Obesity is a global epidemic associated with significant morbidity and mortality in adults and ill health in children. A proven successful approach in weight management has been the disruption of nutrient digestion, with orlistat having been used to treat obesity for the last 10 years. Although orlistat-induced weight loss remains modest, it produces meaningful reductions in risk factors for obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, this lipase inhibitor is free of the serious side effects that have dogged appetite-suppressing drugs. This success had driven investigation into new generation nutraceuticals, supplements and pharmaceutical agents that inhibit the breakdown of complex carbohydrates and fats within the gut. This review focuses on agents purported to inhibit intestinal enzymes responsible for macronutrient digestion. Except for some synthetic products, the majority of agents reviewed are either botanical extracts or bacterial products. Currently, carbohydrate digestion inhibitors are under development to improve glycemic control and these may also induce some weight loss. However, colonic fermentation induced side effects, such as excess gas production, remain an issue for these compounds. The α-glucosidase inhibitor acarbose, and the α-amylase inhibitor phaseolamine, have been used in humans with some promising results relating to weight loss. Nonetheless, few of these agents have made it into clinical studies and without any clinical proof of concept or proven efficacy it is unlikely any will enter the market soon.
Keywords: Alli®; amylase; body weight; digestion; lipase; orlistat; overweight; saccharidases.