Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fat Burning Grains? Japanese Study Says: The Peppery "Grains of Paradise" Actually Qualify as True Thermogenics

If you are as cool as the subject on the right (no black dots in the neck and trap area = no BAT activity) you don't have to keep thinking about BAT thermogenesis (img from Sugita.2013)
"Grains are the root of all our problems." It would be nice if it really were that simple... what would be even better is if they turned out to be the solution, as well. Wouldn't that be paradise?

It would. And what's more, it could! At least if the Grains of Paradise, i.e. the seeds of Aframomum melegueta(Rosco) K. Schum.) (GP), Guinea pepper or Alligator pepper would increase thermogenesis a significant amount more than those ~6kcal/h that have been observed in healthy non-obese subjects in a recent study by Jun Sugita and his (or her?) colleagues from the Department of Nutrition at the School of Nursing and Nutrition of the Tenshi Collage in Japan (Sugita. 2013).
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~6 kcal/h in BAT positive subjects that's definitely not enough

The mechanism by which the ingestion of the ginger relative to its high content of pungent, aromatic ketones such as 6-paradol, 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol increased the resting energy expenditure in the nineteen healthy male volunteers aged 20 – 32 years was via an increase in the thermogenic activity in the brown adipose tissue of those 12 of 19 subjects who had been identified in a previous cold-exposure test to carry a significant amount of metabolically active brown fat. 
Figure 1: Effects of 40mg of grains of paradise extract on resting energy expenditure - absolute change in kcal (left) and time course of energy expenditure after the ingestion (right) in responders (BAT+) and non-responders (BAT-; cf. Sugita. 2013)
As you can see in figure 1, the effect was small and in the subjects without significant brown fat activity the 40mg of the GP extract had the exact opposite effects. Thus I am not willing to agree with the scientists who conclude that their results would
"[...] suggest that GP extract, like capsaicin and capsinoids, may be a potential tool for increasing BAT thermogenesis and decreasing body fat."
As a standalone ingredient, it is not going to do anything and the efficacy of true "thermogenics" (I am not talking about CNS activators, like ephedrine, here) as fat burners has a long history of lab results that don't carry from rodent models to human reality - even if the subjects don't compensate for the extra energy expenditure.

Histidine as a fat loss adjuvant? Laughable? Not for the obese! For lean folks like her? (learn more)
The reason for the repeated failure is simple: Rodents are no little men and unlike us, they are totally reliant on their ability to use metabolically active brown fat to generate heat and keep themselves warm. Intelligent and lazy as we are, we have come up with more than enough means to keep ourselves warm in the course of our evolutionary history not to be in need of this special fat. And the little amount of brown adipose tissue we have when we are born actually atrophies during the first years of our life. Any fat burner that works primarily by increasing the uncoupling proteins and thus the heat production in said tissue is thus not likely to produce visible results. This is the case for the lean and especially for the obese who happen to have even less brown adipose tissue than those of us, who don't schlep ourselves from the sofa to the fridge and back, sweating like crazy.

Bottom line: These "fake grains" are not going to solve the problems that are partly brought about by their "real" counterparts (i.e. the "healthy grains" in our diet ;-), but that is probably not going to hinder any snake oil vendor to putting it into his latest fat burning supplement. And who knows, when it's called "... grains", even Dr Oz may jump onto this paradise bandwagon. Why? Because there are enough people who'd rather waste thousands of dollars on false promises than spend a couple of bucks and a few hours of their TV time on a gym membership and the purchase and preparation of healthy whole foods.

References: 
  • Sugita J, Yoneshiro T, Hatano T, Aita S, Ikemoto T, Uchiwa H, Iwanaga T, Kameya T, Kawai Y, Saito M. Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) extract activates brown adipose tissue and increases whole-body energy expenditure in men. Br J Nutr. 2013 Aug;110(4):733-8.