Tag Archives: weight loss

Do diet pills actually work?

Diet pill concept: How lazy can we get?

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The idea of losing weight fast is so appealing and generates the supplement industry countless millions of pounds every year. It plays so well into human nature. We are always looking for a quick fix.

Why change my lifestyle when I can just take these pills and melt away the fat?

However, the diet pill industry is not just a scam its a potentially fatal one. More than just a few people have died after taking diet pills filled with a re purposed herbicide known as DNP. All the victims were normal people, usually quite young, looking for a way to quickly drop a few pounds. What did they get for their cash? A gruesome end, which I cover further down the article. It’s tragic but unfortunately not that uncommon for people to literally die after taking dodging supplements and weight loss aids bought online. As I’ve said before, the supplement industry is poorly regulated and the internet is awash with scams that fall under the radar of law enforcement.

It has never been more important to be aware of what these sort of products contain and that you could be putting yourself in serious danger by buying into these ‘quick-fix’ ideas. I’ve written this article in the hope that you re-consider buying dubious items online that you intend to put into your body.

There is an important distinction to be made between ‘Diet Pills’ and ‘Anti-Obesity Pharmaceuticals’. Pharmaceutical drugs specifically designed to combat obesity often target receptors and systems involved in appetite control, fat deposition, blood glucose regualtion and energy expenditure. These drugs target important and delicate parts of your physiology and are designed and tested through a development process usually costing 10s of million of dollars. Obesity is big business after all. The compound I am working on during my PhD for example, currently falls into this category. It is a drug which mimics the actions of natural PYY in the body. PYY is released after we eat to signal us to stop eating. It is a very powerful anorectic hormone and induces the satiety response.

Diet pills on the other hand, tend to have far less or no developmental costs, are scams, are dangerous or have dubious science backing them up. Examples would be over the counter tablets or supplements bought online – Green Tea Extract, being a prime example, which I have written about extensively here. There is a big difference, of course, between diet pills that simply don’t work and pills which contain toxic chemicals, I talk about these dangerous pills a bit later on. The issue with cheap internet products is you simply never known for sure what is in the pill.

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Examples of diet pill and their physiological function

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Actual medications

Orlistat – A well known anti-obesity medication. Works by reducing intestinal fat absorption. The end result is that you poop out more fat. Due to the way it works, side effects are mainly restricted to gastro-intestinal disturbances, the most common being extreme flatulence and oily bowel movements. Not life threatening by any means but a fairly heavy price to pay when you could just eat less fat! Orlistat has been available over the counter for a around a decade but used to be prescription only. Does actually appear to work based no available studies with participants losing modest weight when taking the drug (x).

Is it worth the oily poop?

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Liraglutide – A long acting analogue of GLP-1, primarily used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. GLP-1 produces a number of physiological effects useful in the treatment of obesity. For example, it reduces the rate of gastric emptying and promotes a feeling of satiety – the satisfying fulfilled feeling after a big meal (1). The draw backs of form of this drug is that weight loss is not observed in all patients and nausea is a common side effect (2).

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Metformin – Also primarily used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin limits the amount of glucose produced by the liver whilst increasing muscle uptake of glucose (3). Naturally this serves diabetics well, who need to manage glucose in the blood closely. Metformin has also been shown to reduce weight in diabetic patients but is not prescribed specifically for that purpose (4).

Although a few years old, this endocrinology review details the efficacy of current anti-obesity therapies, going into detail regarding the available data.

 

Diet pills

Green tea extract – Currently very popular as an ‘alternative’ weight loss aid and can be found both online and in almost any health food shop you walk into. The science suggesting green tea can actually reduce your weight is dubious at best and usually comes from poorly designed studies. Take a look at this article I’ve written for an in-depth look at why green tea is an expensive waste of money. The upside of green tea pills is that they aren’t dangerous. They simply don’t work as they say they should.

Utter crap

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DNP tables – I talk about this further down the article. DNP is a toxic compound mainly used in the industrial manufacture of pesticides and herbicides. It also has an ‘uncoupling’ effect on mitochondrial energy production which means instead of calories ultimately making energy for use by your cells, the calories go towards generating heat. You essentially burn through extra calories  through increased heat production. Despite what a lot of shameful, cheap websites tell you, DNP is fucking dangerous and has directly led to the deaths of numerous people. NEVER TAKE THIS.

Amphetamine-based tablets – Amphetamine based products have a legitimate use in treating ADHD and narcolespy. Aside from that they should be avoided. They are well known performance enhancers and are of course banned at sporting events and competitions. Amphetamine use is associated with weight loss due to appetite suppressant effects. However, amphetamines are addictive and mess with numerous aspects of physiology not to do with weight and appetite management. There is also evidence that long term use may interfere with normal dopamine signalling in the brain. Avoid!

 

So do they work?

The answer is both yes and no depending on the drug. Under the umber all of pharmaceutical anti-obesity therapies, some patients do show modest weight loss. However, these sort of drugs are rife with side effects and many have been pulled after only a few years on the market, rimonabant being one example. So in one sense they can help with weight loss, but they cannot be taken indefinitely and the risk of side effects likely outweighs the benefits of weight loss in a lot of cases.

Now if we then look at cheap over the counter or internet pills then the answer is a firm no and if they do help with weight loss then the reasons for this are usually sinister and or damaging to your health. Most diet pills that can actually lead to weight loss contain some sort of stimulant to achieve these effects. Caffeine is a well known appetite suppressant and also a physical performance enhancer. It stands to reason that a caffeine pill and a gym session might help you lose more weight in the long run. Caffeine has been well studied in regards to human fitness and health and I’ve written about it here. Caffeine is a safe stimulant. Other pills might contain derivatives of amphetamines – addictive stimulants that should always be avoided. The point remains that you simply don’t known what these pills contain so even if weight loss were possible you would be better off with a coffee before your gym session.

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.Why should you avoid them?

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Aside from numerous side effects associated with pharmaceutical interventions, the internet is littered with cheap and often dangerous diet pills. Every year or so a news story will crop up about someone who has died due to taking dodgy diet pills.

This story from last year  highlights the dangers of a substance found in a number of diet pills called dinitrophenol or DNP for short.

In fact a shocking number of other deaths  have been attributed to DNP. Here, here and here are just a few examples over the past two years. Unsuspecting people trying to boost their fat loss, bought innocent looking pills online and suffer a truly horrible death as a result. This is serious and those responsible for manufacturing and selling these pills should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

The common theme in these stories is that the victim is described as ‘cooking’ or ‘boiling’ from the inside. Although an over-simplification, this is a grim and horrible truth.

DNP is an organic compound most commonly used as a pesticide and antiseptic (5). It is also used to make a number of herbicides and wood preservatives. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to be eating right? Well, DNP has been used in high doses as a weight loss aid with disastrous consequences (6) In mammalian biology, DNP inhibits ATP production in mitochondria-containing cells (7). That is mental. ATP is essentially the life source of all cells, powering innumerable operations in the cell (8). Mess with ATP production and it will end in disaster. Interestingly, cyanide poison also interferes with cellular respiration and ATP production and we all known how deadly that is (9).

So why are these people who died from DNP pills described as cooking alive? It’s down to how DNP effects you on a cellular level. It acts as a protonophore, quite literally allowing protons to leak across the inner membrane of mitochondria, the site of respiration and ATP synthesis. As the protons leak where they shouldn’t they avoid interacting with a peptide called ATP synthase – a critical component in the system that makes ATP. Energy production therefore becomes much less efficient as part of the fuel to make it is leaking. In response to this inefficiency, the metabolic rate continues to accelerate to produce enough ATP to keep the body working. It does this by burning more and more fat tissue – which is very rich in calories. This is proportional to the amount of DNP taken.  In a nutshell, DNP ‘uncouples‘ ATP synthase from oxidation. Uncoupling is very important for rodents-it allows them to generate heat instead of ATP when they are very cold. Humans rely far less on this. Uncoupling leads to heat generation. Large doses of DNP lead to massive uncoupling and therefore large amounts of heat are generated (10).

Due to this, DNP causes fatal hyperthermia. Adding another terrible aspects to this is that the process isn’t instant. Instead, the body temperature rises gradually followed by coma and death. In  a sense your truly do ‘cook to death’. In a few harrowing stories, victims are told nothing can be done for them once they have been admitted to hospital. The drug is in the system, the ATP process is disrupted and a massive body temperature increase is unavoidable.

Is it worth taking ‘diet pills’ bought online? A FIRM NO. At best, they fail to work, at worst they can be fatal. You simply cannot tell for sure what is in them.

What about specifically developed pharmaceutical drugs? Consult with your doctor but unless you are being treated for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with a drug that also leads to weight loss, I would avoid any anti-obesity medications as they currently stand.

My stance on this will likely change in the future. We still have a largely incomplete understanding of how the brain and body ultimately control appetite and energy regulation. We know the basics and that’s a great start but until we uncover more we can’t develop truly effective anti-obesity medications with limited side effects. We are messing with a system that is absolutely fundamental to out survival – we must be careful.

 


Alternatives

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There aren’t any quick fix alternatives! Like most things worth doing, there isn’t usually an easy or quick route. When it comes to your health, a quick fix is not what you should aim for – it’s like duct taping a damaged tire, it’s not getting to the route of the problem and it will get worse over time.

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Moderation, diet and exercise – that’s the key to a healthy body. Some may find it much harder than others but it is possible for the vast majority of people.

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The health food and supplement industry cleverly relies on standard human behaviour. Take this pill for X, this pill will grow your penis a metre, this will make you lose 10 kgs. It’s like if someone offers you an investment opportunity with 80% returns in a month – its almost always too good to be true and this is no different.

Losing weight (that stays lost!) requires a change to your lifestyle in general, including your eating habits, your sleep schedule and the amount of exercise you do. These pills sell in there thousands because the manufacturers known how daunting a ‘lifestyle change’ sounds.

If you are serious about getting in better shape don’t forget to check out these other useful articles including top exercises for muscle building at the gym or at home as well as reading up on popular supplement scams and why you shouldn’t waste your money!

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Whey protein guide: A complete guide to popular whey protein supplements

Creatine guide: Learn all the science behind this popular powder and how it can help towards your fitness goals

TOP 5: Mass building exercises

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Before you buy these popular supplements – have a look at the real science behind their use, it may surprise you:

Multivitamin Hoax

Green Tea Facade

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Finally, don’t forget to check out the supplement shop that only recommends products that have been tested in well designed studies and which have worked for me personally.

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Thanks for reading,

-ScienceGuy

The Green Tea Facade

Green tea has been consumed, mainly by Asian nations (having originated in China) for hundreds and hundreds of years. Over the course of history numerous and powerful heath effects have been attributed to frequent consumption of green tea.

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In the modern day, green tea and green tea based products are major staples of health food and fitness shops with much emphasis placed on it’s ‘fat melting’ properties.

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Green tea has also been linked to other extraordinary benefits…

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  • A cure for various cancers
  • Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improves glycemic control
  • Reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • A general reduction in risk of death
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Powerful weight loss aid

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These are all extraordinary claims which of course require extraordinary evidence. Luckily a fair amount of research has looked more closely at these proposed benefits…

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Is green tea beneficial to health: What does the science say?

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I’ve gone through the major ‘health benefits’ of green tea and addressed them below. Where possible I’ve used meta-studies to support my arguments. These are large scale reviews of all the available data on the topic and can provide stronger evidence than individual studies alone.

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Cancer: There are a few studies which make suggestive links between consumption of green tea and reduced risk of certain types of cancer in specific populations. A small decrease in esophageal cancer rates amongst the Chinese and slightly lower rates of oral cancers in Asian populations. (1, 2). However it is impossible to control for all variables in these sort of population studies and although overall cancer rates were very slightly lower in green tea drinkers, there are also many many other differences in lifestyle habits that could lead to this outcome.  When all current data is taken together, there is no firm, conclusive evidence that green tea consumption prevents or treats cancer  (3,4).

Search for 'green tea and cancer' and this is one of the first image results. Most of this is wrong. Pseudoscience like this is why I started this website in the first place. Red writing was added by me not some lunatic arguing with himself in an info graphic.
Search for ‘green tea and cancer’ and this is one of the first image results. Most of this is wrong. Pseudoscience like this is why I started this website in the first place. Red writing was added by me not some lunatic arguing with himself in an info graphic.

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Cardiovascular disease: A recent meta-study which compiled a large amount of data on this subject concluded that daily intake of green tea was associated with  a roughly 5% chance reduced risk of death from cardiovascular diseases (this includes things like heart attacks and stroke) (5). A well respected Cochrane review also compiled data from numerous randomised trials a few years previously and reported a small reduction in blood pressure associated with  tea consumption (6). In fitting with these findings, a number of other studies have suggested green tea consumption may also be associated with a reduced risk of stroke (7).

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Blood glucose control: Data here is a little bit messy. Green tea lowered fasting blood glucose in one trial but data generated on fasting insulin levels as well as glycated hemoglobin levels (used to determine longer term average blood glucose) was inconsistent (8,9). Both these references are large scale meta-studies so we can be fairly certain that green tea consumption has no real impact on glycemic control.

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Cholesterol: In this area green tea does appear to have some small but clear benefits. Another Cochrane review (can’t get enough) of longer term trials over 3 months in duration, concluded that green tea consumption lowers total blood cholesterol concentrations in the blood including LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol sometimes called ‘bad cholesterol’ (10).

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LDL - Bad HDL - Goof
LDL – Bad
HDL – Good

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General risk of death: Two separate meta-studies concluded that frequent consumption of green tea resulted in a small reduction in the percentage chance of death from any cause (11,12).

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Inflammation: Green tea consumption is not associated with a significantly lower concentration of c-reactive protein in the blood. C-reactive protein is an acute phase protein from the liver that increases in response to macrophage and T cell activation so is used as a marker of inflammation (13).

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Green tea and pills containing concentrated green tea extract (catechins being the most important component) are  a multi-million dollar market. Although there is some suggestive evidence of small health benefits (see above), green tea is most commonly sold as a weight loss aid.

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But does it actually help with weight loss?

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Green tea is not a weight loss aid

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If you can convince people that your product will help them lose weight then you will make a guaranteed profit. The population is getting fatter and more than ever, people are desperate for a quick fix for weight problems.

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As you’ve guessed – there is no magic pill or easy fix for weight loss. It requires a maintained change to your eating and exercise habits.

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Ridiculous
Ridiculous

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Green tea is described on lots of product labelling as a ‘metabolic booster’ or ‘fat burner’. The main molecule that is often reported to be the ‘fat burner’ is a catechin called  epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) . So what sort of conclusions are drawn from study’s looking at the ‘fat burning’ properties of green tea?

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Important point to bare in mind: Your average cup of green tea contains about 50-60 mg of EGCG

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One study from 2009 looked directly at the effects of green tea on body composition, measuring things like intra-abdominal fat, waist circumference and total body fat in control subjects and subjects receiving a varying amount of EGCG and caffeine. The group receiving the highest daily dose of EGCG and caffeine saw a clear reduction in all three measurements (14).

.Sounds great right?

.Well not really.

.This group was receiving 900 mg of EGCG a day as well as 200 mg of caffeine on top.

That’s the equivalent of about 18 cups of green tea and 5 cups of coffee...

Neither of which can be described as ‘healthy’ in the long term.

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Another study, published in 2008 approached from a different angle and looked at if green tea could enhance exercise-induced weight loss.

These participants were receiving over 600 mg of EGCG a day. The paper describes a ‘trend towards greater fat mass  loss in the catechin group’  which is another way of saying there was no statistically detectable difference between the groups. (15).

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What about claims that green tea ‘boost or increases metabolism’?

Short answer: It doesn’t.

A number of studies have shown that green tea consumption has no effect at all on the basal metabolic rate of healthy participants (16, 17). Importantly, these studies were measuring basal or resting metabolism . People peddling ‘fat burning’ green tea supplements want you to believe that green tea will simply burn away the extra calories all while you sit on the sofa. Impossible!

A more recent Cochrane meta-study, taking data from 18 separate studies and involving close to 2000 participants concluded that green tea does lead to small weight loss in obese people. However this is described as ‘non-significant and unlikely to be clinically important’. Additionally, green tea has no effect on weight loss maintenance (18).

All strong evidence that Green Tea or Green Tea Extract products are close to useless when it comes to weight loss. 

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Take home message

 

So what have we learned about green tea…

Commonly advertised attributes and the truth side by side:

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  • A cure for various cancers : No
  • Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease: Small reduction 
  • Improves glycemic control: Currently inconclusive
  • Reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol: Small but clear reduction 
  • A general reduction in risk of death: Potentially true but could be explained by many other variables
  • Reduces inflammation: No
  • Powerful weight loss aid: No

 

Although there is some evidence that green tea consumption can have health benefits such as a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a reduction in cholesterol, relying on supplements for this benefit isn’t necessary. Reducing your intake of trans fats and exercising more will provide you with these benefits plus many more.

In terms of the fat burning potential of green tea, it simply doesn’t exist. 

If you enjoy green tea then by all means enjoy a hot brew every now and then. However if you are forcing yourself to drink green tea for the advertised benefits  or paying through the nose for green tea extract pills then it’s not worth your time or money.

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Thanks for reading,

ScienceGuy

 

 

 

 

References

 

I recommend using Google Scholar for quick access to these studies.

1) Zheng JS, Yang J, Fu YQ, Huang T, Huang YJ, Li D (January 2013). “Effects of green tea, black tea, and coffee consumption on the risk of esophageal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies”. Nutr Cancer (Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis). 65 (1): 1–16.

2) Wang W, Yang Y, Zhang W, Wu W (April 2014). “Association of tea consumption and the risk of oral cancer: a meta-analysis”. Oral Oncol (Meta-Analysis). 50 (4): 276–81.

3)  Boehm K, Borrelli F, Ernst E, et al. (2009). “Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (Systematic review) (3): CD005004

4) Johnson R, Bryant S, Huntley AL (December 2012). “Green tea and green tea catechin extracts: an overview of the clinical evidence”. Maturitas (Review). 73 (4): 280–7.

5) Tang J, Zheng JS, Fang L, Jin Y, Cai W, Li D (July 2015). “Tea consumption and mortality of all cancers, CVD and all causes: a meta-analysis of eighteen prospective cohort studies”. Br J Nutr (Meta-analysis). 114: 1–11.

6) Zhang C, Qin YY, Wei X, Yu FF, Zhou YH, He J (February 2015). “Tea consumption and risk of cardiovascular outcomes and total mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies”. Eur J Epidemiology(Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis). 30 (2): 103–13.

7)  Khalesi S, Sun J, Buys N, Jamshidi A, Nikbakht-Nasrabadi E, Khosravi-Boroujeni H (September 2014). “Green tea catechins and blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials”. Eur J Nutr (Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis). 53 (6): 1299–1311

8) Liu K, Zhou R, Wang B, Chen K, Shi LY, Zhu JD, Mi MT (August 2013). “Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials”. Am J Clin Nutr (Meta-Analysis). 98 (2): 340–8.

9) Zheng XX, Xu YL, Li SH, Hui R, Wu YJ, Huang XH (April 2013). “Effects of green tea catechins with or without caffeine on glycemic control in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”. Am J Clin Nutr (Meta-Analysis). 97 (4): 750–62.

10)  Zheng XX, Xu YL, Li SH, Liu XX, Hui R, Huang XH (August 2011). “Green tea intake lowers fasting serum total and LDL cholesterol in adults: a meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials”. Am J Clin Nutr (Meta-Analysis). 94 (2): 601–10.

11)  Tang J, Zheng JS, Fang L, Jin Y, Cai W, Li D (July 2015). “Tea consumption and mortality of all cancers, CVD and all causes: a meta-analysis of eighteen prospective cohort studies”. Br J Nutr (Meta-analysis). 114: 1–11.

12) Zhang C, Qin YY, Wei X, Yu FF, Zhou YH, He J (February 2015). “Tea consumption and risk of cardiovascular outcomes and total mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies“. Eur J Epidemiology(Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis). 30 (2): 103–13

13)  Serban C, Sahebkar A, Antal D, Ursoniu S, Banach M (September 2015). “Effects of supplementation with green tea catechins on plasma C-reactive protein concentrations: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”. Nutrition (Systematic review & meta-analysis). 31 (9): 1061–71.

14) Wang et al  (August 2009). ”Effects of catechin enriched green tea on body composition” Obesity 18 (4):773-9

15) Maki et al (December 2008) ”Green tea catechin consumption enhances exercise-induced abdominal fat loss in overweight and obese adults” Journal of Nutrition  139(2):264-70.

16) Lonac et al (August 2010) ”Influence of short-term consumption of caffine-free EGCG supplement on resting metabolism and the thermic effect of feeding”.  Obesity  19(2):298-304.

17) Gregersen et al (May 2009) ”Effect of moderation intakes of different tea catechins and caffeine on acute measures of energy metabolism under sedentary conditions”Journal of Nutrition 102(8):1187-94.

18)  Jurgens et al (December 2012) ”Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults”.  Cochrane Library