Bitter Orange: Weight Loss Wonder or Naturally Nasty?
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Bitter Orange: Weight Loss Wonder or Naturally Nasty?

bitter orange for weight lossIn an era where looks and well-being are becoming increasingly important it is no surprise that many people are turning to natural ingredients on the premise that they can help you achieve the body you desire without the side effects and safety concerns associated with man-made compounds. As a result of this it is nigh on impossible to find a weight loss supplement on the market that does not claim that at least 80% of its ingredients are natural.

One of the most commonly used natural ingredients is the extract of Bitter Orange, also known as Citrus Aurantium. There are many different varieties of this type of fruit that are grown specifically for different purposes. While some may be used in perfume, the versatility of the extract means that it has numerous functions including the use of it as a flavouring, a solvent, in Chinese herbal medicine and, most importantly, as an aid to weight loss, to name but a few.

orange-wholeThe fruit made its name in the weight loss industry in 2004 shortly after Ephedrine alkaloids (also a natural ingredient) were banned from diet medicines by the US Food and Drug Administration due to safety concerns. It was found that this substance could cause severe side effects including heart attacks, strokes and hypertension; in one study it was found that diet pills containing this substance led to the death of a very worrying 10 people and that these deaths were linked specifically to the use of Ephedrine. Bitter Orange was then marketed as an alternative, safer ingredient.

Citrus Aurantium is claimed by numerous manufacturers of diet pills to have the same effects as the banned substance but without the potentially life threatening side effects that came with it. As this article will explain, this may not be entirely true and just because something is obtained naturally, this does not always mean it is safe for all of the uses we intend to give it. There has in fact been a sizeable amount of research into the side effects that stimulants (a group to which Bitter Orange extract belongs) can cause. As a result, scientific opinions on the ingredient are divided; while it is widely used in orange flavoured beverages, this is not to say that it is harmless for the purpose of weight loss where the dosage could be particularly high. So how exactly does Bitter Orange claim to help you with your weight loss?

How Does Bitter Orange Help With Weight Loss?

weight loss benefits of bitter orangeIn order to explain the weight loss properties of Bitter Orange it is necessary to look at its structural make up. For a natural ingredient, Bitter Orange has quite a sophisticated chemical structure but it is mostly known for the oil that can be extracted from its zest; it is this specific element that can be found in many flavourings and herbal medicines.

As well as this, the extract is made up of several alkaloids, these include: Synephrine, N-methyltyramine, Hordenine, Octopamine and Tyramine. These are believed to target specific receptors found in the body that promote the breakdown of fat; the most effective of these being Synephrine. This alkaloid in particular is called a sympathetic adrenergic agonist which means that it stimulates alpha one and beta three receptors; alpha one receptors regulate our appetite and beta three receptors control the speed of our metabolism.

The Synephrine binds itself with the beta three receptors and encourages the release of catecholamines, a type of hormone, which initiates lipolysis (the burning of fat) by promoting an enzyme called adenylyl cyclase. This increases the rate at which fat is released from body stores and also quickens the rate of metabolism.

It is this property of Bitter Orange that makes it most like Ephedrine but the main difference lies in how Synephrine targets the body. It is the fact that it stimulates fat tissue specifically that allegedly makes it a safer alternative to Ephedrine. It works specifically on the beta three receptors responsible for breaking down fat within the body and only signals the release of catecholamines such as noradrenaline in these receptor sites, which are situated mainly in the body’s adipose tissue and the liver.

Unlike its dangerous predecessor it is a semi-selective sympathomimetic, which means that it, can still possess these weight loss properties without adversely affecting the heart or significantly increasing blood pressure. It must be noted however that there has been no conclusive research that backs up this claim.

bitter orange is an appetite suppressantAs well as increasing the metabolic rate and acting as an appetite suppressant, Bitter Orange is also known to be a thermogenic agent. Thermogenesis is the process of burning fat due to an increase in heat; it encourages brown fat cells in the body to burn off our white fat cells, which would otherwise be stored as extra weight. Thermogenic agents increase the rate at which this happens and so it follows, theoretically at least, that the more thermogenic agents you put into your body, the more fat you burn in any given period of time.

Therefore, the extract of Citrus Aurantium works in three main ways; it acts as an appetite suppressant resulting in a lower calorie intake and at the same time it increases metabolism and thermogenesis which allows the body to burn more fat more quickly. So, the fact that you consume fewer calories using the extract would decrease body fat alone but this together with a faster fat burning process means that you could lose a noticeable amount of weight in a fairly short period of time. These properties combined mean that the extract of Bitter Orange definitely has the potential to aid significant weight loss.

Do The Reviews Back Up These Claims?

The only way to know if this is really the case in terms of real life results is to look at various reviews by consumers and scientists who have tried and tested the ingredient. As mentioned above, there has been a lot of debate concerning the use of Bitter Orange in weight loss, and, as yet, there has been no consensus as to the effects and safety of the ingredient in weight loss products. Having said this, the fact that there is no agreement among scientists does not always mean than an ingredient comes with significant health risks. There are many other factors, which could be the reason behind the lack of conclusive opinion including availability of resources, the length of time the ingredient has been in the industry and how much of a priority reviewing it is considering all of the scientific evidence.

The most beneficial evidence in this case is going to be the findings of normal consumers who have tried the extract over an adequate period of time; it will then become apparent as to whether Bitter Orange carries with it any severe drawbacks and whether weight loss has actually been experienced because of taking the extract.

Starting with the conclusions of various researchers, a publication which can be found in the US National Library of Medicine, sums up the status of Bitter Orange extract concerning weight loss. It notes that there is little evidence available to prove that the ingredient is effective in causing weight loss and emphasises that Synephrine, the main component in the extract, only has weight loss properties if it is taken at high doses. This is hard to disprove until studies have been done on the effects of Bitter Orange itself relating to weight loss as opposed to various combinations of ingredients in numerous clinical trials of diet pills. It is impossible at the moment to establish whether Bitter Orange has any of the weight loss properties it purports to have because there are no reliable studies that single out the ingredient. There is however, a small amount of consumer reviews available on discussion boards relating to the extract alone and these will give us some insight as to the reality of weight loss resulting from the ingredient.

researching into bitter orangeThe researchers do note however that no adverse effects have been reported thus far that can be accurately associated with the use of the extract in diet pills, it would seem then that despite concerns about side effects similar in severity to Ephedrine, those using the extract within diet pills have had no serious issues. This does not mean however that cautions should be ignored. Bitter Orange extract (and most diet pills in general) are not recommended for long-term use and should the ingredient be ingested over a long period or should the body become more sensitive to it, there is a real risk that high doses of Synephrine could cause harmful effects.

There has however been a small scientific review, which examined the results of various unpublished tests on Bitter Orange and more specifically Synephrine. The general results showed that there were no adverse effects complained of by any of the test subjects and furthermore that Synephrine alone did show a small increase in energy expenditure and metabolic rate when taken for 6 to 12 weeks. However, without any further information it is impossible to tell whether these results are accurate and as well as this no quantities are provided in relation to how much of the extract would be needed to recreate these results. Furthermore, only a small increase in metabolism was noted and there is no mention of appetite suppressing qualities.

Additionally there is no information concerning the amount of test subjects, their general characteristics, health or circumstances under which they were taking the extract. The study notes itself that longer term studies are needed to be able to confirm the safety of Bitter Orange, so this review is of limited help when assessing the safety and uses of the extract, especially since this evaluation in particular is more based on the effects of Synephrine as an individual component as opposed to the Bitter Orange extract as a whole.

As mentioned, the most useful form of information at this stage is the reviews left by consumers who have tried the extract themselves. Bitter Orange extract seems to be still in the stages of scientific research and although it has been used in the medical industry for some time now, its effects on weight are not well investigated. It is important however that the following reviews are read along with the cautions of researchers rather than being chosen over them since the reviews will come with significant problems themselves such as accuracy, credibility and the general lack of scientific knowledge that the consumers possess.

One consumer writes that in her experience Bitter Orange is ‘a good fat burner and does help to curve your appetite‘. She comes to this conclusion from taking the extract with Octopamine HCL; she even goes as far as to say that she has ‘had great results‘ and mentions nothing about unpleasant effects while stating that other fat burners have had these.

What is not mentioned however is how long the extract was taken for and in what dosage so while this may be inspiring for those wishing to use Bitter Orange to help lose weight, it should be noted that these reviews are of a personal nature and the same results cannot be guaranteed or even conclusively proven at this point.

A few other reviews say relatively the same thing, which is encouraging as to their reliability, but there are also a few that doubt the effects of the ingredient. One in particular states that the extract only works ‘to some extent’ although no other information is given as to what is meant by this. Others also emphasise the fact that once you stop taking the extract you actually start putting the weight back on and given that it is not suitable for long-term use this could, if true, render using the extract fairly useless unless healthy habits have been formed and continued during the period in which it is taken.

To sum up it seems that the industry in general is much undecided about the use of Bitter Orange and its weight loss properties. While the lack of reports relating to severe side effects makes it appear to be a lot safer than Ephedrine, it is always best to be wary of any product that has not gone through scrupulous testing even if it has been used to treat other medical conditions.

While some customer reviews are encouraging it is easy to overlook the fact that there is currently no real, solid, scientific evidence that can provide a basis for the use of the extract in this field.

However, considering that as yet there have been no serious side effects reported, and the fact that Bitter Orange is a natural ingredient used in other things we might consume; it would seem that the only way to find out if the extract helps weight loss realistically is to try it yourself. However, when deciding to do so it is recommended that you seriously consider the potential risk of exposing yourself to Ephedrine like effects.

If you are in fact considering trying the extract, it is of the utmost importance that you read all information and directions for use given with it and regardless of what any consumer review states, never exceed the dose that has been recommended to you.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated With The Extract?

bitter orange side effectsThe unique benefit of using Bitter Orange is claimed to be that it provides all of the same weight loss properties as Ephedrine but without any of the serious side effects. There are still concerns however as to whether the extract does in fact have the potential to cause the same side effects but at a slower rate or by using a higher dose.

In the same publication mentioned above, US researchers warn that because Synephrine increases blood pressure due to its stimulant properties, it also has the potential to cause heart defects just like Ephedrine. It may not be as common since Synephrine does not target the heart tissue or blood stream in the same way that Ephedrine does, but it is still indirectly capable of leading to these serious side effects through its stimulant behaviour.

Although no ‘serious’ side effects have been reported, as mentioned, Synephrine is a stimulant compound. This means that it is likely to have all the side effects associated with other stimulants including; high blood pressure, increased heart rate, nausea and/or insomnia. In fact, there is actually scientific proof of its stimulant side effects as a small study was carried out at the University of California, which showed that compared to a placebo, Bitter Orange extract taken as a supplement on its own (6% of which was made up of Synephrine) increased both Systolic and Diastolic blood pressure by a significant amount. As well as this, the subjects’ heart rates were also considerably increased for a period of up to 5 hours after consuming a single dose of the extract.

While all stimulants tend to come with side effects such as these, their presence become more worrying when associated with Bitter Orange. While the increased heart rate could be due to stimulant properties, there is no evidence as yet that can prove that it is not in fact due to the Synephrine contained in the extract, which could mean that ephedrine-like effects may follow specifically heart attack or stroke.

Again, despite the fact that no ‘serious’ effects have been specifically noted, some research takes issue with what has been deemed as a ‘serious side effect’ and makes serious allegations concerning the safety of the extract reporting that it has in fact caused fainting and may result in more serious occurrences should it be used continuously. This however seems to be very rare and the mention of this particular side effect only comes up once in research relating to the extract and its safety.

The most important thing to remember when considering the potential side effects of Bitter Orange is that it has not undergone any professional, published safety testing on human subjects. Although it has been used in herbal medicine for quite some time, at this stage of research and with such a lack of positive and concrete evidence, the bottom line is that if you are going to take Bitter Orange for weight loss, you are doing so at your own risk, and you must remember that it will affect each individual differently.

If you have any underlying medical conditions, are particularly sensitive to stimulants or are pregnant and/or nursing, it is not recommended that you use the extract.

The question then remains as to why so many diet pill manufacturers use such an inadequately researched ingredient to provide ‘powerful’ weight loss properties. Surely, there are alternatives that have actually been proven safe to use? And if so, are they actually better for safe weight loss?

Are There Any Alternatives That Have Been More Thoroughly Researched?

alernative to bitter orangeWe have established that Bitter Orange extract has three uses in terms of weight loss; it increases metabolism, acts as a thermogenic agent and suppresses the appetite. There are many other products on the market that also purport to do this and that have been more thoroughly researched.

One of, if not the best natural alternative to Citrus Aurantium is Green Tea combined with natural Caffeine extracted from the Guarana Plant. Unlike Bitter Orange, there are plenty of clinical studies and human trials involving these ingredients that prove them to be safe for use in diet pills, and, just as importantly, they have also been proven to aid effective weight loss.

The ingredients work in much the same way as Bitter Orange speeding up metabolism by increasing thermogenesis. They also suppress the appetite but rather than targeting various receptors, they control blood sugar levels by preventing large negative fluctuations so that your body is tricked into reducing its sugar (and therefore food) intake.

Also being a stimulant, these ingredients will come with all associated side effects but there is considerably less uncertainty about the risk of them and there is evidence that, if used correctly, no serious side effects will be experienced. In addition, there is the obvious difference that Green Tea and Guarana Caffeine do not contain Synephrine; the most potentially harmful ingredient in Bitter Orange.

The ingredients work in much the same way as Bitter Orange speeding up metabolism by increasing thermogenesis. They also suppress the appetite but rather than targeting various receptors, they control blood sugar levels by preventing large negative fluctuations so that your body is tricked into reducing its sugar (and therefore food) intake.

Also being a stimulant, these ingredients will come with all associated side effects but there is considerably less uncertainty about the risk of them and there is evidence that, if used correctly, no serious side effects will be experienced. In addition, there is the obvious difference that Green Tea and Guarana Caffeine do not contain Synephrine; the most potentially harmful ingredient in Bitter Orange.

It is not a surprise that there are many effective and well assessed alternatives to Bitter Orange considering its links with Ephedrine but what is surprising however is that so many diet pills continue to use this ingredient.

The Overall Verdict

So should you try Bitter Orange to help with your weight loss?

Unfortunately, there is no simple yes or no answer to this question due to the lack of certainty surrounding the potential symptoms and weight loss effects that Bitter Orange is claimed to have.

One thing that should be taken seriously however is the potential of the Synephrine contained in the extract to cause side effects similar to Ephedrine. It should be remembered that it was the presence of these unwanted symptoms that lead to the banning of the latter from diet medicines in the USA in 2004. There has been no in depth research that would indicate that the risk of such symptoms is unwarranted and while that risk remains. However minimal it is, with such severe consequences including death in the most serious cases, it would seem that trying this extract, particularly for more than the tested 12 weeks is just not worth the risk when there are other alternatives that work just as well and are clinically proven to be safe to use.

It is also worth mentioning that a large amount of diet pills do contain Bitter Orange as well as the Green Tea extract discussed above, although still worrying, the likelihood is that the amount of Synephrine these combination pills contain would not be enough to cause the severe side effects researchers have been so concerned about. It also raises questions though as to how effective Bitter Orange actually is if it must be used in combination with other much more powerful stimulants such as pure caffeine.

In terms of Bitter Orange as a weight loss aid on its own, the fact that the above research has hinted that a high dose would be needed for any noticeable weight loss means that a users’ intake of Synephrine would be particularly high and so too would the risks of experiencing more serious side effects.

Although Bitter Orange has the potential to be an effective weight loss supplement, until further research has been carried out and the risk of side effects is clarified it should be used with caution when part of a diet pill and best avoided as a supplement on its own.

For more information on diet pills that use Bitter orange, we recommend you read our T5 Fat Burners review.

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