“Fat blockers” is an umbrella term used for supplements or medications that support weight loss by blocking fat absorption. Fat binders are a type of fat blocker that works in a very specific way.
If you hear the term “fat binder” you can always be certain you are talking about a natural product you can buy over-the-counter.
It’s also important not to confuse fat blockers with fat burners. These are two very different things. A fat burner supports weight loss by encouraging the body to burn more of its fat. Although fat blockers can encourage fat burning as well, they so do in an indirect way.
Fat Blockers Vs Fat Burners
Fat burners contain ingredients that speed up the metabolism.
By doing so, they cause the body to burn through calories more quickly.
When used alongside a low-calorie diet and exercise, fat burners help create the calorie shortage that makes the body start burning its fat.
The important thing is the calorie shortage. When used correctly, fat blockers can help create it. However, they do so by helping to restrict calorie intake instead of increasing calorie burn.
How Fat Blockers Work
The body is a biological machine. Like any machine, it requires energy. It gets it from food. The amount of energy food provides is generally measured in calories. It can also be measured in kilojoules.
The same two units are used for measuring how much energy the body expends (burns).
Fat is a high-calorie food. It provides nine calories per gram. Carbohydrate and protein provide less than half that amount.
|Carbs||4 cal / gram|
|Protein||4 cal / gram|
|Fat||9 cal / gram|
When you know the difference between the calorie load these three nutrients provide, it’s easy to see why eating too much fatty food is unwise. In fact, it’s hard not to think of that old saying, “you are what you eat.”
A healthy low-calorie diet should be low in fat. However, unless people are unusually strict there is always going to be some fat there.
However, before the energy can be absorbed into the body it has to be released from the fat. This job is normally completed by a digestive enzyme called lipase. [SOURCE 1]
Fat blockers interfere with the digestive process. This causes a percentage of the fat in food to pass through the body without being digested. A typical fat blocker blocks the digestion of around 30% of dietary fat.
The undigested fat travels through the intestines and leaves the body with the stool, taking its calories with it.
How Fat Blockers Differ from Fat Binders
There are two ways to block fat absorption. The first way is to compromise the digestive abilities of lipase. The second way is to shield dietary fat from the enzyme’s digestive abilities.
Fat binders contain ingredients that are impervious to all the body’s digestive enzymes.
Nothing can touch them. Fat binders also have the ability to bind with dietary fat. Any fat that is bound in this way is protected from the digestive enzyme lipase. It’s a bit like the fat binder has given the bound fat a protective suit of armor.
Fat binders do not interfere with the abilities of the digestive enzymes. Normal fat blockers do. So, although a fat binder is a fat blocker because it blocks fat absorption, it does so in a way that puts it into a class of its own.
|Normal Fat Blocker||Fat Binder|
|Weakens lipase||Protects fat from lipase|
A Look at Some Popular Fat Blockers
The three most commonly used fat blockers are Orlistat, nopal, and chitosan.
Doctors sometimes prescribe a fat blocking medication called Orlistat, which has the ability to weaken lipase. People need to be severely overweight or obese before a doctor can offer them this option.
Nopal is a form of natural fiber taken from the Opuntia ficus-indica species of cactus. It’s a fat blocker that works by binding fat rather than interfering with enzyme activity.
The results of one three-month clinical investigation showed nopal cactus fiber reduced fat absorption. This lead to a reduction in energy intake that ultimately resulted in weight loss.
The success of the study encouraged a further investigation, designed to elucidate the fat binding capability of nopal cactus fiber. This was achieved by measuring the amount of fat present in the faeces of the volunteers who took part in the study.
Twenty people took part. All of them were in good health and the study was done in the standard way, with some volunteers being given a placebo while others got nopal cactus extract.
The study period was 45 days and the volunteers were given two tablets, three times per day, alongside their main meals.
Faecal fat excretion in the nopal group was significantly higher than that of the placebo group. [SOURCE 2]
There are two forms of chitosan available for use in fat blocking supplements. The first one comes from the exoskeletons of deep-sea crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters. The second type has a fungal origin.
Fungal chitosan appears to offer a superior fat binding capability, but it’s not the form most manufacturers choose.
This is a pity because fungal chitosan is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, the other form is not. It’s equally unsuitable for people who are allergic to seafood.
The results of one 90-day study, involving 96 overweight and obese volunteers, show fungal chitosan successfully reduced mean body weight by up to 3 kg. In addition to this, there were improvements in body mass as well.
The study also suggests fungal chitosan does not present any side effects. [SOURCE 3]
However, a review of several clinical trials is less optimistic. In fact, the researches state chitosan’s effect on body weight is minimal. [SOURCE 4]
One of the most notable things about the aforementioned review is it fails to state the form of chitosan involved.
Side Effects and Safety Considerations
People with seafood allergies will need to ascertain the type before using a fat binder that contains chitosan. That’s one of the more obvious considerations.
However, using fat blockers of any kind can potentially lead to dietary imbalances. Many people thinking of using this type of product may not be aware of this fact.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins. The body normally obtains them from dietary fat. Vitamin D is somewhat of an exception because the body can make it’s own.
The process requires an adequate amount of sunlight making contact with the skin, but sunblock lotions prevent the process from happening.
Fat-soluble vitamins are necessary for good health so, people who use fat blockers may need to get their fat-soluble vitamins from supplements instead. [SOURCE 5]
Although this is not a side-effect, as such, fat blockers soften the feces. They also make it greasier. For most people, this should not be a problem. It’s actually a scenario that shows the fat blocker is working.
Unfortunately, some people use fat blockers for the wrong reason. Instead of incorporating them into a low-calorie diet, they use fat blockers as a cheat pill.
They do this out of a desire to go on eating lots of fatty food without gaining weight. In reality, this is unlikely to work. Fat blockers don’t block all the fat you eat. Most of the fat will be digested in the normal way, delivering the full nine calories per gram.
Giving fat blockers too much fat to block is actually very unwise for another reason—it’s been known to cause explosive diarrhea.
When used sensibly, fat blockers have the potential to support weight loss. That is to say, they may help people to lose more weight than they would by simply switching to a low-calorie diet. However, vitamin supplements may be required to prevent dietary deficiencies.
It’s also worth remembering the most sensible plan of action is to reduce the intake of dietary fat right from the start. Anyone who does this may find their diet is already so low in fat there is not much for the fat blocker to work upon.
In such a case the benefits available will be minimal. In a scenario like that, a good fat burner will likely have much more to offer.