Are there any herbs that will help?
Herbs are simply plants. However, there are millions of species of plants, each one of which synthesises a whole host of biologically active compounds, many of which have metabolic effects for us humans when we ingest them.
Humans have been taking herbs or herb combinations to improve health, promote healing or to boost physical performance long before conventional sports supplements appeared on the market. Indeed, many modern medicines are based on naturally occurring biological compounds found in plants. Commonly used herb extracts known to have ergogenic effects include caffeine (from tea, coffee and chocolate), ginsenosides (from ginseng), ephedrine (from the herb ephedra), guaranine (a slower acting form of caffeine found in guarana) and salicin (very similar to aspirin - found in white willow bark).
Caffeine and its slower releasing cousin guaranine are stimulants and research has demonstrated that they help mobilise fatty acids for energy production, particularly during endurance exercise. However, the potential benefit for strength trainers is questionable.
Ginseng is classed as an 'adaptogen', a substance that helps the body adapt to stress and accelerates recovery. Although many athletes swear by it, there's little hard evidence that it enhances athletic performance.
Ephedrine (from ephedra) on the other hand is an example of a beta-adrenergic agonist, which means it both increases heart rate and the overall thermic character of most tissues in the body. The net result is that it can indeed help to burn fat. But just becuase it's a herb doesn't mean it's not dangerous. Ephedra and all ephedrine-containing substances are banned by the International Olympic Committee, and their use has raised serious health concerns; reports abound of serious adverse events after use of ephedra, including heart attack, seizure, stroke, and even death. Moreover, these risks appear to increase with increasing dose, strenuous exercise, and with other stimulants such as caffeine.
Because most herbs or herb combinations will contain tens or even hundreds of biologically active compounds in addition to the chief ingredient, those involved in competitive sport should be aware that herbal supplements may well lead to failed drug tests, even if the main active ingredient is not banned.
Page created on February 28th, 2010
Page updated on March 9th, 2010