You may have seen this herbal supplement touted on TV, in magazine ads, and in pop-ups galore. A quick Google search will turn up claims for clinically proven weight loss, cholesterol management, and insulin control. The main ingredient in these supplements, Garcinia cambogia (GC), has been used in weight loss supplements for some time but its recent rise to fame is probably due in large part to its shout-out on a popular health show. Since then, we’ve been asked about whether these supplements can help you lose weight by many clients, friends, and family. Here’s our take based on the research and what other experts are saying.
What is it?
Garcinia cambogia is a fruit typically grown in Southeast Asia, coastal India, and parts of Africa. The fruit is yellowish in color when ripe (green before ripening) and looks a bit like a small pumpkin. The active GC ingredient used in supplements is a compound called hydroxycitric acid, or HCA for short.
What does the research say about its effectiveness as a weight loss aide?
Although there are a couple small clinical trials that have been used as the basis for touting GC’s positive effects on weight loss, these studies have some major flaws. Further, one of the better-controlled clinical studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, has shown no greater weight loss effect from using the supplement.
Is it safe?
From our review, it appears that GC may be safe in controlled amounts (2800 mg/day or less). For some though, it may not be, especially those taking statins to lower cholesterol, pregnant women, and people taking diabetes medications. “Possibly safe” are the words the experts at WebMD used to describe the supplement. There are also reports of two types of liver toxicity among people taking a popular brand of supplement containing GC. After those reports, the manufacturing company removed the compound from their weight loss supplement.
In addition, a 1995 study done in rats showed a significant decrease in fat after being given GC although it also showed that the same group of rats developed testicular atrophy and toxicity. Other studies in humans have reported that some common side effects of the supplement are constipation and headaches.
Finally, an important precaution to always keep in mind with any supplement is that their contents and the safety of each ingredient have not been evaluated by the FDA as is the case with food or medications. This means that you’re taking a chance that they may or may not be safe unless studies prove it.
The bottom line
We don’t recommend GC as a supplement for long-term weight loss, or any weight loss since it’s not proven to be safe. Unfortunately this isn’t a magic pill. If you are frustrated by not losing weight and want something to help “boost” you along, we suggest more natural approaches such as changing up your exercise routine, eliminating added sugars and refined carbohydrates as much as possible from your diet, eating at least 20 grams of protein with breakfast, keeping a detailed journal of your food and drink intake, and being careful to control portions.
Have you seen the ads for Garcinia cambogia around? Were you tempted to try it?