Metabolism. We've all heard friends and colleagues complain that theirs has ground to a halt or slowly chugs along, preventing them from dropping weight. We’ve also all seen the ads and commercials for metabolism boosters — products that claim to push your metabolism into high gear and promote weight loss.
Are there really foods, pills, and supplements that boost your metabolism and make it easy to lose weight? Are they a good idea? If they work, how? And who should try them? Below, we discuss which metabolism-boosting supplements work best, their side effects, and a few other things you can do to stimulate your metabolism.
What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is how the body converts food to energy. It's a series of biochemical processes whereby the macromolecules in food (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats or lipids) are broken down so the body can use them. Some people have a fast metabolism that enables them to eat more calories and still maintain or lose weight easily. Others have a sluggish metabolism, which can make losing weight hard. Giving your metabolism a boost may help kick-start your weight loss or help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Most people use the term metabolism interchangeably with metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body burns over a period of time. Your basal metabolic rate, on the other hand, is the number of calories your body needs when you're at rest to keep your blood moving and perform basic functions like breathing. Certain vitamins, herbs, and supplements may alter your metabolic rate and are sometimes called metabolism boosters.
What Is a Metabolism Booster?
A metabolism booster is a food, herb, or nutrient that increases metabolic rate and stimulates thermogenesis — the process by which the body burns calories. Boosting the metabolic rate means you will burn more calories. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. Sometimes the nutrients are concentrated into high-potency extracts to elicit a stronger effect. Metabolism boosters are not magic solutions for weight loss and, generally, will not help you lose weight unless you also follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.
What Are the Best Metabolism Boosters?
Many foods and supplements are touted as metabolism boosters, but the evidence doesn't always match the claims. Below, are some of the most commonly described metabolism boosters. Some have more research than others to support their efficacy.
Do you start the day with a cup of coffee? Did you know it might also enhance your body's ability to burn fat? It turns out that caffeine has extensive research to back its effectiveness as a metabolism booster. In a review of studies that examined caffeine's effects on metabolism, it was found that people who consumed 270 mg of caffeine (a cup of coffee contains about 95 mg) daily burned more calories than those who didn't.
2. Green Tea
Green tea contains both caffeine and catechins — plant antioxidants that support thermogenesis and fat oxidation. However, opinions on the metabolism-boosting effects of green tea are mixed. Some research supports the notion that green tea helps the body burn slightly more calories than it would otherwise.[1, 3] Other research suggests that while green tea may help overweight and obese people lose weight, it's a clinically insignificant amount of weight.
Capsaicin is the compound that gives cayenne and other peppers their heat. Research shows that food or supplements that contain capsaicin may help your body burn more calories. Adding cayenne to your food may help you burn 50 more calories per day — that's up to 350 extra calories per week. Eating spicy food can even help you control your appetite. Of course, capsaicin won't do all the work for you. But, if your diet is in check, you exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and now you're looking for specialized nutrition to help optimize those efforts, capsaicin is worth considering.
Known for promoting heart health, resveratrol is an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes (and wine), as well as peanuts, blueberries, dark chocolate, and other foods. In animal studies, resveratrol altered blood sugar metabolization to mimic the effects of calorie restriction and help animals lose weight. The science behind resveratrol's effect on human metabolism is more limited. One small study found that it did not increase metabolism in non-obese, non-diabetic, postmenopausal women. Bottom line? We need more research to make a verdict.
5. Uva Ursi
Latin for bear's grapes and sometimes referred to as bearberry (since bears love to eat its small berries), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi has been known by Native Americans and others for centuries as an herbal tonic for urinary tract health. Like a diuretic, uva ursi increases the elimination of urine. In this way, uva ursi might reduce bloating and water retention. Losing water weight, however, is not the same as losing fat. In fact, one study found that uva ursi had virtually no effect on metabolism or weight loss. Nevertheless, it is found in many metabolism-boosting supplements.
6. Green Coffee Bean
Scientists have studied unroasted green coffee bean — which contains caffeine — for its potential as a metabolism booster and weight loss supplement. In animal studies, green coffee bean extract (GCBE) discouraged the accumulation of fat. One study found that GCBE reversed fat accumulation and insulin resistance, but only in overweight patients. For the study participants, taking 700 mcg to 1,050 mcg of green coffee bean extract lowered their total body fat and body mass index (BMI).
Popular in India for promoting balanced blood sugar levels, Gymnema sylvestre contains nutritional compounds that decrease the body's absorption of sugar during digestion (its Hindi name means “destroyer of sugar"). One study found that Gymnema sped up the body's ability to process fat and glucose. The researchers even suggested it might promote normal metabolic and endocrine function in persons who struggle to maintain balanced blood sugar.
Top Health Questions: How to Boost Your Metabolism
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Metabolism Booster Side Effects
In general, most natural metabolism boosters are safe for healthy people. However, the potential side effects of any nutrient that affects metabolism include everything from jitters and anxiety to reduced blood sugar, interactions with medication, nausea, vomiting, urine discoloration, and upset stomach.
If your reasons for seeking a metabolism booster are part of a larger plan to improve or maintain your health, make sure you consider your diet and entire supplement intake as a whole. For example, if you drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated tea, think twice before adding additional stimulation.
Do Metabolism Boosters Actually Work?
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of many metabolism boosters. For the herbs and nutrients which studies suggest may have something to offer, it is a good idea to ask, "to what degree?" Many so-called "metabolism boosters" have demonstrated limited success. Navigating the selection of supplements that claim to boost your metabolism can be confusing. Before trying a supplement, ignore the creative way it's marketed and check the list of ingredients it contains. Does the research match the claims? Ask your healthcare provider or nutritionist for a recommendation.
If you're starting a weight loss journey, make sure that following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep is the foundation of your efforts. When those are in alignment, only then may a metabolism booster give your weight loss efforts an extra kick.
10 More Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
There are other ways to boost your metabolism naturally. The best strategies include:
1. Cleanse Your Colon
2. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is a must for your metabolism to run at high gear. Experts recommend you get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, or your metabolism may be affected.
3. Build Up Your Muscles
Excess body fat doesn't do anything except weigh you down and get in the way — literally. Muscles, on the other hand, are always on and burning calories — even if you're at rest. This is one of the most compelling reasons to build your muscle mass. Not only will the act of strength training help you get into shape, but the more muscle you build, the easier it becomes to stay in shape.
4. Try High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
To up your activity level even more, try high-intensity interval training. Experts show that HIIT is better than cardio exercise at burning fat and revving up your metabolism.
5. Eat More
It might seem counterproductive, but eating smaller meals more frequently (up to six times per day) can put your metabolism in a better position than eating a few large meals. Frequent small meals also help keep your blood sugar stable. Eat metabolism-boosting foods, and you'll be set.
6. Take Your Vitamins
None of the processes in your body — metabolism or otherwise — will be at their best unless you get all the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Pay special attention to nutrients like iodine and selenium which directly support the thyroid and, in turn, metabolism.
7. Eat Breakfast
Here's another reason why breakfast is called the most important meal of the day — it turns your metabolism on and helps you start to burn calories. And if you skip breakfast, it can actually slow down your metabolism.
8. Drink Warm Water
9. Eat Protein & Fiber
Make sure your diet contains plenty of plant-based protein and fiber. Protein helps build lean muscle mass, which takes more calories to maintain. Fiber supports digestive health and ensures your body's waste removal system operates at peak efficiency.
10. Move More
It's simple — the more active you are, the more calories you'll burn. Even small movements throughout the day, like standing at work or taking the stairs, can tickle your metabolism and increase the calories you burn. Get moving, sit less!
Points to Remember
Despite the hype-filled marketing, most metabolism boosters have questionable efficacy. If you're living a healthy lifestyle and your diet, exercise, and sleep plans are all optimized, adding a metabolism booster to the mix may help but chances are that your healthy habits will be shouldering most of the work and providing most of the results. If you do try a metabolism booster, make sure you're starting with organic, plant-based supplements. Again, don't underestimate the necessity of a calorie-restricted diet and a sound exercise plan when you're trying to lose weight.
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- Hursel R, et al. The effects of catechin-rich teas and caffeine on energy expenditure and fat oxidation: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2011;12(7):e573-e581.
- Hursel R, et al. The effects of green tea on weight loss and weight maintenance: a meta-analysis. Int J Obes (Lond). 2009;33(9):956-961.
- Jurgens TM, et al. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;12(2).
- Whiting S, et al. Capsaicinoids and capsinoids. A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence. Appetite. 2012;59(2):341-348.
- Poulsen MM, et al. Resveratrol in metabolic health: an overview of the current evidence and perspectives. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013;1290:74-82.
- Yoshino J, et al. Resveratrol supplementation does not improve metabolic function in nonobese women with normal glucose tolerance. Cell Metab. 2012;16(5):658-664.
- Schindler G, et al. Urinary excretion and metabolism of arbutin after oral administration of arctostaphylos uvae ursi extract as film-coated tablets and aqueous solution in healthy humans. J Clin Pharmacol. 2002;42(8):920-927.
- Bong-Keun C, et al. Green coffee bean extract improves obesity by decreasing body fat in high-fat diet-induced obese mice. Asian Pac J Trop Med2016;9(7):635-643.
- Fatemeh H, et al. Green coffee bean extract as a weight loss supplement. J Nutr Disord Ther. 2015;5(4).
- Singh Vineet Kumar, et al. Immunomodulatory effect of Gymnema sylvestre (R.Br.) Leaf Extract: An In Vitro Study in Rat Model. PLoS One. 2015;10(10).
- Boschmann M, et al. Water-induced thermogenesis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Dec;88(12):6015-9.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.