I’m not a fan of supplements. I don’t think there is a magic pill out there – not for weight loss, perfect nutrition or muscle building. And yet I’m always interested in what works for other people. So when Reader Shellie sent me a very interesting e-mail this weekend, I immediately fired up the research nets and went to my happy place. (What – your happy place doesn’t involve a never-ending library of scientific information at your fingertips? Apparently the Internet is my Nirvana.)
Shellie, a friend I know from real life (so I know she isn’t some undercover supplement salesperson spammer), and I were having a conversation on how hard it can be to lose weight after a pregnancy. Especially when what works after one baby doesn’t seem to work after their sibling is born. Shellie has four cutie-pie kids so if anyone has experience in this department it’s her!
I think I have found my problem. Despite my animosity towards pills, vitamins and supplements, I decided to give something a try and it is working. I started taking a “One-A-Day” multivitamin and a supplement of L-carnitine (supposed to maintain fat metabolism.) After months of having no results despite my consistent exercise regiment and overall healthy eating, I took 3 ½ inches off my bust, waist and hips (each) in less than two weeks. The change started within 48 hours of starting the supplements. I have only gone down a few pounds, but I am honestly most concerned about how I look and feel and how my clothes fit, so this is encouraging.
My theory is that after 8 years of being pregnant or breastfeeding with almost no respite, my body was very depleted of a lot of essentials. When I tried to cut back on my eating, I was weak and hungry and my body actually held onto or even put on weight. When I would eat whatever I wanted, I would go back to where I started, but never down past the starting point. I guess my body needed more nutrients than the regular healthy diet provides. Once it got it, my body could let go of the fat. Just a theory, but at least I am seeing results now.
Prior to this, everything I’d heard about L-Carnitine came from ridiculous back-page ads in Women’s Health or breathless sales pitches from rabid GNC employees (are there any other kind?). But Shellie is not the type to exaggerate so I decided to look it up.
It turns out that l-carnitine is one of the most researched substances in the biz. It was discovered way back in 1905 and researchers have been studying its effects on everything from Alzheimer’s disease (useful) to AIDS (not useful) ever since.
L-C is very important stuff. It is found naturally in everyone’s bodies where its primary function is to take fatty acids to the mitochondria (the power houses of your cells) where they are used to make metabolic energy. Basically it is critical for getting energy out of stored fat.
Whoo-Hooo! Party in Supplement Town
Despite all of it’s known medical benefits – it has documented benefits for heart patients and diabetics – it has gotten the majority of its fame as a weight-loss supplement (much like the late Anna Nicole Smith). It is often found in so-called thermogenic pills and in muscle-building complexes, labeled as a “fat burner”. It is found in so many products at GNC that you’d think it was sleeping with the lead chemist – especially since human studies do not warrant that kind of attention.
Almost all of the purported research on L-C as a weight-loss supplement come from or are funded by the supplement companies themselves which is exactly as incestuous as it sounds. There have been several studies examining L-C as a performance enhancer (of the exercise variety, people!!) that have found significant benefit. There has only been one well-done study on L-C and fat loss in human beings that I know of and it too has shown no significant effect.
Back to Shellie. The more of her backstory I heard, the more interesting the puzzle becomes:
I have been struggling with my weight since I was six years old. Since I was little, I used food as my “drug of choice” to comfort myself, cope with stress, etc. When I was 12, my best friend even used me as the subject of her school science project on weight loss.
Wow – who needs enemies with friends like that?
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with hyper-lipidemia and atherosclerosis. My cholesterol was well over 200 and the cardiologist said if something didn’t change, I could expect my first heart attack between age 45-55. He recommended a “low fat” diet like everyone did in the early nineties. So I worked REALLY hard, exercising, cutting out all the fat and eating processed “fat free” foods loaded with sugar because I thought they were safe. I lost 30 lbs, got down to 103 lbs and size 3 in the juniors dept. I went back to the cardiologist and guess what? My cholesterol had gone UP! Then, when I was 22 and fat again, I was diagnosed with borderline diabetes.
I fell into exactly the same “fat-free” trap in the 90’s. I remember being SO proud of myself that I could go days without eating a single gram of fat! No matter I was living off of Sweetarts and air-popped popcorn. Eating disorders – good times…
I managed to lose some weight, but it didn’t help my blood sugar or cholesterol, so I started medication with Lipitor. My cholesterol came down some, but there are a long list of side effects and no one even knows what happens when you take it for 30-40 + years. Not to mention that you can’t take it when you are pregnant or nursing. So I quit the Lipitor to have kids. My doctor just said to hurry up and have them quick so I could get back on the Lipitor.
But Pfizer would have made such a great god-parent! Think of the birthday gifts! Pill samples for everyone! Your kid would have been the most popular one on the block;)
When R. (her first child) was 24 months old, my Pediatrician wanted to have her cholesterol tested because of the family history. I had fed her what I thought at the time was a healthy diet – Gerber baby crackers, canned fruit and veggies, so-called “wheat” bread from the grocery store, white pasta, rice and tortillas. Her cholesterol was 201. The Pediatrician said the same as the cardiologist … “low fat diet.” I had come to believe that it was just our genetic curse and it couldn’t be controlled.
I think I find this the scariest part of her story. I had NO idea that toddlers could have high cholesterol. Yikes!
After I weaned G. (child number 2), I decided to take a few months off from being pregnant or nursing. (I hadn’t had even a one month break in nearly 3 years.) I tried the Dr. Phil Ultimate Weight Loss Solution and read a book called “Sugar Busters.” In 2 ½ months I lost 25 lbs, packed on a lot of muscle, looked and felt better than I had any time I can remember in my life. And for the first time, my cholesterol and blood sugar were totally normal. No drugs, just good old fashioned whole foods.
I had three more pregnancies right after that. First was a blighted ovum, next was B., then came H. So that is a lot of baby making and feeding for one body in eight years. With B., I entered the delivery room weighing less than I did at 22 and the weight just fell off – so easy. With H. it was different. It came on really fast and didn’t come off at all after the delivery. I just kept waiting and waiting and doing what worked before, but this time it didn’t.
Nature can be cruel that way. Same thing happened to me between children #2 & #3.
Now I am taking “One a Day Cholesterol Plus” at lunch. I take the L-Carnitine with lunch and dinner – 500 mg each dose. I am also taking two chewable “Fiber Choice” weight management fiber supplements in the afternoon with a big glass of water when I tend to get the munchies.
And she lost 10.5 inches in two weeks.
Weight-loss ads will often tell you that carnitine deficiencies are the scourge of our modern era. This is simply not true. Hardly anyone is deficient as our bodies make L-C quite readily from even small nutritional sources. Since it is found primarily in red meat and dairy products, vegans (along with pregnant women and small children) are at the highest risk for a deficiency and even in those groups it is rare.
And again, there are no human studies that show a significant benefit to taking it as a supplement. But there are so many variable in human studies. What did the subjects weigh? Were they already eating very healthy and exercising like Shellie? Was their cholesterol measured?
In the end, L-carnitine has not been found to be toxic at even very high dosages and is one of the few supplements to have virtually no known side effects (not including acetyl-l-carnitine, the drug form used in heart patients) so I don’t suppose it would hurt you to try it if you have the money! Just make sure to report back to the rest of us what you discover:)
What are your thoughts on this? I’m stumped.