Today as I was scrolling through my news feed I came across a news article referencing this particular study on the use of gum arabic to help people lose weight. (Link) I know this has been used before in weight loss products like Slim Fast and has been used as a food stabilizer for a long time, but apparently there isn't a lot of research done in humans as far as weight loss is concerned. What kind of evidence do we have for using this in weight loss?
First of all, gum arabic (also called acacia gum) is a, well, gummy substance made from the sap of two different kinds of the acacia tree. If you've ever eaten candy like gum drops, or marshmallows, or M & M's, or things like that, you have probably eaten acacia gum. It's chemical structure is actually similar to other dietary fiber; edible but not digested by humans. One of the reasons that it was thought to be useful in losing weight is that it has the potential to increase satiety; in other words, you feel fuller sooner and longer and you wind up eating less. Gum arabic also doesn't seem to have any negative side effects when consumed by humans. (Link)
Some of the things that I like about this study is that they made an effort to find a large sample size and it was double blinded, which are major advantages. They also noted that there were some side effects of mild nausea in the morning and mild diarrhea and/or bloating, so they were clear that this didn't come without its problems.
I do, however, see some limitations, meaning that we may not be able to generalize the results to other populations. Note that the study was only done in women, all the participants were volunteers and may not represent a general population, they most likely ate a diet fairly unique to that part of Sudan, and the were listed as "healthy." You might not have the same impact in men or someone who eats a culturally different diet.
Since there is potential here, though, and many people fight hunger pangs when trying to lose weight, I know some people are going to try it. Keep in mind, though, that the problems w/nausea and bloating, etc were probably from the gum arabic slowing down the emptying of the stomach (which is why they felt fuller sooner and longer). Some people are wanting/needing to lose weight bad enough that they are willing to put up with mild nausea and bloating. But I think there are some people with certain health conditions that should stay away from this. If you have any kind of condition that already slows down your digestion (such as diabetic gastroparesis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with constipation predominant), or a history of a narrowing of your esophagus, or if you have had gastric bypass surgery or lap band surgery, or you take a drug like Victoza (a diabetes/weight loss drug made famous by Paula Deen), you want to AVOID using arabic gum because there is the potential to get an esophageal or intestinal blockage. And if nausea/bloating/diarrhea just aren't on your top ten list of things to do period, then you probably don't want to use this.
So, if you are skeptical about using this and want other ways to increase your satiety, there are a few other things you can do:
1) Make sure you eat enough good fat and protein at each meal.
2) Load up on vegetables--you can consume a lot without worrying about carbs or calories and the fiber can be filling also.
3) Limit excess carbohydrate so that the resulting surge in insulin from eating these doesn't promote hunger.
4) When you do eat carbs choose higher soluble fiber/unprocessed ones like fruit and sweet potatoes.
Take home message--Gum arabic might help people lose weight by promoting fullness, but avoid if you already have digestive issues.