Lightening the carbo load; Tests show supplements can block up to
66% of the starch in a meal. But nutrition experts say they're not
Los Angeles Times; Los
Angeles, Calif.; Jun 16, 2003; Jane E. Allen; (Copyright
The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2003. Allrights reserved.)
A wave of new supplements promise to allow people on low- carbohydrate
diets such as the Atkins program to satisfy their cravings for potatoes
and pasta without feeling guilty.
Dozens of so-called "starch neutralizers" and "starch
blockers," with such names as Carbo Killer, Carbo Grabbers,
promise to ease the caloric burden -- and dietary regret -- of a
favorite sandwich or meal. The concept of a carbohydrate blocker
isn't new. For decades, products have promised to let consumers
eat starchy foods without gaining weight. Some crude extracts from
beans proved so ineffective that the Food and Drug Administration
suspended their sale for weight loss in the early 1980s.
Most of the new products, however, use a refined, more potent extract
of the white kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). (You couldn't eat
enough beans to get the effect the extract provides.) The extract,
called Phase 2 Starch Neutralizer. Small human studies have indicated
that the extract can neutralize as much as 66% of the starch consumed
in a meal. Consisting of a protein component, the extract binds
to an enzyme called alpha amylase, preventing it from breaking down
starch into sugar. As a result, most of the starch passes undigested
through the intestines as indigestible fiber does, and dieters don't
pay the full caloric price. "This has glimmerings of great
potential as far as an aid in helping people lose weight,"
said Dr. Jana Klauer, a research fellow at the New York Obesity
Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
Although scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and
elsewhere have spent years investigating the potential of starch
blockers to help control blood sugar, the most recent scientific
report to address their use in weight loss came from an unpublished
preliminary study conducted at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
According to results released in January, 50 obese patients under
age 50 were randomly given either the supplement or dummy pills.
Only 29 of them completed the eight-week study, said lead investigator
Dr. Jay Udani, Northridge Hospital's director of integrative medicine.
Those taking the starch blocker with meals dropped an average of
a half-pound a week, compared with 0.21 pounds in the placebo group,
Udani said. Although those results, which have not yet been peer-reviewed,
"did not reach statistical significance," he said, they
laid the groundwork for two larger studies underway elsewhere.
The FDA has been silent about the newest starch blockers. No new
research on effectiveness or side effects has been brought to the
agency's attention, said a spokeswoman who declined to be identified,
citing agency policy.
Widely available through the Internet and health food stores, the
products are getting a boost from the recent publication of "The
Starch Blocker Diet," by Steven L. Rosenblatt, a Los Angeles
doctor who combines alternative and traditional medicine. He doesn't
pretend that the supplements are the answer to obesity. "It's
not a magic pill. The weight doesn't fall to the ground," Rosenblatt
said. He recommends incorporating the pills into a sensible diet
and exercise plan that includes the important nutrients in fruits
and vegetables, whose carbohydrate content has made them largely
an Atkins no-no. Taking a starch-blocking supplement, Rosenblatt
said, "is a way to make Atkins doable."
It worked for Karen Siniscalco, 43, of Playa del Rey. In a lifelong
weight battle, her only successes came when she restricted carbohydrates.
"But how long can you eat straight protein and a handful of
salad? I would drop 25 or 30 pounds and then wouldn't be able to
go on anymore." Three months and 25 pounds ago, she began taking
Sierra Slim, a product developed by Rosenblatt that combines the
bean extract with stomach-calming ginger and peppermint. "As
soon as I started taking it, I started losing one to two pounds
a week," said Siniscalco, who still exercises and watches what
she eats. "The difference was I could eat whatever vegetables
I want, any fruit I want. I can go to a Mexican restaurant and have
a tostada, with the beans and a little fried tortilla ... and not
put on five pounds."
Starch blockers don't prevent the body from absorbing all the calories
from carbohydrates. Some starch still gets converted to sugar, which
eliminates some fatigue and irritability associated with low-carbo
diets, Rosenblatt said. In addition, said Janine Higgins, a nutritional
biochemistry researcher with the University of Colorado Health Sciences
Center in Denver, the body salvages additional calories when the
undigested starch comes in contact with bacteria in the large intestine
and is converted into fatty acids. The Carbo Killers supplement,
like other starch blockers, is made from a refined extract of white
kidney beans.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Eric Boyd Los Angeles Times