There are a plethora of different products available on the web that promise to help you lose weight. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them are either ineffective or dangerous.
Particularly concerning are ‘thermogenic fat burners’. These are substances that aim to increase the metabolism via large doses of caffeine and even ingredients that act like mild stimulants such as bitter orange. Not only are these products overpriced (especially seeing as a strong coffee does essentially the same thing) but in some cases they can raise blood pressure and may even increase the risk of heart attack.
Fat blockers though claim to be something different. But are they any safer or more effective?
What Is a Fat Blocker?
While a fat burner claims to help you burn fat, fat blockers intend try to prevent you from storing fat in the first place.
They do this by slowing down the release of sugar from carbohydrates in your diet and thereby avoiding a spike in your glucose levels that would normally precede an insulin response.
So what normally happens when you eat some white bread, or some crisps, is that your body quickly absorbs the sugar from those carbs and this triggers the release of insulin once blood glucose goes past a certain level. The insulin then begins the absorption process so that your cells start taking in the glucose and turning it into ATP for fuel. But when glucose isn’t immediately used, it ends up getting stored as fat in a process called ‘lipogenesis’.
One way to get around this problem is to restrict your intake of carbs. Alternatively, you can eat ‘complex carbs’ which contain more fiber and roughage and take longer to be broken down and to get absorbed. This then means that the glucose enters the blood stream more gradually, so that there isn’t a spike in blood sugar and so that you don’t have a sudden influx of tons of calories at once. Instead, you’ll be gradually ‘drip feeding’ your body with energy and using it as you go. This is why low carb diets and ‘slow carb’ diets are so popular at the moment.
Fat blockers aim to help you in this goal by slowing down your absorption and digestion of carbs even further. More precisely, fat blockers contain ingredients such as kidney bean extract which claim to inhibit the action of lipases – enzymes that break down carbohydrates.
The result is that carbs like bread get absorbed much more slowly – so slowly (in theory) that they pass through the body before all the calories have even been absorbed.
Do Fat Blockers Work?
The companies that manufacture fat blocking supplements make wild claims about their effectiveness. Some say that they can prevent you from absorbing ‘25% of the fat from your diet’. Others claim you can expect to lose an extra pound for every two pounds of fat you lose.
And yet there is no reliable evidence to suggest that any of this is true. And in fact, it’s highly unlikely that it would be.
While the theory might be fine in principle, the reality is that you have countless enzymes all working in tandem to break down your food. No supplement could make a significant dent on your ability to absorb carbs specifically and if they could, then you’d probably get some pretty evil indigestion.
Speaking of which, some gastrointestinal side effects are common when using fat blockers, so that’s another issue. Also troubling is that you need to have some insulin response in order to get the feeling of fullness and the serotonin release that our body uses to gauge hunger.
No surprise then that there are no reliable studies supporting the use of fat blockers.
If you want to try and manage your blood sugar levels, then there are proven methods you can use such as increasing your intake of fiber, attempting intermittent fasting or going on a low carb diet. In all honesty though, you’re much better off just doing it the old fashioned way – decrease your intake of calories, avoid junk food and exercise more!