Spinach extract is a weight loss supplement that the manufacturer claims will help fight cravings and reduce appetite, potentially leading to lower caloric intake.
For the many people who want to lose weight, the idea of taking a supplement to support weight loss goals is very appealing.
Made from spinach leaves, spinach extract sold under the trade name of Appethyl is marketed by a Swedish company called Greenleaf Medical AB, and has recently become very popular in Sweden and other European countries.
This product comes in a variety of forms, including capsules, snack bars and powder that can be mixed with water or added to a smoothie.
Spinach extract is made of concentrated thylakoids found in spinach leaves; these microscopic structures occur naturally in the leaves of chloroplasts of green plant cells.
Thylakoids harvest sunlight, providing the necessary fuel for plants to produce carbohydrates; the process is known as photosynthesis. (1)
These thylakoid structures could be isolated from the leaves of any green plant, since they are not exclusively present in spinach.
Other supplements on the market may also be called “spinach extract,” but the information we’ll cover in this article is specific to the Appethyl product containing thylakoid concentrate.
Thylakoids present in spinach extract suppress the activity of an enzyme necessary for digesting fat called lipase.
When spinach extract is consumed, fat digestion is delayed and levels of hormones that reduce appetite, such as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) are increased, and levels of the hunger hormone called ghrelin fall. (3, 4, 5)
This means the brain gets the message that you’ve had enough food more quickly, because fat stays in the stomach longer.
A similar strategy is used with prescription weight-loss drugs such as Orlistat, but this and other pharmaceutical drugs used for the same purpose prevent fat digestion completely, rather than just delaying it.
Lipase-blocking drugs like Orlistat that prevent the digestion of fat are often associated with extremely unpleasant side effects, including stomach cramps and fatty stools. (6) Problems like this have not been noted with spinach extract.
Researchers are not certain which component of thylakoids is responsible for the delaying effects of fat digestion, but it is believed to be due to certain fats and proteins called galactolipids. (7)
When overweight women took doses of spinach extract ranging between 3.7 and 5 grams with a meal, appetite was reduced for a period of several hours afterward. (10)
During the three-month trial, the women taking spinach extract daily with each meal lost 43% more weight than the group taking a placebo.
Test participants also experienced positive changes in body composition; body mass index (BMI) went down, fat mass decreased, and lean body mass increased; however, the differences in body composition between the control group and the group taking spinach extract were not significant.
It should be noted that some of the researchers involved in this study had financial ties with the company producing the spinach extract supplement.
An independent study conducted by a neutral third party to confirm these findings would be necessary to establish the scientific validity of results.
This same study presented information about a reduction in cravings that may also be associated with the thylakoids in spinach extract.
When the women ate 5 grams of spinach extract with meals, they reported 95% fewer cravings for sweet foods. Even chocolate cravings were noted as being decreased by a whopping 87%. (11)
Another aspect of the study indicated that spinach extract may reduce cravings for salty and fatty foods as well. Participants who had taken the supplement helped themselves to fewer of these foods at a buffet offered during the trial, but the total average number of calories consumed wasn’t affected.
This suggests that spinach extract may act as a suppressant in the brain’s normal food reward system.
Researchers believe this could be due to the release of glucagon-like peptide-1, which is induced by the delay in fat digestion mentioned above.
No side effects or safety issues have been noted with the use of spinach extract; temporary reductions in insulin levels and increases in blood sugar levels are the only significant changes in biomarkers recorded during the study mentioned above.
Long-term effects on blood sugar readings appear not to be an issue, but further studies would be needed to determine the safety for type 2 diabetes patients considering the use spinach extract for weight control. (12)
Since thylakoids work to delay fat digestion, spinach extract is more likely to have a noticeable effect on appetite when taken with a meal that is rich in fat.
Taking your first dose early in the day, such as with breakfast, is believed to be more effective than waiting until later.
It appears one of the greatest benefits of this supplement may be hunger management. Anyone who has ever dieted in order to lose weight knows that being hungry is the greatest cause of deviating from the plan.
Another plus is that spinach extract is natural, with no chemicals or pharmaceutical drugs that may be harmful or lead to reactions and side effects.
Just like with any weight-loss efforts, lifestyle changes are also necessary in order to achieve the desired results.
This includes avoiding foods known to contribute to weight gain, such as processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as getting regular exercise.
Appethyl is available at various online sources and certain retail outlets.
Summary: Spinach extract may be useful as part of a weight-loss plan through suppressing appetite and staving off cravings, which could lead to significant reductions in weight over time; it appears to be safe and has no reported side effects.