Written by Chloe Thurston
Carb blockers seem to be known as magic weight loss pills and the holy grail of carb lovers. They are made from alpha-amylase inhibitors, which occur naturally in some foods. They work by blocking the enzymes needed to digest certain carbs.
The other form of this ‘magic pill’ is a form of medication for Type 2 diabetic called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (1,2,3,4). When carbs are being digested they can be broken into simple or complex sugars. The simple sugars are those that are in milk and fruits (natural foods). They can also be found in processed foods such as soda, dessert and flavoured yoghurts. However, complex carbs are those that are found in potatoes, rice and starchy vegetables. Complex carbs are made up of various simple sugars to form chains, although take longer to be digested than simple carbs- hence the “bad” carb stereotype.
Carb blockers contain substances which inhibit the breakdown of complex carbs. These are then passed into the large intestine without being broken down or absorbed (3). The main promoter of these weight loss supplements is that the complex carbs no longer contribute to any calorie intake or raise in blood sugar.
“Will They Help Me Lose Weight?”
Carb blockers are typically advertised as a weight loss supplement because they say that you can eat as many carbs as you like without getting the calories- bonus! However, they can only block around 50-65% of the carbs that are ingested. Therefore, ingesting this weight loss supplement doesn’t mean that the same proportion will always be blocked.
A research study found that while 97% of the enzymes were blocked, only 7% of the carbs had been stopped from being absorbed (5). The study suggested that they may not stop the carbs from being digested but prolong the digestion time (6). A lot of people forget that complex carbs are not the only carbs that people eat, those that are trying to lose weight are more likely to be eating a high proportion of processed foods – which contain the added simple sugars. These added sugars contain the sucrose, glucose and fructose. Apologies to all the ‘Mary Berrys’ out there, unfortunately, carb blockers do not affect the digestion rates of the sweet tooth favourites.
There are some studies that show that they may cause weight loss. These range from 4-12 weeks long in duration with the participants losing between 1-2.5 kg a week. A number of participants lost up to 8.8 lbs, evidence-based research suggests that those who consume high carbohydrate intakes are more likely to lose weight using carb blockers (7,8). However, the average weight loss for those eating a carb rich diet was still 4.4-6.6 lbs a week. Nevertheless, studies have also reported negative effects, reporting little or no effect surrounding carb blockers.
“Can They Help Me With My Hunger?”
Yes, we have learned that carb blockers are able to slow the digestion of complex carbs but by doing so they also have a great impact on our hunger hormones. The cause of these crises and changes in our hunger hormones is the substance – phytohaemagglutinin in the carb blockers (2). Research has found that appetite reduced by 25-90% however, this reduction only lasted for 8 days.
“Are There Any Health Benefits?”
As we have learned, the carb blockers enable complex carbs to be able to pass into the large intestine undigested. Once they reach the large intestine they cause an increase in the amount of resistant starch within the large intestine. By decreasing the proportion of absorbed carbs in the small intestine you are then increasing the amount of starch that runs through the gut. Foods that are sources of resistant start naturally include raw potatoes, legumes and whole grains. Once the resistant starch passes into the large intestine, the fermented bacteria can then release gasses and beneficial short chain fatty acids. Once the carb blockers have stopped the complex carbs from being digested in the small ingesting they then start to function like resistant starches themselves. Resistant starch has been linked to many health benefits (decreased body fat, healthier gut bacteria, improved insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control) (7,10,11).
As mentioned at the start, carb blockers can be used for diabetic patients because of their effect on blood sugar levels. They are used because they also have a By reducing the ingestion of complex carbs, you are reducing the speed of the spike in blood pressure and allow it to return to normal faster. (1,5,9).
“Are They Safe For Me To Take?”
The supplement is considered safe if bought from a reliable source. However when carbs are fermentation by bacteria in the large intestine it can cause a number of undesirable side effects – diarrhea, bloating, cramping and flatulence. So, I would stay away from large crowds that day unless you want to scare them all off. The side effects are not severe and do go away with time but are enough to stop some people from taking them. Those who have diabetes who take insulin need to discuss this with a doctor because of that then as they could cause they blood sugar to go too low. Even though they are usually safe, it is hard to say is the supplement contains what it says it does. (1,5)
A few studies have found that they can cause only a small amount of weight loss, reduced appetite and reduced blood sugars. But studies haven’t been of a high quality to show that they have any long term effects. They are also probably not helpful for those following a moderate-high carb diet. At the end of the day they are just supplements are should supplement along side a healthy diet and exercise. They shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a healthy diet.