Garcinia cambogia is a very popular pumpkin-shaped fruit native to warm climates such as west and central Africa, India, and Indonesia. It is also referred to as garcinia gummi-gutta – its new scientific name — and Malabar tamarind. However, garcinia cambogia remains the most commonly-used name throughout the world even though this is a former scientific name.
In India, garcinia cambogia has been a part of day to day cooking for many years and is often added to chutneys and curries. It has been used in that part of the world for its antiparasitic and laxative properties. Ironically, it has never been used traditionally as a weight-loss aid.
How Does Garcinia Cambogia Work?
We’ll discuss whether garcinia cambogia is an effective weight-loss tool in a bit, but first, let’s look at its purported benefits. Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is the active ingredient in garcinia. It is reported to help with weight loss in two ways:
- Inhibition of Fat Production. HCA is said to block the production of fat cells in the body by preventing the production of an enzyme called citrate lyase – something your body uses to make fat.
- Lowering Appetite. Manufacturers claim that garcinia cambogia will help decrease your appetite – as well as cravings for unhealthy foods – by increasing levels of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.
This sounds pretty fantastic to me! Wouldn’t we all like to eat less and be happy about it? HCA is even said to have additional health-related benefits including:
- Stabilized blood sugar levels
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Stronger desire to be physically active
- A more positive mood
- Improved bowel movements
- Increased energy and concentration
- Reduced joint pain
But does it actually work?
As with most weight loss supplements, the evidence for garcinia cambogia’s effectiveness as a weight loss tool is not overwhelming.
One of the original studies examining its effectiveness took place in 1998. One hundred thirty-five overweight men and women were either given 1500 mg of HCA per day or a placebo. All subjects were put on a high-fiber, low-calorie diet for 12 weeks. Both groups lost a significant amount of weight.
However, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the groups. The researchers concluded that, in this case, garcinia cambogia was ineffective as a weight loss tool.
A more recent 2011 study investigated the results of nine research trials examining the effectiveness of garcinia cambogia as a weight loss tool. This study was a little more promising. It found that taking HCA resulted in statistically significant – albeit very little — weight loss.
Unfortunately, the studies were rather short-lived so it’s difficult to determine whether the weight loss was long term or not. The researchers stated that the “clinical relevance is uncertain.” Which basically translates to “We don’t know whether taking garcinia cambogia is worth your while
There is one published stud that found the HCA from garcinia cambogia to be an effective tool in decreasing body fat levels and, therefore, body weight. Unfortunately, the study was performed on rats.
Also unfortunate, to say the least, was the fact that the most effective dose of HCA also resulted in severe testicular toxicity – a side-effect I don’t think anyone is going to want to contend with, no matter how effective HCA may be.
If results are questionable, why is garcinia cambogia so popular?
- Celebrity Endorsements. Garcinia cambogia soared in popularity in 2012 when Oz promoted the supplement on his television show. He referred to it as the “Holy Grail of weight loss.” Since it’s safe to say the majority of his viewers are women, and the majority of women feel they need to lose weight, it’s easy to see why this type of promotion would increase sales dramatically.
- Testimonials and Customer Satisfaction Ratings. Many people who take garcinia cambogia seem to be happy with its effectiveness. The product is available through this online retailer where 78% of customers give it a four-star rating or higher. Positive comments include “…gives me a ton of energy and helps fight cravings…” and “curbs appetite.” One person even reported losing 50 lbs. while taking this product.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell whether these favorable effects were as a direct result of taking HCA. We can’t rule out a placebo effect, or the possibility that other lifestyle changes (decreased caloric intake, increased physical activity) contributed to any beneficial effects. It is also possible that the rate of ineffectiveness is underreported.
When we lose weight, we want to share our success with others. But broadcasting the fact that we’ve attempted to lose weight but failed miserably is something far less likely to be shouted from the rooftops.
- Desperation. The obesity epidemic in the United States is just that – an epidemic. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that, in the U.S., more than two out of three adults are considered overweight or obese. It is little wonder that weight loss supplements are a huge industry. And with the promise of a potentially effective weight loss pill, it is easy to understand why sales of garcinia cambogia are high even if the potential benefits are minimal.
Possible Side Effects
The FDA warns that side effects are possible with any product that is strong enough to work like a drug. And garcinia cambogia is not without its potential side effects.
Remember the study that looked at nine separate trials? One of those trials reported that adverse gastrointestinal events were twice as likely to occur in participants taking HCA.
Other reported side effects include:
- Dry mouth
It is generally considered safe to take for a 12-week period, but its long-term safety has not been determined.
In 2009, several Hydroxycut brand weight loss products containing HCA were reported by the FDA to have caused significant liver damage in some consumers. The products contained several other ingredients so it is unclear whether HCA caused the damage.
Lastly, it is important to note that the FDA does not monitor garcinia cambogia – or any other nutritional supplements — for safety or effectiveness.
Garcinia cambogia can interact badly with some medications and should not be taken with the following:
- Iron supplements
- Diabetes medicines including insulin
- Certain allergy medications
As with most supplements, its safety has not been tested in pregnant and nursing women. It is also contraindicated for those with kidney or liver problems. If you have any other health concerns, talk to your healthcare provider before taking garcinia cambogia to make sure it is safe for you to do so.
There is no conclusive evidence that garcinia cambogia is an effective weight loss tool. However, there is also no conclusive evidence that taking it for a short period of time is dangerous. Furthermore, self-reports state that some people do find it an effective way to lose weight.
If you do decide to give garcinia cambogia a try, keep in mind that the recommended dose is 900 to 1,500 mg HCA per day. (Most trials administer a daily dose of 1,500 mg.) It is better to use the amount of HCA per dose as a guide, as opposed to the amount of garcinia cambogia.
It is equally important to consider that, according to ConsumerLab.com, many garcinia cambogia supplements do not contain the amount of HCA listed on the label. Some contain less and, surprisingly, some contain more. They suggest sticking with a reputable brand which contains at least 50% HCA.
If you want to try garcinia cambogia, here’s a brand you can try: