Fat Binders | What Are They? How Do They Work?

Introducing Fat Binders

Welcome to 2018. With the New Year upon us, I am sure there are a fair few people who are aiming to reduce a bit of the weight they may have accumulated over the holiday period. Of course, no fat loss programme will work unless nutrition and exercise are at the forefront of your mind, however, if you commit and sacrifice to such a programme you may want to see if you can get a little more help in your fat loss journey. Fat binders are a new and interesting way of assisting your fight against fat, and this article will review how effective they may be in boost fat loss.


What Are Fat Binders?

It is first important to state that fat binders ARE NOT the same as fat burners. Fat burners are used to burn away fat which is absorbed into our body and stored. Instead, a fat binder works exclusively OUTSIDE of your body (kind of). You see, the digestive tract which runs from your mouth to, well, your anus (apologies) is considered external to your body.

Nutrients from food are absorbed along this tract and transferred to our body to use as required. Fat binders essentially aim to prevent fat being absorbed, and therefore cannot be stored! This is similar to fibre which assists excretion of waste products from the digestive system. Due to this failure to be absorbed into the body, this is why fat binders are considered a “medical device product” rather than a “supplement”.

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How Do Fat Binders Work?

The most important active “ingredient” in fat binders is the polysaccharide, chitosan (1). This carbohydrate molecule, consisting of both an acetylated and deacetylated unit of D-glucosamine, is formed from a naturally occurring derivative of glucose (called chitin) which is treated with an alkaline. Interestingly, chitin itself is derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects (such as crab and shrimp shells) and is almost as abundant at cellulose (which constructs the cell walls of plants) (1). Commercial uses of chitin do not stop with fat binders, however, and the substance has been used for wound healing to create an artificial skin, as a fungicide in cosmetics and even to make contact lenses (1).

The way chitosan assists fat storage is it’s ability to attach itself to fat in the stomach prior to digestion. When you consume it, chitosan dissolves in our stomach acids and, as an alkali compound then changes in a gel form (2). This form of fibre is different from other consumable forms because of its positive ionic charge, which allows it to bond with lipids and fats which are constructed of negative ions (4—6).

The high emulsification properties of chitosan (3) will then attach to fat droplets in the organs with the fat surfaces acting as a surfactant. This mass of chitosan and fat will then transfer to the intestines from the stomach. At this stage, chitosan will change the insoluble fat deposits into a form which cannot be broken down further by digestive enzymes. Fundamentally, the fat binder will entrap fat and protect against its absorption, allowing passage of these molecules out of the body (2).

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Benefits Of Chitin On Body Fat Loss

Amazing how this sounds in theory, the question remains whether it works!

Primarily evidence has been gained on animal models where rats were provided with a high-fat diet and the digestibility of the fats consumed was examined. One such study (7) took a group of fats on a high-fat diet which was supplemented with varying types of dietary fibres. After a two week diet period, the faeces of the animals were collected and of the 23 dietary fibres consumed, chitosan has a markedly increased level of fat excretion, and the results indicated that fat digestibility was reduced by 50% compared to the control. In other words, 50% of the fat consumed left the body without being absorbed.

Of course, these benefits in animal models need to be tested further to assess applicability for human consumption. Unfortunately, some evidence has been found that shows that chitosan shows clinically insignificant or negligible effects on fat absorption in trials on both men and women (8-9).

More recent research has however contradicted these claims. One such study was a double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial (10). This study took a group of 134 overweight adults and provided them with 500mg chitosan tablets, six times per day. At the end of the study measurements were taken of body weight loss, fat mass, fat percentage and body composition index. In comparison to placebo, chitosan consumption showed a 2.8lb weight loss, 2.6lbs of which was fat mass! This would indicate a 78% greater loss of fat in the chitosan group. Additionally, this group showed a reduced body fat percentage and better improvements in body fat composition index.

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Fat Binders Are More Than Just Chitosan

Of course, fat binders are constructed of more than just chitosan and evidence also suggests consumption of these tablets alongside other beneficial compounds.

Another 6 week study on obese adults used a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial to examine the effect of chitosan alongside other weight loss supplements (namely glucomannan, vitamin C and funugreek) (11). These researchers found that the combination of these compounds resulted in statistically significant body weight and fat loss in adults, without a change in calories consumed. Where the placebo group lost no weight (0kg), the supplement group lost 2.3kg, and where the placebo group gained 0.2kg of fat, the supplement group lost 2kg of fat. This shows that despite some studies indicating little effect on fat absorption, either alone or in combination with other compounds chitosan has a definite effect on fat loss.


Benefits Of Chitin On High Cholesterol

Other studies demonstrate that the benefit of fat binders is not exclusively for weight loss. An interesting study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (12) measured the lipid content of both blood and faeces following consumption of chitosan. They found that serum (blood) high density lipoprotein and cholesterol levels were significantly reduced, and that despite faecal fat content being unchanged, the researchers postulated this was due to a change in excretion of neutral steroids. This would indicate an anti-cholesterolaemic effect of using fat binders, and positive benefits of cardiovascular health.

Another study (13) took 84 subjects with mild to moderate high cholesterol and gave them 1.2g per day of chitosan or a placebo. Their results indicated a significant reduction total cholesterol compared to placebo, and in a sub group of older individuals (60 years plus) showed further reductions in total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. This would again show the added health benefits of fat binders on improving cholesterol.

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Take Home Message

If you are putting in hard work during your New Year’s exercise regimen and sacrificing sweet treats from your diet, then you deserve any little help you can get. Fat binders show very good evidence of benefits on improving fat absorption and as such fat storage, as well as adding a little to your cardiovascular health. Perhaps 2017 is the year of the fat binder.




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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has a MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.