“ …as we all know by now, even ordinary, everyday stress can cause your body to increase or retain belly fat. That’s why you can go on a diet, lose weight, but still look thick around the middle.”
Stress also contributes to premature aging…
“It has long been observed that people who are stressed over prolonged periods tend to look prematurely aged and haggard. (And we’re not just talking about extreme stress, we’re talking about “normal” everyday stress.)”
Thus, it’s not surprising to see Relacore being pitched as both a “weight control ‘adjunct,’” AND an “anti-aging breakthrough.”
Is it true? Can Relacore help you shed both pounds and wrinkles?
Well… not exactly. While this is heavily implied on the Relacore sales site, the truth is that there’s exactly ZERO proof that Relacore can do either, let alone markedly influence underlying biochemical events like telomere shortening (more on this below). This is why the makers of Relacore are in legal hot water, with both the US Federal Trade Commission and the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit over false advertising claims.
Nonetheless, there’s a germ of truth hidden inside strongly implied claims like this:
“Stress, and the shortened telomere length associated with elevated levels of stress, has been shown in multiple studies to have dramatic effects on all aspects of life, from obesity to sexual health, even wrinkles. It’s logical that a formulation that helps reduce stress and thus preserves telomere length might have a positive impact on the detrimental effects that stress can produce.”
So let’s talk about stress; and its relationship to belly fat and premature aging (and telomeres!).
When you’re under physical or psychological stress, your body releases (among other things) a steroid hormone from the adrenal glands: cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone, and is required for many vital purposes — proper glucose metabolism, blood pressure, immune function and inflammatory response are a few.
Under prolonged/chronic stress, either mental or physical, however, the body can produce an excessive amount of cortisol. At these high levels, cortisol is a nasty little number indeed. It can negatively affect cognitive performance, suppress thyroid function, foster blood sugar imbalances and the subsequent deposition of body fat, decrease bone density, as well as other things. Athletes don’t like cortisol, as it is catabolic — i.e., muscle-wasting, rather than anabolic — i.e., muscle building.
Excess cortisol levels may indeed be *somewhat* responsible for excess fat deposition and weight gain… particularly when it comes to “visceral adipose tissue” (VAT). This is the fat that surrounds the organs of the abdominal cavity (viscera). Although it also contributes to a thicker waist line or gut, you can’t “pinch” it. It’s also terrible for your health. As summarized in the August, 2010 Harvard Women’s Health Letter, visceral fat is linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease/type 2 diabetes, dementia, and breast/colorectal cancers.
This is also where the aging connection comes in. The increased risk for disease that rises with VAT is due to increased oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress also accelerates the shortening of telomeres, which are the stabilizing, DNA-protein complexes on the end of chromosomes. Telomeres protect the genes on the ends of chromosomes from degrading during cell division. Telomeres are viewed as a marker of biological aging, as they gradually shorten over time and continued cell replication. When telomere erosion reaches a point where the cell can no longer replicate, it dies.
OK, now back to Relacore. In essence, what the makers of Relacore want you to believe, is…
- Relacore can relieve stress, which in turn…
- Will make it easier for you to lose “belly fat” and…
- Put the brakes on telomere shortening and slow the aging process.
That’s a pretty tall order for a product you can buy at Walmart. Can Relacore deliver on those promises? Let’s take a look at the ingredients…
The Relacore formula is a hodgepodge of common vitamins and minerals, plus a proprietary blend consisting of…
The bark of Magnolia officinalis – which is used in Chinese traditional medicine (houpu) to treat lung and intestinal disorders. Magnolia bark extracts contain honokiol and magnolol, which are considered to be the active ingredients. Magnolia bark extracts have anti-depressant, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-bacterial activity in animal and cell culture experiments.
Standardized magnolia bark extracts are used in certain weight loss supplements to improve mood and reduce the potential for stress-related eating. A human study on a proprietary blend of Magnolia and Phellodendron extracts (Relora), demonstrated modest improvements in the subjects’ cortisol levels and eating in response to stress.
The good news, as you can see, is that Magnolia bark does have some “de-stressing” qualities, and yes, it may even help you to lose weight, although the conclusion of the study (Altern Ther Health Med. 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):50-4) indicates it seems to work a little differently than the retailers of Relacore suggest…
“The results of this pilot clinical study indicate that obese subjects who eat in response to stress may benefit from taking a dietary supplement ingredient containing proprietary extracts of M officinalis and P amurense. The mechanism of action appears to be through reduction of cortisol levels and possibly perceived stress, thereby helping participants maintain body weight.”
In other words, it helped to reduce stress eating a bit, which could, in turn assist with weight loss efforts. It did not, however, cause any weight loss itself - an effect that purchasers of “America’s #1 Belly Fat Pill” might reasonably expect.
And remember, this study was performed on magnolia bark and phellodendron exta together; not magnolia bark on its own.
2. Passionflower Extract.
Passion Flower grows on long vines in shaded, woody areas of the United States. The plant produces edible fruits; while the aerial parts are dried and used medicinally.
Passion Flower is used as a mild sedative and sleep aid. Although few clinical trials have been conducted, the herb is used widely in Europe and is beginning to get attention in America as well.
Most of the research on Passion Flower has been performed in animal models (primarily rats and mice). These studies confirm that it has anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects that may be mediated by GABA receptors in the brain. Two Iranian studies also determined it was effective for reducing pre-operative anxiety, as well as useful for treating generalized anxiety disorder in human subjects.
Can passionflower help normalize high cortisol levels? No idea: I was not able to find any data on the subject.
3. Chinese Skullcap extract.
Chinese Skullcap is Scutellaria baicalensis - a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s used to treat a wide range of conditions, from epilepsy to cancer. Active compounds like baicalin and wogonin are currently being researched, due to their apparent neuroprotective, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
So what is it doing in Relacore?
Here’s a WAG: somebody mixed up their Skullcaps. It ought to be American Skullcap, aka Scutellaria lateriflora. As noted by the University of Maryland Medical Center:
“Skullcap can refer to 2 herbs: American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). Both forms of skullcap are used to treat different conditions and are not interchangeable.
American skullcap is native to North America, but it is now widely cultivated in Europe and other areas of the world. It has been used for more than 200 years as a mild relaxant and as a therapy for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions…”
Emphasis mine. Oops.
Ginseng is marketed primarily as an adaptogen, to improve stamina, immunity and tolerance to stress. It’s also claimed that ginseng can enhance libido and athletic performance. The results of human studies have been quite mixed, however. A recent systematic review of 65 studies suggested that…
“P. ginseng shows promising results for improving glucose metabolism and moderating the immune response.”
It goes without saying, however, that a minimum dose is needed to see such effects. Since the ginseng is only one of 8 ingredients in a blend that’s only 240mg, it’s unlikely that there’s enough of it in Relacore to make any meaningful physiological impact.
“Poria” refers to Poria cocos, a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine. There is some evidence this ingredient may have anti-cancer benefits and may also act as an anti-inflammatory. Nonetheless, very little western research has been performed on Poria cocus. Traditionally, however, it’s used to treat (among other things), anxiety, restlessness and insomnia, which likely accounts for its inclusion in this formula.
6. Jujube extract.
Zizyphus jujuba is a fruit bearing tree cultivated in Asia. The fruit, called jujubes or red dates, are used as both food and medicine. In the latter capacity, it’s used to treat insomnia and anxiety. There is some evidence from animal studies to support this, although human studies are lacking.
7. Perilla (leaf) extract.
Perilla leaf is another Asian herb that doubles as both food and medicine. Like so many other medicinal plants, it contains biologically active compounds with anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-tumor activities – as demonstrated by in-vitro and rodent experiments.
Interestingly enough, perilla leaf also reduced weight gain and improved lipid metabolism in mice fed a high fat diet – at least when fed at 1% and 3% of the diet.
What does it all mean? Perilla leaf is potentially interesting stuff… but that’s all it is, until we have some human studies to go by.
According to PDRHealth…
“There is preliminary research indicating that phosphatidylserine, at doses of 400 to 800 milligrams per day, can inhibit exercise-induced increases in cortisol.”
“Phosphatidylserine has demonstrated some usefulness in treating cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease, age-associated memory impairment and some non-Alzheimer’s dementias. More research is needed before phosphatidylserine can be indicated for immune enhancement or for reduction of exercise stress.”
A couple of points… first, we’re talking about exercise-related stress here, which is not generally a common issue for those trying to lose weight.
Second, 400 – 800 milligrams a day is needed. This is more than the the entire proprietary blend.
So there you have it. What’s the bottom line?
Relacore does contain a range of herbal ingredients that have the potential to improve mood/reduce stress. What is missing, however, is any proof that a) this will help produce weight loss; or b) slow down the aging process (regardless of your benchmark: wrinkles or telomere length).
While I think it would be interesting to experiment with the stress-reducing effects of ingredients like Magnolia bark, I would strongly warn against expecting weight loss/anti-aging miracles from Relacore.
As if to confirm this, a large number of visitors who have written in about their experiences with Relacore were very happy with it. For the most part, they found it useful as a “mood regulator”, with one visitor even calling it her “happy pill.” On the other hand however, very few visitors who commented on Relacore found it helpful for weight loss.
If you’d like to experiment with the mood-moderating effects of magnolia, check out NOW brand’s Relora from iHerb.com (use the coupon code FAT259 to get $5 off your first order).