Life Extension Magazine January 2016
Innovative FIBER Improves Metabolic Health
By Michael Downey
After-meal elevations in blood sugar concentrations are a significant risk factor for the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.1-5 Post-meal glucose spikes are also linked to Alzheimer’s disease, kidney failure, and retinal damage.6-19 Ingestion of simple sugars and starchy foods are primary causes of these postprandial glucose changes.
The good news is that researchers have identified a unique fiber called alpha-cyclodextrin that significantly reduces deadly glucose surges.20,21
Research demonstrates that volunteers who take alpha-cyclodextrin before consuming a carb food, such as bread, experienced a much lower blood sugar spike. Insulin increases were also significantly delayed and dramatically decreased.20,21
For 30 years, Japanese researchers have investigated another benefit of alpha-cyclodextrin.22 What they discovered is that this compound also selectively absorbs and eliminates bad fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, before reaching the bloodstream, while sparing good fats, such as omega-3s, to deliver their benefits.23 Not only does this “fat reduction” reduce calories absorbed, it also reduces the harmful effects of “bad” fats along with cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Together, the ability of this innovative fiber to remove harmful fats from the bloodstream and reduce dangerous after-meal blood sugar spikes makes it an important addition for anyone who wishes to improve their metabolic health and reduce their risk of a wide spectrum of deadly diseases.
Alpha-Cyclodextrin’s Proven Metabolic Benefits
Sharp after-meal (postprandial) spikes in glucose are associated with a 51% increase in the risk of a cardiovascular event and an 89% increase in the risk of dying.24 Many people, especially older individuals, are challenged to find a way to reduce these dangerous after-meal rises in blood sugar that can lead to both weight gain and serious impairment.
Researchers designed a controlled human study on the metabolic effects of alpha-cyclodextrin on healthy volunteers. Following an overnight fast, some subjects were given 100 grams, or approximately 3.5 ounces, of white bread with water, while others were given the same amount of white bread with 10 grams alpha-cyclodextrin in water. Glucose and insulin responses following bread consumption were recorded in both groups over a three-hour period.20
The control group that was not taking alpha-cyclodextrin had a dramatic post-meal rise in both glucose and insulin levels. Contrasting this, the alpha-cyclodextrin group showed a much reduced rise in post-meal glucose levels, as well as a delayed and much reduced rise in post-meal insulin.20
Similar results were obtained in a double-blind, randomized, crossover study conducted on 10 healthy human volunteers.21
Alpha-cyclodextrin, at doses of 2, 5, and 10 grams, was directly mixed with boiled white rice. At 5 and 10 grams of alpha-cyclodextrin, the amount of glucose that was absorbed by the participants was significantly reduced, and the volunteers experienced a greater feeling of satiety.21
The study found that alpha-cyclodextrin reduced the glycemic response to standard carbohydrate meals and may be useful for reducing the glycemic response to carbohydrates.21
But preventing glucose spikes forms just one part of the overall, longer-term benefits of alpha-cyclodextrin.
A Unique and Safe Fat Blocker
Ingestion of too many carbohydrates, with the following postprandial blood sugar spikes that result, is just one dietary contributor to obesity and chronic disease. Equally as dangerous to one’s health and longevity is the presence of “bad” fats in the bloodstream.
Excess saturated fat in the diet is a leading cause of lipid disturbances, an ongoing epidemic of obesity, and the resulting high incidence of cardiovascular disease. Even with the most dedicated commitment to limit unhealthy fats, many individuals find it difficult to balance their blood lipid profiles, lose weight, and reduce their risk of dying early. Also, ingestion of saturated fats and trans fats (as well as simple sugars) contributes to increased levels of systemic inflammation, which accelerates the diseases of aging.25
Alpha-cyclodextrin selectively absorbs and eliminates trans fat and saturated fat before they can enter the bloodstream, while leaving healthy polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 fats) available to deliver their benefits.26
In fact, this fiber binds up to 9 times its weight in health-threatening dietary fat from the intestinal tract.23 Studies show that, for people who eat two fat-heavy meals a day,27 2 grams of alpha-cyclodextrin taken before these meals can remove up to 320 calories from the body before absorption.
Alpha-cyclodextrin has the ability to engulf excess dietary fat, especially pro-inflammatory saturated fat, within the intestine. This fiber has been shown to lower the dangerous apolipoprotein B (apoB) type of cholesterol, elevated levels of which have been shown to contribute to atherosclerosis.26
There have been fat-blocking drugs on the market, but they have been plagued by noncompliance—in other words, users have generally given up on them. Problems with these drugs make them difficult to use.
Fat-blocking drugs such as orlistat, which is marketed as Alli® or Xenical®, rely on inhibiting the lipase enzyme that breaks down triglycerides, the major form of dietary fat, into single fatty acid molecules.28 These drugs leave triglycerides “loose” in the colon. There, they may undergo digestion or fermentation to produce gas and fluids, leading to flatulence, urgency, cramping, loose stools, and possibly diarrhea or release of oily material from the rectum.28
Aside from these distressing side effects, there is a nutrition problem related to these fat-blocking drugs. They remove all types of fats, regardless of whether they are good fats or bad fats.
Alpha-cyclodextrin, on the other hand, typically does not have these side effects. Instead of leaving undigested triglycerides “loose” in the colon, this novel compound isolates dietary fatty acids away from the rest of the intestinal contents, thereby reducing the risk of digestive problems.
Because alpha-cyclodextrin does not typically have digestive side effects, there is an increased compliance in taking the product, which translates into reduced markers of cardiovascular and metabolic risk.
Alpha-Cyclodextrin Reduces Unhealthy Fats
Japanese researchers have been investigating alpha-cyclodextrin for 30 years since they first established that this novel fiber, when fed to young rats, can effectively modulate lipid metabolism. The result was reduced levels of triglycerides in both blood and liver tissue. The rats also experienced less weight gain and decreased body fat deposition relative to controls that did not receive alpha-cyclodextrin.22
Realization that alpha-cyclodextrin can preferentially reduce unhealthy dietary fats, while leaving healthy fats alone, began when scientists undertook a 14-week study conducted on laboratory mice.26
Scientists fed the mice a high-fat, Western-style diet, but the diets of the test group were supplemented with alpha-cyclodextrin. The supplemented mice showed decreases of 15.3% in total cholesterol, 20% in free cholesterol, and 14% in cholesterol esters (a bound form of cholesterol). The majority of the cholesterol that was decreased was the dangerous apoB type, known to be increased with the intake of dietary saturated fats and associated with a higher risk of atherosclerosis.26
Critically, measuring the animals’ fatty acid blood levels indicated an even greater reduction in the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Supplementation with alpha-cyclodextrin had boosted levels of beneficial unsaturated fats by 2.5% while decreasing pro-inflammatory saturated fats and trans fat levels by 4.5% and 11%, respectively.26
In another compelling study, rats were fed diets supplemented with either alpha-cyclodextrin or control supplements. Then, each group was given a diet including radioactively labeled saturated and unsaturated fats. Compared to control animals, the alpha-cyclodextrin group experienced a 7-fold increase in excretion of saturated fats, with no increase in the excretion of beneficial polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3s.29
Following this, a similar experiment provided even further evidence of alpha-cyclodextrin’s preference for blocking the ingestion of unhealthy dietary fats while enhancing beneficial fats.11
In the next section, we’ll examine these impressive findings.
Selective Fat-Blocking Effects
Added confirmation that alpha-cyclodextrin has the novel ability to block saturated fats, without interfering with the absorption of healthy fats, was reported by the journal Metabolism.26
Scientists fed mice either a standard Western diet laden with fat or the same diet with the addition of alpha-cyclodextrin supplementation. The supplemented subjects showed major reductions in blood levels of almost all fatty acids, indicating that alpha-cyclodextrin had removed these fats from the body. However, it was the determination of exactly what fats were decreased, and what fats were increased, that was most compelling.
In the alpha-cyclodextrin group, deadly trans fats were slashed by 25%. Unhealthy saturated fats were reduced by a significant 10%. Yet there was a roughly 13% increase in beneficial omega-3 DHA. Furthermore, the ratio of LDL (bad) cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol was decreased by nearly 5%.26
This relative reduction in LDL is especially important because previous studies have shown that LDL promotes not only cardiovascular events but also the spread of cancer throughout the body.30
The different absorption or blocking effects of alpha-cyclodextrin on different dietary fats occurred entirely without any reduction in the treatment group’s dietary intake of dangerous fats and without any increase in this group’s intake of omega-3 or other beneficial fats.26 The alpha-cyclodextrin itself caused these favorable shifts in lipid profiles through its remarkable ability to selectively bind and eliminate destructive lipid molecules.
Blocking the absorption of significant quantities of dietary saturated and trans fats and moving this unabsorbed high-calorie fat through the intestinal tract and out of the body would be expected to both promote weight loss and consequently enhance markers of metabolic syndrome. And a further study on rats clearly demonstrated this effect.31
Researchers fed rats a high-fat diet that was supplemented with alpha-cyclodextrin. They found that, as expected, these test animals had a 30% reduction in plasma triglycerides, a 9% reduction in cholesterol, and an increased amount of fat excretion in their feces, again demonstrating successful elimination of unabsorbed fat from the intestine. But additionally, the supplemented animals showed significantly less weight gain despite the high-fat diet than the unsupplemented control animals, all of which gained weight.31
Notably, in this study, the alpha-cyclodextrin group was also found to have improved insulin sensitivity and normalization of serum leptin, the satiety hormone that signals the body that it’s time to turn off feelings of hunger.31
Next, scientists set out to confirm these remarkable effects using the gold standard of scientific evidence: randomized, placebo-controlled human trials.
Human Studies Show Beneficial Effects
In a well-designed study conducted on obese patients with type II diabetes, participants gained an average of 2.2 pounds each over a 30-day period prior to the intervention phase. Then, a select group of these participants were randomly assigned to take 2 grams of alpha-cyclodextrin with each fat-containing meal. The rest were given placebos. All volunteers were asked not to change their regular eating habits or daily routine.32
Once the supplementation period began, the placebo group continued to gain weight, but the alpha-cyclodextrin group experienced no further significant weight gain.32
Additionally, the two groups showed notable differences in lipid profiles by the end of the study. Among those who started the study with elevated lipids, the placebo group saw their total cholesterol increase by a substantial 5.2%. In sharp contrast, the alpha-cyclodextrin-supplemented group had a remarkable 8.2% reduction in total cholesterol.32
Furthermore, scientists documented increased levels of adiponectin, a hormone that regulates glucose levels and promotes fatty acid breakdown, in the alpha-cyclodextrin group, while levels of this beneficial substance fell in the placebo group.32
Additional evidence of alpha-cyclodextrin’s powerful cardiovascular benefits came from a study enlisting the help of a group of overweight people with a body mass index of 25 to 30 kg/m2. They were randomly assigned a placebo or 2 grams of alpha-cyclodextrin with each meal, amounting to 6 grams per day.33
After two months, the supplemented individuals showed an array of metabolic benefits. Those taking alpha-cyclodextrin realized an average 5.3% decrease in total cholesterol and an average 6.7% decrease in LDL cholesterol. Compared to controls, supplemented patients’ levels of apoB, an atherosclerosis-promoting protein, fell 5.6%, and their serum insulin levels fell 9.5%.33
The beneficial effects shown in these human studies cannot be overstated. Blood triglyceride levels tend to rise very sharply after a fat-heavy meal, and the degree of that increase is a strong predictor of cardiovascular risk. Reducing post-meal triglyceride levels is a critical component of any program for reducing heart disease.34-37
In another study, alpha-cyclodextrin was demonstrated to absorb many times its weight in fat and to sustain its beneficial effects over a prolonged period. Sixty-six obese diabetic patients were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or two 1-gram tablets of alpha-cyclodextrin with each meal for three months—a total of 6 grams daily.23
More weight was lost by those with the highest intakes of total and saturated fats than those with lower intakes. This further confirms that alpha-cyclodextrin preferentially blocks the more dangerous saturated fats and leaves healthy fats alone. Careful analysis also showed that the amount of fat that was excreted by these volunteers was about 9 times the amount of alpha-cyclodextrin that they had ingested, confirming previous laboratory studies.23
While these benefits for obese and diabetic volunteers are certainly compelling, the fat-blocking benefits of alpha-cyclodextrin were just as dramatic in healthy individuals.38
Scientists randomly assigned healthy adult volunteers to take either 2 grams of this novel fiber or a placebo, immediately following a commercially prepared high-fat breakfast rich in saturated fats. Compared to placebo recipients, patients supplemented with this one-time dose of alpha-cyclodextrin absorbed 69% less of the fat provided in the test meal.38
Both the studies on alpha-cyclodextrin’s carb-blocking effects and on its fat-blocking effects underscore a critical fact. Taking alpha-cyclodextrin before meals can allow individuals to gain control of their metabolic and weight-gain risks as well as their blood lipid and cardiovascular risks.
Alpha-cyclodextrin is best taken in a chewable tablet that allows this unique fiber to be masticated and ready to work once it hits the stomach. Also, in contrast to other less selective, fat-blocking drugs, alpha-cyclodextrin typically has no or few side effects.
Americans typically ingest too many unhealthy sugars, starches, and fats. As a result, they frequently carry around excess abdominal fat, sometimes in spite of their exercise and weight-loss programs.
Scientists have identified a natural fiber called alpha-cyclodextrin that lowers after-meal glucose and insulin surges.
Alpha-cyclodextrin also selectively blocks absorption of unhealthy fats such as trans fats and saturated fats—while leaving beneficial, polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3s, available to deliver their benefits.
Chewed as a tablet prior to fat-containing meals, alpha-cyclodextrin powerfully improves blood lipids, metabolic and cardiovascular risks, as well as reducing absorption of calories from fat.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
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- Beckley ET. ADA Scientific Sessions: Retinopathy Found in Pre-Diabetes. DOC News. 2005 Aug;2(8):1-10.
- Polhill TS, Saad S, Poronnik SSP, Fulcher GR, Pollock CA. Short-term peaks in glucose promote renal fibrogenesis independently of total glucose exposure. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2004 Aug;287(2):F268-73.
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- Matsuzaki T, Sasaki K, Tanizaki Y, et al. Insulin resistance is associated with the pathology of Alzheimer disease: the Hisayama study. Neurology. 2010 Aug 31;75(9):764-70.
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