If there was ever a product that gives us a strong visual from just hearing its name, fat burners are definitely it. The name alone implies fat just melting away from our bodies, quickly and easily. But what exactly is a fat burner, and is it something that we would actually want to take to help us lose weight?
In a nutshell, fat burners are supplements that typically contain herbal ingredients of some kind that you are supposed to either give our metabolism a boost, and/or give us more energy, and/or make us less hungry. Common ingredients in fat burners are chitosan, ephedra, and pyruvate. Another popular form of fat burner is known as the ECA stack, a supplement trio made up of ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin.
Let’s look a bit closer at some of these ingredients to see if they might actually help with weight loss. According to an article on about.com on fat burners, chitosan is made from the external skeletons of marine animals like crabs, and it apparently binds to fat-soluble vitamins, preventing the body from absorbing them. A small number of studies have reported favorably about chitosan, but these have not been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. If you love to drink coffee in the morning you already know this—the caffeine gets us going and makes us more alert and higher in energy. In some ways, it can work like ephedra on the body—it can increase our body temperature and it may cause our system to work harder and burn more calories. This may very well be true, but as someone who recently went through a 10-year weight problem while drinking vast quantities of my beloved Starbucks on a daily basis, I can personally attest that caffeine, at least on its own, didn’t affect my weight at all.
Ephedra is a potent herb that comes from Mongolia or China. You’ve probably already heard of it and its adverse side effects—ephedra comes with a laundry list of problems including high blood pressure, insomnia, heart problems, and seizures. What makes this especially troubling is that many of these problems occurred in young, healthy people who were taking the product.