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African Mango: A Miracle Weight Loss Supplement Or Not?

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I was recently asked to do a show about African mango and as I was researching the popularity and interest on this, I was astonished to find how many people are spending a lot of money for this for weight loss. As I looked further into this topic, there are some indications that African mango may be helpful for cholesterol and blood sugar control as well as weight loss, but its ability to incur this change is mostly based out of its fiber content.

Based on a double-blind randomized controlled trial of 40 obese individuals, where some of them were given Irvingia gabonensis (African mango) while the others were not, those who were given the African mango had decreased LDL and triglycerides (bad cholesterols) and increased HDL (good cholesterol). These patients were monitored weekly by a dietitian and were kept on the same normal caloric diet.

The study result suggested that the African mango's soluble fiber content helps to slow digestion and absorption of dietary sugar. The fiber also binds to bile acids in the intestinal tract and helps to carry it out of the body, forcing the body to convert more cholesterol into bile acids and thus helping with cholesterol levels. According to the study, if patients consumed soluble fiber in other forms, similar health benefits could occur that are comparable to that of African mango.

The reason I chose to write on this topic is because all too often, I see my patients spending large sums of money buying supplements for weight loss. But all they have to do is to eat a mostly plant-based diet, and the fiber in that diet would do the same job in assisting with weight loss while costing them much less money and gaining much more benefit from the wide array of nutrients found in the whole plants rather than from the supplements.

Unfortunately, many of us look for the magic bullet pill that would be a cure-all for our problems. But this study shows us once again that these so-called magic bullet pills may not be so magical after all. What remains to be seen in supplements that have very little scientific backing yet is whether there are going to be any side effects in long-term usage of them. And if the supplement works the same way as getting soluble fiber through healthy foods, we at least know there are no side effects from the healthy foods -- thus, eating a healthy balanced diet still would be the safest and most effective way to go.

Don't get me wrong, I am clearly not opposed to supplements, and find them to be helpful in augmenting treatment and health goals... But they are not supposed to be quick fixes that take the place of healthy habits. The healthy habits need to be the foundation of how we achieve our health goals. There are certain supplements and many patient cases where supplements are absolutely necessary above and beyond a healthy diet, but my point is that the healthy diet should be the foundation first and foremost. Supplements are meant to be a gap-filler to augment an already healthy lifestyle. So, I have to frequently caution my patients against continuing an unhealthy lifestyle thinking that supplements are the equivalent of eating a balanced, healthy diet... They are not.

So, for everyone reading this article, I would like to propose that we establish food in its natural form in a mostly plant-based diet that is anti-inflammatory as the foundation of weight loss, cholesterol and sugar management, and disease prevention. Then, the supplements that are appropriate and safe for your desired health goals can be layered on top of that foundation to help augment your attempts at your health goal. But, remember to always check with your physician to make sure that those supplements are safe for your medical history.

In regards to African mango, the study mentioned here is a small study, and larger-scale studies with longer follow-up evaluation are necessary to make sure that long-term use would not be harmful, and to truly gauge health benefits and whether there are going to be any long-term, detrimental problems.

What concerned me the most before reading this study is the cost that people pay for quick fixes -- and based on this study, while it seems that the supplement may help with weight loss, so would a diet that has a healthy amount of soluble fiber from natural foods. And based on this study, it seems that the most cost-effective way would be just a plain, healthy, plant-based, fiber-rich diet.

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References:

Ngondi J, et al. The effect of Irvingia gabonensis seeds on body weight and blood lipids of obese subjects in Cameroon. Lipids Health Dis. 2005; 4: 12.