5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Found in some over-the-counter weight loss formulas, this extract from a West African plant seed contains a contaminant linked to a rare and potentially deadly blood disorder. It has not been proven to effectively promote weight loss.
Aerobic Exercise: Any activity involving large muscles, done for an extended period of time. Aerobic exercise can be done for weight loss, but it also provides cardiovascular benefits. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, biking, jogging, swimming, aerobic classes and cross-country skiing.
Aloe: Herbal product derived from the aloe plant, it is often added to herbal weight loss products. However, it has not been shown to effectively promote permanent weight loss.
Different parts of the aloe plant may be used. Aloe gel may lower blood glucose and keep other medications from being properly absorbed. Aloe leaf lining has more side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, lowering of serum potassium and laxative effects that could be dangerous to individuals not in good health.
Appetite Suppressants: Medications that act upon the brain, "tricking" it into believing that it is not hungry or that it's full.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis: A body composition test that works by sending a small electrical signal through the body, enabling the amount of fat, muscle and other lean tissue to be measured.
Body Composition Test: A test used to determine the current percentage of body fat a person has.
Body Mass Index (BMI): A popular method used to gauge whether or not a person is overweight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight (in kilograms) by his or her height (in meters, squared).
Calorie: A unit of measure for the amount of energy released when the body breaks down food.
Carbohydrate: any of a large group of sugars, starches, cellulose and gums that the body uses by converting into glucose, a simple sugar, for fuel.
Cascara: A common ingredient used in weight loss products. One of the few herbs approved by the FDA as an over-the-counter drug. It is a strong stimulant laxative.
Catecholamine: A chemical in the brain that affects mood and appetite.
Chitosan (KITE-o-san): A dietary supplement made from chitin, a starch found in the skeleton of shrimp, crab and other shellfish. It has not been shown to contribute to permanent weight loss.
Cholesterol: A type of fat that circulates in your blood. It comes from two sources: the body makes its own regardless of what is eaten and from foods containing animal products.
Dietician or Dietitian: A person who specializes in the study of nutrition.
Diuretic: A drug that promotes the formation of urine by the kidney.
Diuresis: Water loss
Duodenum: The beginning portion of the small intestine.
Ephedrine (Ma-Huang): A common ingredient in herbal dietary supplements used for weight loss. Ephedrine can slightly suppress your appetite, but no studies have shown it to be effective in weight loss. Ephedrine is the main active ingredient of ephedra. Ephedra is also known as Ma Huang, not ephedrine. High doses of ephedra can cause very fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, irregular heart beats, stroke, vomiting, psychoses and even death.
Extensive Gastric Bypass: A gastric bypass operation in which portions of the stomach are removed. The small pouch that remains is connected directly to the final segment of the small intestine, thus completely bypassing both the duodenum and jejunum.
Fat: Organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, it is the body's most concentrated source of energy. Like protein and carbohydrates, fat is a principal and essential component of the diet.
Fat Absorption Inhibitor: Medications that work by preventing the body from breaking down and absorbing fat eaten with meals.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Government agency whose mission is "to promote and protect the public health by helping safe and effective products reach the market in a timely way, and monitoring products for continued safety after they are in use."
Food Triggers: A situation or emotion that causes a person to eat such as stress or depression.
Gastric Banding: A surgical procedure in which a band made of special material is placed around the stomach near its upper end, creating a small pouch and a narrow passage into the larger remainder of the stomach.
Gastric Bypass: A type of operation that combines the creation of a small stomach pouch to restrict food intake and the construction of bypasses of the duodenum and other segments of the small intestine to cause malabsorption (decreased absorption of nutrients).
Glucomannan: Made from the root of Amorphophallus Konjac, an herbal supplement that is said to contribute to weight loss by delaying the absorption of glucose from the intestines.
Guarana: A nervous system stimulant derived from the seeds of a Brazilian plant of the same name, it is often found in herbal supplements that promote weight loss.
Guar Gum: Also known as guar, guar flour, and jaguar gum, it is a dietary fiber obtained from the Indian cluster bean. Used extensively as a thickening agent for foods and pharmaceuticals, it is commonly sold as an herbal supplement to promote weight loss.
High Protein Diet: Diets that recommend receiving up to 30% of calories (or more) from protein as opposed to the recommended 10%-15% from protein. These diets also recommend low carbohydrate consumption and are often high in total fat.
Hydrostatic Body Fat Testing: A body composition test performed by submerging the person in water and then measuring his or her underwater weight.
Jejunum: The middle section of the small intestine.
Ketone: Waste products in the body that are a result of fat burning.
Ketosis: An abnormality of the body's metabolic process, resulting in an increase of ketones in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing kidney stones. Ketosis is prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Ma-Huang: See ephedrine.
Meridia: See Sibutermine
Metabolism: The amount of energy (calories) your body burns to maintain itself. Metabolism is the process in which nutrients are acquired, transported, used and disposed of by the body.
Monounsaturated fat: A type of fat found in large amounts in foods from plants, including olive, peanut and canola oil.
Mortality: The rate of death.
Obesity: An excess proportion of total body fat. The most common measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI).
Orlistat: A commonly prescribed fat absorption medication, it is sold under the brand name Xenical.
Phen-fen: A weight loss drug made up of fenfluramine and phentermine. Its use has been linked to heart valve problems and has been banned by the FDA.
Phenylpropanolamine (PPA): Once a common weight loss ingredient in appetite suppressants, recent studies have linked PPA to an increased risk of stroke. The FDA warns consumers to avoid use of products containing PPA.
Polyunsaturated Fat: A type of fat that is found in large amounts in foods from plants, including safflower, sunflower and corn oil.
Protein: An organic compound that is the "building block" of the human body. Protein builds and maintains muscle tissue.
Pyruvate: Formed in the body during digestion of carbohydrates and protein, some studies indicate that it may help with weight loss. Although it appears to be safe, claims of boosting metabolism, decreasing appetite and aiding in weight loss require further study.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): The level of essential nutrients required to adequately meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
Restriction Operation: The type of surgery most often used for producing weight loss. Food intake is restricted by creating a small pouch at the top of the stomach where the food enters from the esophagus. Examples of restriction operations include: gastric banding and vertical banded gastroplasty.
Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RGB): The most common gastric bypass procedure. First, a small stomach pouch is created by stapling or by vertical banding. This causes restriction in food intake. Next, a Y-shaped section of the small intestine is attached to the pouch to allow food to bypass the duodenum as well as the first portion of the jejunum.
Saturated Fat: A type of fat most often found in animal food products including milk, eggs, meat and butter. Saturated fat is also found in vegetable products such as coconut and palm oil. Studies show that too much saturated fat in a person's diet increases heart disease risk.
St. John's Wort: An herb that is primarily used as an antidepressant due to its effects on serotonin. There is limited research indicating its use for weight loss.
Serotonin: A neurotransmitter found in the brain that affects mood and appetite.
Sibutramine: A common prescription appetite suppressant, it is sold under the brand name Meridia.
Vertical-Banded Gastroplasty: The most frequently used restrictive operation for weight control. During it, both a band and staples are used to create a small stomach pouch.
Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD): A short-term weight loss diet, VLCDs are commercially prepared formulas of 800 calories or less that replace all usual food intake. Not all VLCD need be formulas; they could just be low calorie meal plans. These diets (in fact most diets less than 1000 calories) are low in essential nutrients and require vitamin/mineral supplementation.
Xenical: See Orlistat
Yerba Mate: Also known as Paraguay tea, this strong central nervous system stimulant is often sold as a dietary supplement. It has not been proven to cause weight loss.
Weight Cycling: The repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is often called "yo-yo" dieting.
Weight Control Resources
American Dietetic Association
216 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60606-6995
American Obesity Association
1250 24th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
(800) 98-OBESE (986-2373)
Food and Nutrition Information Center
Food Safety Information
Shape Up America
4500 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, DC 20008
Weight-Control Information Network
1 Win Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
Phone: (877) 946-4627