Shoppers who wince at the number staring back at them on the scale may want to explore the fat and carb blocker category. Combined with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, these supplements are shown in scientific studies to help get the arrow moving in the right direction for those interested in healthy weight management.
The Inner Workings of Carb and Fat Blockers
Shoppers that want to enjoy a reasonable amount of healthy carbs without expanding their waistline may wonder whether a supplement can really block carb absorption. Normally, the body cannot break down carbs for absorption without the help of a key enzyme called amylase. Some nutraceutical ingredients can interfere with amylase, thereby allowing carbs to pass through the body undigested (1). The benefit is two-fold: no calories are packed onto the body’s stores and blood sugar spikes (which normally happen after eating simple high-carb foods) aren’t likely to happen.
Fat blockers work on a similar principle by inhibiting some lipase function. The body normally uses this enzyme to break down dietary fat for use or for storage.
Now, which natural ingredients fall into these categories?
Perhaps the best-known natural ingredient for carbohydrate absorption inhibition is white kidney bean extract, which retailers may be used to seeing under brand names like Phase 2 Carb Controller (from Pharmachem Laboratories, Kearny, NJ). Dan Lifton, CEO of Quality of Life Labs, Purchase, NY, says this extract is an alpha-amylase inhibitor, “meaning that it functions by slowing the digestion and absorption of excess starches without affecting the digestion of healthy carbs, such as whole grains and fruit.”
According to Mitch Skop, senior director of product development at Pharmachem Labs, this ingredient is supported by more than a dozen clinical trial conducted over the past decade or so.
In the most recent and largest human study (123 volunteers) conducted on white kidney bean extract so far, individuals consuming PhaseLite (Phase 2 Carb Controller) for three months lost an average of seven pounds more than a placebo group (2). Says Skop, “In addition, 73.5% of the participants in the weight management phase successfully maintained their body weight after 24 weeks.”
There were more positive results. The supplemented group had less food cravings than the others. The placebo group, in fact, had an increase in cravings (2).
But Skop points out that the carb-blocking properties of this extract are beneficial for far more than just weight management. Researchers have investigated its benefits for supporting blood sugar levels in the normal range. “Blood sugar and its impact on the hormone, insulin, are connected to weight control mechanisms such as appetite, food cravings, energy levels and accumulation of body fat, to premature aging, stress and risk factors for heart disease and, of course, diabetes,” Skop explains.
For instance, in one study, 11 individuals fasted and then ate four slices of white bread topped with 42 g of margarine either with or without 1.5 g of the branded white kidney bean extract. In the end, carb absorption under the plasma glucose-time curve was inhibited 66% in the extract group (3). Skop adds, “Accordingly, only one-third of the carbohydrates in the bread were absorbed. In addition, the glucose returned to baseline earlier than the control.”
On the fat absorption side, Vladimir Badmaev, M.D., Ph.D., CEO and founder of American Medical Holdings, New York, NY, speaks of a branded ingredient (FB3 Fusion) that combines Coleus forskohlii, Salacia reticulata and Sesamum indicum, which he says are standardized for diterpene forskolin, kotanol and salacinol and sesamin, respectively.
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods, individuals took 1,000 mg of C. forskohlii for six weeks, and showed “statistically significant lowering of total body fat vs. baseline and placebo group.” The supplemented group also had lower caloric intake at the end of the study than the placebo group (4).
Badmaev says that the aforementioned herbal combination—C. forskohlii, S. reticulata and S. indicum—prevents dietary fat absorption activity better than each component alone. He states, “The in vitro addition of S. indicum to the formula has been found to synergistically assist the inhibition of the pancreatic lipase in a lower dose range, while moderating the pancreatic lipase inhibition in a higher dose range. This dual mechanism of S. indicum has been postulated as a safety mechanism preventing any potential side effects resulting from excessive inhibition of pancreatic lipase activity.”
Another fat blocker to consider is Chitoglucan (from Quality of Life Labs), which Lifton says not only lessens fat accumulation in the body, but also “promotes a decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, visceral fat, and free triglycerides in studies of overweight clinical trial participants.” This patented ingredient is extracted from edible enokitake mushroom with a hot water process. The resulting extract, says the company, is a complex of chitosan, beta glucans, fatty acids, fiber and glyconjugates.
In one study, 78 healthy but obese individuals consumed 400 mg of Chitoglucan or a placebo for three months. At the end of the study, the Chitoglucan group had significantly lower body weight, BMI, visceral fat and body fat weight. Of note, while body fat was reduced, muscle was not (5).
Although Paul Dijkstra, president and CEO of InterHealth Nutraceuticals, Benicia, CA, says Super CitriMax hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is not technically a carbohydrate blocker, it warrants some discussion along with this market segment. This ingredient, he explains, “competitively inhibits ATP-citrate lyase, an enzyme involved in the first steps of energy storage and conversion. Consequently, Super CitriMax may reduce the transformation of citrate into acetyl coenzyme A, and by interfering with the formation of fatty acids.” The ingredient is also well known to support satiety, and will be discussed further in part three of this series.
For all these reasons, four studies indicate that SuperCitriMax supports healthy weight management. Adds Dijkstra, “In one placebo-controlled human study, those taking Super CitriMax lost three times more weight than the control group.”
Other fat and carb interceptors you may find in the market include the following:
• Saccharomyces cerevisiae-derived peptides are said to lessen the activity of enzymes that manufacture fat from excess energy in foods.
• Alpha-cyclodextrin binds to unhealthy carbs (and not healthy ones), allowing them to pass through the body undigested without causing gastrointestinal problems.
• A combination of seaweeds Ascophyllum nodosum (kelp) and Fucus vesiculosus (bladder wrack), as in brands like InSea2 from innoVactiv Inc., inhibit both the action of alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. Says the manufacturer “By slowing down two enzymes involved in the digestion and assimilation of starch and sugar, InSea2 reduces the normal glycemic response that follows a meal as well as the associated insulin peak, and helps sustain healthy insulin sensitivity.”
When pharmaceutical fat blockers first came to market (in 1999 as Xenical by prescription, and in 2007 over-the-counter as Alli), they quickly built a reputation for terrible side effects like loose stools, flatulence due to unabsorbed fats in the large intestines, urgency, soiled undergarments and more.
Do shoppers need to worry about digestive issues when taking natural fat/carb blockers?
Skop says that his firm’s white kidney bean extract (Phase 2 Carb Controller) “has never been reported to cause gas, bloating, griping, constipation nor diarrhea, unlike the ill-fated pharmaceutical Olestra.” This fake fat approved in 1996 was used in foods like potato chips and caused significant gastrointestinal issues upon consumption.
Lifton adds, “Shoppers do not need to worry about the well-researched and safe fat and carb blockers sold as dietary supplements.
What Consumers of Healthy Fats Need To Know
Shoppers who make an effort to consume healthy fats in their diets and through supplementation may wonder whether taking fat blockers for weight management support is a good idea.
Badmaev says that one small study showed that consuming a pancreatic lipase inhibitor actually
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improved subjects’ omega-3 levels. This 24-week, placebo-controlled study involved Orlistat (marketed as Alli and Xenical), and found that the compound improved composition of omega-3 in skeletal muscle. Says Badmaev, “Despite the small sample and the preliminary findings, this study is important to show that a pancreatic lipase inhibitor may improve polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acid status and improve glycemic index while decreasing body weight in obese individuals over the untreated control; presumably selectively preventing dietary fat absorption.”
As noted, these drugs have terrible side effects, and are certainly not the ideal way to keep healthy fat levels in check. Badmaev says that a patented herbal combination product from his company (FB3 Fusion Ingredient) is shown to have different effects from pancreatic lipase inhibition depending on whether a good or bad fat is involved. “FB3 Fusion Ingredient facilitates an approach which can be described as ‘good fat in, excess fat out,’” he states, noting that it is very important for people to understand the benefits of healthy fats.
“Based on emerging experimental data, the FB3 Fusion Ingredient strategy would not only prevent the build-up of excessive storage ‘white’ fat but may also enhance absorption of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids while synergistically helping to normalize the overactive endocannabinoid system (ECS),” says Badmaev.
The ECS regulates most brain functions and is stimulated by fat consumption. Badmaev believes normalizing ECS while preventing excess fat accumulation will have tremendous benefits. His firm allows this normalization to occur by preventing fat and omega-6 absorption, thereby boosting the Omega-3 Ratio. He believes this plan is especially beneficial when eating a diet rich in healthy fats like omega-3s.
Long-Term Versus Short-Term Use
Shoppers may also want to know whether carb and fat blockers are appropriate for use over long stretches of time. According to Lifton, “Safety data suggest that well-researched fat-blocking and carb-blocking supplements can be used over the long term, but they can also be cycled through seasonally.”
He suggests that if consumers eat heartier potato- and rice-based meals in the winter, they may want to focus on carb blockers. If fried foods tempt them in the summer, fat blockers may be a better choice. He states, “It really partly depends on their seasonal dietary patterns and looking at what blocker or combo of blockers seems to be working best for them at different times of the year. If they have no gastrointestinal complaints to speak of, which they should not, then really just whatever works for whatever period of time feels right to them.”
Skop agrees, and notes that shoppers can feel comfortable taking these supplements long term, but may also want to focus on using carb blockers when high-carb intake tends to be more frequent like during the holidays. WF
This editorial series is sponsored by
1. K. Tweed, “The Truth About Starch Blockers,” May 16, 2014, www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/the-truth-about-starch-blockers, accessed Jan. 7, 2016.
2. B. Grube, “Weight Reduction And Maintenance With IQP-PV-101: A 12-Week Randomized Controlled Study With A 24-Week Open Label Period,” Obesity 22 (3), 645–651 (2014).
3. J.A. Vinson, H. Al Kharrat and D. Shuta, “Investigation of an Amylase Inhibitor on Human Glucose Absorption after Starch Consumption, “Open Nutraceut. J. 2: 88-91 (2009).
4. V. Badmaev, et al., “Preclinical and Clinical Effects of Coleus Forskohlii, Salacia Reticulata and Sesamum Indicum Modifying Pancreatic Lipase Inhibition In Vitro And Reducing Total Body Fat,” J. Funct. Foods 15, 44-51 (2015).
5. Y. Hori, et al. “Clinical Effects of Sequential Treatment of Supplement Containing Chitoglucan on Decrease of Visceral Fat,” Pharmacometrics 76 (1/2), 15–24 (2009).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2016