Fat binders, how do they work, are they effective?

An investigation in the effectiveness of fat binders

fatbindersWatching your saturated fat intake is one of the most important things to do when dieting.

This is essential for many health reasons, but mainly because saturated fats raise levels of cholesterol.

Also, this type of fat is more easily stored as excess body fat – undoing any of your efforts to lose weight.

While the dangers of too much fat may seem somewhat obvious, many of us struggle to cut back on comfort foods such as burgers, pizza, fish and chips, pastries, biscuits and the other countless foods that quickly put a diet in jeopardy.

However, many dieters are now turning to fat binders to help negate some of the effects of a high fat diet. While it seems implausible that you can get away with eating a bit of what you fancy without repercussions, clinical studies have shown that fat binders could actually stop around 30-40% of the fat we eat from being absorbed by the body.

The science behind fat binder pills

In order for fat to be absorbed and used by the body, it has to be broken down, and this role is performed by a pancreatic enzyme – lipase. If this enzyme (lipase) were not present in the body, fat could not be absorbed, and would simply pass through the body.

studies (2)Fat binders interfere with this enzyme by forming bonds between the enzyme and the fat in the stomach and small intestine.

This process prevents the lipase from breaking down the fat molecules, which remains too large for the body to absorb and the fat is simply passed from the body through the process of excretion.

What are the active ingredients in fat binders & are they effective?

1. Chitosan

The active ingredient in most early fat binders was Chitosan, which is found in the shells of shrimp and crabs, and which early studies in 1999 suggested was effective in preventing fat from being absorbed.

Unfortunately these early studies tested the effect of Chitosan in rats, and very large doses were used. When later trials took place on humans, using lower safer doses, those results were not repeated. A later study showed very modest binding properties using Chitosan in men, but the drug apparently had no effect on women.

2. Orlistat

Orlistat s the actve ingredient in the popular Alli.

Orlistat is the active ingredient in the popular Alli diet pill.

Fast forward a few years and Orlistat became the preferred option following early clinical trials and is the only obesity drug presently available on prescription in the UK under the title Xenical.

An over-the-counter brand of Orlistat is also available, under the trade name Alli.

Orlistat is derived from lipstatin, which is a natural inhibitor of lipase found in the bacteria, Streptomyces toxytricini.

Clinical trials have shown that Orlistat is effective in promoting weight loss, and may have additional health benefits in reducing blood pressure and preventing Type 2 diabetes.

Even when combined with dietary changes and exercise, the weight loss benefits are quite modest at between 5 and 10 percent of body weight. The dosage of prescription Xenical is 120 mg three times daily, whilst the over-the-counter alternative, Alli, is 60 mg three times daily.

What are the side effects of Orlistat?

Side effects, at least initially, can be uncomfortable, with Orlistat often causing gastrointestinal problems such as oily stools, abdominal pain and flatulence. However, these side effects seem to decrease as the body gets used to the drug.

The diminishing side effects may equally be due to Orlistat users consuming less fat in their diet to avoid bowel problems. Customer reviews on Amazon are generally positive with an overall score of 4 stars, though some individual customers recount very dramatic gastric problems, some necessitating hospital treatment.


The US Food and Drug Administration also warns of a possible link between Orlistat and liver injury.

One further word of caution: in January 2010 the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning relating to counterfeit sales of Alli over the internet. The drugs contained sibutramine (another weight-loss drug which has now been suspended) instead of Orlistat, and at twice the recommended concentration.

3. Prickly Pear extract

This natural plant extract has shown great promise as a fat binder as it contains a certain type of soluble fibre which has shown to stick to undigested fat and prevent its absorption.

Due to its natural plant based origin, there are no known harsh side effects, and supplements containing the ingredient are available without prescription.

Some of the best known brands in this category are Proactol Plus and XLS Medical, both manufactured in the UK and available to buy internationally.

proactol plus 1month xls
Proactol Plus XLS Medical


The evidence that fat binders can help you lose weight is clear, however much of the feedback suggests that some of the prescription-only variants can cause some unwanted side effects. The general advice is to do your research and start with a natural fat binder which poses a lesser risk to your health, while still giving good results.

Both Proactol and XLS Medical are the only two fat binders we feel comfortable recommending, both of which have long term feedback and an excellent safety record.

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