The search for compounds that stimulate thermogenesis in obesity management: from pharmaceuticals to functional food ingredients


AG Dulloo, Department of Medicine/Physiology, University of Fribourg, Chemin du musée 5, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland. E-mail:


The concept of managing obesity through the stimulation of thermogenesis is currently a focus of considerable attention by the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and functional food industries. This paper first reviews the landmark discoveries that have fuelled the search for thermogenic anti-obesity products that range from single-target drugs to multi-target functional foods. It subsequently analyses the thermogenic and fat-oxidizing potentials of a wide array of bioactive food ingredients which are categorized under methylxanthines, polyphenols, capsaicinoids/capsinoids, minerals, proteins/amino acids, carbohydrates/sugars and fats/fatty acids. The main outcome of this analysis is that the compounds or combination of compounds with thermogenic and fat-oxidizing potentials are those that possess both sympathomimetic stimulatory activity and acetyl-coA carboxylase inhibitory property, and are capable of targeting both skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue. The thermogenic potentials of products so far tested in humans range from marginal to modest, i.e. 2–5% above daily energy expenditure. With an increasing number of bioactive food ingredients awaiting screening in humans, there is hope that this thermogenic potential could be safely increased to 10–15% above daily energy expenditure – which would have clinically significant impact on weight management, particularly in the prevention of obesity and in improving the long-term prognosis of post-slimming weight maintenance.