Here's the bottom line.
Anything that increases your insulin levels, like eating sugary foods, keeps fat locked in your fat cells until you have gone long enough without eating that your body absolutely, positively has to use body fat for energy. The more sugar you eat, the longer the effect lasts. And if you are a diabetic who takes medications that increase your body's production of insulin or you inject large amounts of insulin, you naturally tend to get fatter and fatter.
And don't a of us know all about getting fatter and fatter no matter how hard we try?
How Fat Burning Works
That something that lets fat cells release their fatty acids is a second enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase, or HSL for short. HSL liquifies the trigylcerides stored inside your fat cells. This allows the fat cells to break them down into the fatty acids that can cross the cell membrane.
Once fatty acids are liberated from the fat cell, then they can travel through the bloodstream to muscles that can burn them. You actually have HSL working on your fat cells all the time. The problem is that if your insulin levels are high, then the fat cell will be more responsive to LPL, keeping fat in its solid form inside the cell, than it is to HSL, liquifying fat so it can get out. And your insulin levels will be high if:
You take insulin injections,
You use diabetes medications that increase your body's production of insulin, or
You tend to eat a high-carb diet.
Going on an Atkins-style high-protein high-fat diet, however, does not necessarily help you lose weight. Why is this?
What the weight loss gurus don't tell you is that the body turns about 30% of protein in sugar. Our bodies break down protein in food into amino acids to make our own specialized proteins. You can't graft a beefsteak protein into your brain or a tofu protein to your tuccus. The body makes human proteins from a unique sequence of individual amino acids.
If it doesn't have the right amino acids in the right order, the liver just recycles them into glucose and urea. (Urea is what makes the urine acidic. You've probably heard something about eating meat and acid-alkaline balance.) Too much glucose from meat can cause just as many problems as too much glucose from sugary, high-carbohydrate foods.
How Sea Buckthorn Oil Shifts the Balance of Fat Storage and Fat Burning
If you are getting the impression you really do have to eat less or exercise more to lose weight, you have got the right idea. You aren't going to lose weight if you eat, eat, and eat some more. However, there is one class of naturally occurring chemicals that can help you shift the balance of LPL and HSL, the balance of fat storage and fat burning, so more fatty acids leave your fat cells so your muscles can burn them.
These are the omega-7 fatty acids. "Omega-7" is a technical term that just means that a molecule has its terminal double bond at the seventh carbon in its chemical chain. You don't really have to worry about the chemistry (although feel free to comment) to use the products that contain omega-7 fatty acids to lose weight. The bottom line about how they work is that they make fat cells more responsive to HSL than to LPL. Your muscles will then have more fatty acids to burn.
As I mentioned earlier, breathing does in fact count. You can lose weight lying in bed if you just cut calories enough and you don't stoke yourself with sugar. However, the beauty of omega-7 fatty acids is that when you do exercise, and it can be something as simple as walking (or if you are like I was at one point in my life, waddling) around the block. You'll burn more fat than carb. Especially if you aren't eating a lot of carb or eating too much protein.
What are the natural sources of omega-7 fatty acids?
One is macadamia nut oil. There really are people who lose weight when they add limited amounts of macadamia nuts to their diets. The problem is keeping the amount limited.
The other source of omega-7 fatty acids is sea buckthorn oil. Sea buckthorn oil doesn't taste bad, but nobody is going to get addicted to it. It's OK but not delicious.
And that is precisely what makes it so useful for dieters who get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day while reducing their overall consumption of food. Remember, you want sea buckthorn oil, not sea buckthorn tea. Sea buckthorn juice also contains omega-7's, but only about 1/3 as much as sea buckthorn oil. You can get results by taking just 1 tablespoon (10 to 15 ml) of sea buckthorn a day.
Thanks for hanging in there with this relatively technical explanation. Tomorrow's post on sea buckthorn dieting won't be as complicated. And I'll explain how I have the nerve to write about weight loss.