It is desirable but not essential to understand the mechanism(s) whereby the ingredient under evaluation mediates its effect. So long as safety and efficacy are clearly documented then there is a case that the ingredient could be marketed without unnecessary risk.

The basic mechanisms whereby weight loss ingredients mediate their effect include:

• encouraging the consumption of fewer calories;

• reducing absorption of nutrients from the digestive system, which in turn increases excretion;

• increasing the excretion of urinary metabolites;

• reducing the efficiency of conversion of nutrients into metabolizable energy. This might involve enhanced thermogenesis and/or reducing the flux through lipogenic pathways. The latter could be achieved either by competitive or allosteric enzyme inhibition or by downregulating the genes coding for the enzyme systems responsible for lipogenesis.

It is important to calculate the relative contribution each of these mechanisms might make. As an example, in the early days of the Atkins low-carbohydrate programme it was thought that urinary excretion of ketones could be responsible for the rapid weight loss seen. When calculations were undertaken it was found that urinary metabolites only accounted for a trivial proportion of the negative caloric balance. Consumption of fewer calories was actually the main reason for the successful weight loss.

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