Simple herb turns your body into a fat-torching machine

Everyone who wants to shed a few pounds talks about "burning fat," and I know some folks who've tried everything from stimulants to stomach crunches hoping to get the job done.

Stimulants will leave you jittery, and crunches can leave you sore. And at the end of the day, odds are you'll have just as much fat around your achy, shaky middle as when you started.

But don't give up hope.

One of the best ways to burn fat is inside your body right now, waiting to be activated -- and the latest research finds a simple, safe and inexpensive herbal remedy could be the key to kicking it into overdrive.

It's your brown fat.

Brown fat is like a furnace, churning out energy to create warmth. Babies have plenty of it, to protect them when they come out of the womb. And folks who live in colder environments are also known to have lots of brown fat.

The rest of us have very little. Our fat is 90 percent white fat -- the fat that builds up around the waistline and crowds your vital organs, leading to obesity and chronic disease.

The trick is to turn your white fat into brown, which causes your body to burn more energy and more calories -- and recent research suggest that the key might be berberine.

That's an herbal remedy that can help control blood sugar and improve your insulin response, which is why I already recommend it for diabetics and people who are at risk for the disease.

But new research on mice spots what might be the biggest benefit yet. In just four weeks, mice given berberine had major improvements in brown fat activity, causing the body to burn more energy even when resting.

A second new study may even show why it works: Berberine may trigger a newly discovered protein called Zfp516 that can actually convert white fat into brown fat.

The same study finds that activating this protein could help you burn as much as 600 extra calories a day without diet or exercise. That's equivalent to an hour of jogging, without so much as standing up.

But don't stop with berberine.

If you really want to turn the heat up on your fat, try chili peppers.

Hot peppers contain a substance called capsaicin. The hotter they are, the more they have -- and new research on mice finds that capsaicin may help turn unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat.

It was so effective that mice given capsaicin didn't gain any weight at all even when fed a high-fat diet.

That may make it sound like a license to eat poorly. It's not, of course. The goal isn't to not gain weight, but to lose it -- so if you're going to try capsaicin, be sure to combine it with healthy lifestyle changes such as a sensible Mediterranean diet.

If you don't like peppers, or don't like them enough to eat them daily, capsaicin is also available as a supplement.

Along with burning off fat, it's also a great natural option for pain relief.