A sizeable portion of users have reported diarrhoea and flatulence – not to mention other unpleasant adverse effects on longer-term use. Whether fat-binders are effective or not – read on to find out what we think.
We all know how big a problem obesity is for modern man. Most of the ailments affecting human kind are directly/indirectly related to obesity (Garrow, 1992). Obesity seems to reduce the chances of recovering from these ‘modern diseases’. Decreased quality of life and early death are also a frightening aspect of obesity.
Being fat is not only bad for your health, it does precious little to enhance your appearance as well. And, we’d all agree that vanity plays a part in the real world.
The importance of being lean is now-a-days being promoted not only as a way of enhancing your looks but of warding off diseases as well. However, there’s a downside – losing weight, although it sound exciting in theory, is a very difficult proposition! While intense exercise sessions, hard-to-follow diet plans, fat loss supplements and surgeries may all work in their own way, each one of them is fraught with difficulties (compliance issues) and adverse effects (barring exercise) (Papathanasopoulos & Camilleri, 2010).
Use of some ‘stimulant’ fat loss supplements to stimulate metabolism have been linked to cardiovascular and psychiatric disease. In light of such findings, manufacturing companies and buyers have tended to favour natural ingredients in their supplements. No surprise then that a sizeable chunk of the population wants to use the apparently safer fat-binders instead of fat burners.
While fat-binders are quite effective at reducing the risk of certain diseases, their ability to cause fat loss is somewhat questionable. Also, the argument that since fat-binders are ‘natural’, they are safer, does’’t hold much water with most researchers, as we will find out in later sections.
What Are Fat-Binders and How Do They Work?
Fat-binders – as the name suggests – bind fats. What fat – does it bind the fat stored your body and take it away? Well, not really. Fat-binders get attached to the fat that you are going to eat or have eaten and is already in your stomach and intestine but not yet absorbed.
So, how do they work, you might want to ask? Well, fat-binders are effectively fibres. And, as most of us know, fibres bind fats thereby making them unavailable for absorption. This has a couple of important advantages – decreased absorption of fat and loss of body fat over a period of time. Also, add to it the fact that fat-binders will cause decreased blood cholesterol therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease over time.
Here’s how a fat-binder works:
- Reduces fat absorption – Once a fat-binder enters your stomach, it absorbs water and forms a viscous gel. This gel binds fat that is still to be absorbed. The fat-binder-fat complex is unabsorbable and is then excreted as such via the large intestine.
- Reduces absorption of glucose – The fat-binder gel reduces the rate of absorption of glucose – therefore no more high insulin spikes; lesser calories are converted into body fat.
- Suppresses Appetite – the fat-binder gel – since it swells up and stays longer in the stomach – gives a prolonged ‘feeling of fullness’. Thus, you won’t feel hungry for hours on end. This causes appetite suppression.
Here is how Proactol Plus says their fat binder works:
How are Fat-binders Different from Fat Burners?
The most important difference between fat-binders and fat burners is the way they work. While fat-binders stop fat from getting absorbed, fat burners will target the fat that is already present in the body.
To get a clearer picture, have a look at the differences enumerated below:
- Fat-binders decrease fat absorption while fat-binders hit the fat present in the body
- Fat burners stimulate metabolic rate and resting energy expenditure; fat-binders have little to do with the energy equation and calorie burning
- Use of fat-binders does not need changes in diet habits while fat burners will warrant a stricter – low-fat and low-carb diet
- Fat burners may give quicker results and may assist sports or functional performance (making you fitter) while fat-binders are slow to work and may not improve performance. However, fat-binders may improve your ‘gut health’. Colon cancers have been shown to be affected favourably with the use of dietary fibre
- Fat-binders are mostly tested and approved by the FDA; the same cannot be said of fat burners
- Fat-binders are safer than fat-burners – mild symptoms like constipation or abdominal cramps can occur initially; use of fat burners may be associated with adverse effects, some severe – loss of sleep, hypertension or even cardiac arrhythmias
In a nutshell, a fat burner is something that is likely to be used by an exercising individual, ready to make extreme dietary changes and wants quick results – for which he/she doesn’t mind the risks associated with fat burners.
Fat-binders, on the other hand, will be typically used by those who want to lose weight while carrying on eating what they currently are. Also, they are the ones who are would be more worried about the adverse effects associated with fat burners.
With fat-binders, you may lose some weight but the process will be far slower than fat burners. A word of caution though – you’d still need to exercise regularly and keep fatty foods to minimal if you were to see results.
A big plus with fat-binders – you WON’T COMPROMISE YOUR HEALTH!
Do Fat-Binders Really Work?
Whether fat-binders (and dietary fibre, in general) really work is a matter of conjecture. Although, fat-binders do carry inherent benefits like colon-protection and reduction of blood cholesterol, how effective they are at causing fat loss is anyone’s guess.
Concrete scientific proof that fat-binders help you lose fat is lacking; much of the evidence in favour of fat-reducing abilities of fat-binders comes from indirect epidemiological studies (Trowell, 1974).
According to some estimates, fat-binders can block as much as 27-30% of fat in your diet – that translates into a deficit of 180 calories of a 2000 calorie daily intake where fat calories form 30% of the daily diet. How much of that translates into fat loss – nobody knows! Also, if you are already eating a high-fibre diet, chances are fat burners won’t do you much good.
How many calories blocked by your average fat binder per day?
Let’s take your average daily intake for women at 2,000 calories per day of which fat content makes up a fairly high 40%.
With a fat binder blocking 30% of dietary fat this equates to just 240 calories per day. Not a lot eh?
So taking a fat binder alone may mean you lose 2lbs per month…. fairly slow weight loss by any standard!
A combination of a progressive exercise plan combined with a calorie-deficient diet is likely to give better and longer-term results.
Furthermore, studies investigating the mechanisms behind the development of obesity have blamed a complex interplay of factors like macronutrient content of food, metabolic rates, central nervous system stimuli, appetite and satiety signals from the stomach and intestine, interplay of hormones and signals from fat tissue and liver (Woods, 2005; Papathanasopoulos & Camilleri, 2010). To expect to treat obesity just by blocking the absorption of fat in the stomach is an oversimplification and cannot be expected to work.
Safety of Fat-Binders and Other Natural Supplements
Furthermore, the safety issues surrounding fat-binders (or any other natural ingredients in supplements) are always unanswered. A number of users of fat-binders and dietary fibre supplements have reported adverse effects like:
- diarrhoea, and
Also, some believe that reduced absorption of fat may hamper the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and other important nutrients (that require fat for absorption). The effect of fat-soluble and other nutrient deficiencies becomes more apparent on long-term use of fat-binders. Long term use is also associated with habituation – bowel movements can get altered if you stop fat-binders suddenly.
Safety aspect of natural supplements has always come under the scanner – it is a popular misconception that supplements containing natural or herbal products are safe for consumption. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Researchers have always cast a doubt over the safety and effectiveness of such over-the-counter natural supplements (Papathanasopoulos & Camilleri, 2010). Also, the FDA does not have jurisdiction over the standardization of these supplements and hence a lot of discrepancies exist regarding the effective doses and the doses that will cause adverse effects.
Our Verdict on Fat-Binders?
Notwithstanding the popularity and faith of clinicians and dieticians in fat-binders, there is very little evidence to suggest that they work (well enough for meaningful weight loss in any case). The theory that blockage of fat absorption is the solution to obesity is an erroneous one – especially when researchers believe that obesity is a complex condition (as stated earlier) which cannot be treated by a simplistic solution like blockage of fat absorption in the stomach.
Although they are considered safe by many, some adverse effects are associated with its use – especially on a longer-term basis.
- Garrow, J. S. (1992). Treatment of Obesity. Lancet, 340, 409-413. Online Reference
- Papathanasopoulos, A. & Camilleri, M. (2010). Dietary Fibre supplements: effects in obesity and metabolic syndrome and relationship to gastrointestinal functions. Gastroenterology, 138, 65-72. Online Reference
- Trowell, H. (1974). Diabetes mellitus death-rates in England and Wales 1920-70 and food supplies. Lancet, 2, 998-1002. Online Reference
- Woods, S. C. (2005). Signals that influence food intake and body weight. Physiol Behav., 86, 709-716.