These are the questions you should ask yourself when you want to know if a supplement is worth taking:
Is it safe?
Does it work?
Do its effects justify its cost?
(Modified for brevity from SPEED)
I’ll first give you the answers to these 3 questions in regard to white bean extract (Phaseolus vulgaris extract), and then I’ll tell you how I came to these conclusions.
Is it safe?
Yes, it seems so. The only negative I can think of is that there could be an increase in GI discomfort – especially the breakage of wind. Depending on the severity, this would be enough to turn me away, but you’ll have to see for yourself.
Does it work?
Yes. I have to admit, white bean extract does what it’s supposed to. It inhibits the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates which stops them from being absorbed. It, in turn, can affect weight loss and blood sugar control.
Does its effect justify its cost?
“But, Matt, you just said it works! How can this be?”
Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s worth the money. The small effect this product has, especially for those who follow an eating plan that can be even remotely considered healthy, is small. Save your $20/month ($240/year), or maybe spend that money on higher quality foods.
How I came to these conclusions…
I was pointed to a scientific review of white bean extract by Felix in the comments section of a previous post. The paper is funded by Pharmachem Laboratories, who make a white bean extract supplement called Phase 2. This does not invalidate the paper’s conclusions, necessarily. After all, who else would bother doing R & D on a white bean extract except the people who make it? But, we also must keep this in mind as we see certain findings highlighted and others ignored.
The first study reviewed under the section “Weight loss – compared to placebo” is not in a peer-reviewed journal, but instead is pulled from phase2info.com and appears to be from research performed by Leiner Health Products. (Rothacker) It mentions that 88 participants enrolled while 60 completed the study and were included in analysis. It gives no reason why 28 people dropped-out. Too much tooting, maybe? (the breakdown of carbohydrates late in the digestive process can cause gas so yes, I made a fart joke – sue me) Who knows? The results were lackluster anyway. This is not a piece of evidence worth exploring.
The next paper reviewed (Celleno) used a supplement containing Phase 2 and chromium picolinate. Results were impressive at an average 6.45 lbs in 30 days vs .77 lbs in supplement vs placebo groups, respectively. The one stipulation was that the supplement was taken “before a meal rich in carbohydrates.” More on this later.
Next up, Wu et. al. 60 days of 3,000 mg of Phase 2 with no dietary control. The researchers recorded weight losses of 4.2 lbs and about .9 lbs in the supplement and placebo groups, respectively. Remember, this is with no diet change what-so-ever. If you think this is a good thing because you’ll just be able to sit on your ass, eat whatever you want and lose 4 lbs in 2 months, stop reading. Seriously, get off this website and definitely don’t buy our book (you’ll just ask for a refund when you realize long-term fat loss will actually take some effort on your part). It’s just not for you. It’s okay, hard work isn’t for everybody and at least now you know. Go find some huckster who will sell you grass clippings and promise you eternal thinness.
The last study from authors Udani and Singh reported non-significant changes of 6 and 4.7 lbs in the supplement and placebo groups, respectively. Why this non-significance? Well, most likely because there was a dietary intervention which included providing breakfasts and lunches for greater adherence. Interestingly, these researchers found that when subject were broken down into sections based on carbohydrate (CHO) consumption, the losses in supplement and placebo groups were 8.7 and 1.7 lbs in the section with the highest CHO intake. This is the study that leads to my answer to the question “Does its effects justify its cost?” and here’s why. When coupled with a rock-solid weight loss strategy which included dietary control, visits with a personal trainer and behavioral psychologist, the advantages disappear.
Hmmmm… exercise, psychology, diet… I feel an acronym SPEEDing into my brain 🙂 Interestingly, this study was not included in the handy-dandy table inside the review. Remember when I said some information gets highlighted and some ignored?
When you compare the whole of the two groups, the supplement group lost an average of 1.3 lbs more over 4 weeks. So you’re paying about $20 for every 1.5 lbs of added fat loss. That’s an expensive pound and a half! Instead, you could eat a little less food and save your money, not to mention spend your time solidifying long-lasting healthy habits rather than spending it finding new ways to cover up your new-found trouser geese (that one is for Matt Carney).
Remember up there somewhere when I said “more on this later”? Well, here is the more. The positive studies either don’t control diet at all (read: people eat junk) or they control diet by adding carbohydrates either in total or in the meal just after supplement administration. Why wouldn’t you just not eat so many damn carbohydrates and control your eating a little more? Are you really going to plan on taking this supplement for the rest of your life? Let’s look at how this might work:
You eat 2,200 calories/day, with 50% of your calories as CHO. You take white bean extract and that inhibits absorption of some of the CHO and you begin to control blood sugar and lose weight. (keep in mind you could just eat less CHO or less food in total and get the same benefit) Also keep in mind that at your current weight, this level of intake would be a maintenance diet without the supplement’s effects. You continue to lose weight and reach your goal.
At this point, you decide that taking a pill for the rest of your life is not an option, you continue eating the 2,200 calories with 50% coming from CHO and guess what happens without the supplement’s help? That’s right, the weight creeps back because you never learned how to actually eat less food or better quality food.
I’m not against using supplements to make things easier or to gain an edge, so don’t take this as the ramblings of some purist nut job hell-bent on destroying every supplement’s reputation. I simply don’t see the real benefit to white bean extract as long as you’re making an effort to control your eating.