Garcinia cambogia (GC) is a small, pumpkin-shaped fruit that grows in Southeast Asia and India. The key active ingredient found in the rind of garcinia cambogia is hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which some research suggests can help certain people lose weight.
Currently, there are at least 14 separate HCA-containing products sold over-the-counter to consumers labeled as “garcinia cambogia.” Most people are drawn to the idea of using GC because of the potential that it can provide near-effortless, quick weight loss without the need to change someone’s overall diet or lifestyle very much.
GC itself is not a new product; in fact, it’s been consumed in parts of Asia for many years, although not for the purpose of losing weight. Since GC (traditionally also known as the Malabar tamarind) first began to gain popularity in the U.S. several years ago — after appearing frequently in the media and on popular health-related TV shows — sales have gone up dramatically. More and more people are purchasing this so-called “weight loss miracle drug” in hopes of losing stubborn body and stomach fat they’ve been struggling with for years.
But just like most other weight-loss supplements, pills and products, studies regarding GC’s effects and safety have been mixed. While there’s some evidence that HCA might be able to aid in weight loss even when someone does not exercise often or change his or her diet very much, there’s also concerns regarding serious side effects that can occur, including liver damage or failure, anxiety, fatigue, dizziness, and digestive problems.
Remember that just because GC is derived from a natural fruit doesn’t mean it’s always completely safe. So is garcinia cambogia ultimately worth trying? What’s the truth with this purported weight-loss supplement? Let’s take a look at how HCA works, in what situations GC might be helpful, and what adverse reactions are possible when using any type of weight loss drug.
Finally, it’s worth considering the fact that time and time again we see various fad diets and products publicized to help boost weight loss — but what really works in the end is living a healthy lifestyle long term.
Does Garcinia Cambogia Work? What the Studies Tell Us
Garcinia cambogia reviews, research results and weight loss testimonials have been mixed to say the least. By far the most well-publicized benefit of using garcinia cambogia is its ability to increase weight loss. Other claims that are commonly made about garcinia cambogia’s effects include:
loss of appetite or less of a desire to eat than usual
reduced cravings for unhealthy foods, such as sugar addiction
a more positive mood (including feeling happier, more energetic and less tired)
increased energy and concentration
stabilized blood sugar levels
improved bowel movements
reduced joint pains
improved cholesterol levels
stronger desire to be physically active
Most of the claims above have not been backed by scientific studies, however some have. Let’s review the benefits of garcinia cambogia that actually have some merit and seem to be effective in some manner.
1. Weight Loss
Some studies have found that garcinia cambogia might, in fact, be able to help with low amounts of fat loss, plus some of the other health concerns mentioned above, although its effectiveness is rarely strong or consistent. For example, research suggests that HCA works by blocking a certain enzyme called adenosine triphosphate-citrate-lyase, which contributes to the formation of fat cells. But studies comparing GC’s effects to controls have found that it might only increase weight loss by a mere one to two pounds on average.
These findings are exactly what researchers published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011. When they compared people who took garcinia cambogia extract to those who didn’t, the weight difference was very small (on average just about two pounds). Plus, it wasn’t even possible to conclude that GC was directly responsible for the additional pounds lost.
The meta-analysis reviewed results from 12 different trails involving GC and revealed a small, statistically significant difference in weight loss favoring use of garcinia cambogia products containing HCA slightly over use of a placebo. However, the analysis also found that some studies showed digestive side effects (“gastrointestinal adverse events”) were twice as common in HCA groups compared with placebo.
Results from various weight loss studies involving GC have been very mixed. One study in the meta-analysis reported a significant decrease in fat mass in the HCA group compared with placebo, two studies reported a significant decrease in visceral fat/subcutaneous fat/total fat areas in the HCA group compared with placebo, but two other studies found no significant difference at all between HCA and placebo. A study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that GC used for 12 weeks (1,500 milligrams dosage) “failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo.”
The conclusion of the meta-analysis regarding garcinia cambogia? Researchers summed up their findings by saying that “the magnitude of the effects are small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain. Future trials should be more rigorous and better reported.” The bottom line is that if you’re struggling to lose weight, GC likely won’t be the answer, according to trial and controlled studies.
2. Lowering Appetite
Studies have also suggested that it’s possible that HCA found in garcinia cambogia can help lower someone’s appetite by increasing production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with calm and happy feelings — and therefore, sometimes appetite suppression, less cravings and reduced desire for comfort foods. Animal studies show it might also help increase energy expenditure.
Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t the case with all people, and there are other, potentially less risky ways to better manage your appetite and boost serotonin production (such as eating balanced meals with protein foods and healthy carbs at regular times throughout the day).
3. Lower Cholesterol
There’s some support for garcinia cambogia being able to improve cholesterol levels and lower high triglycerides. It might also be able to help raise HDL “good” cholesterol. It’s not safe for anyone already taking medications that affect cholesterol, however, and its effects don’t seem to be very reliable or strong.
Studies have found that GC has “no significant effect on anthropometric parameters, REE, triglycerides or glucose levels” but might have a small effect on lowering cholesterol. Keep in mind that there are also plenty of other natural ways to improve cholesterol levels, including exercising and eating more dietary fiber from high-fiber foods like veggies, nuts, seeds and beans.
4. Stabilized Blood Sugar
Finally, what about CG’s effects on blood sugar levels? Some evidence exists showing that garcinia cambogia can help control blood sugar by improving how cells take up glucose (sugar) to be used for energy. One way in which it might improve weight loss is through inhibition of pancreatic alpha amylase enzymes, changes in intestinal alpha glucosidase and alterations in fatty acid synthesis. This might be able to change how carbohydrates are metabolized.
This might possibly help your body respond to insulin better, although it can raise the risk for having low blood sugar levels in some people, too. If you have a history of blood sugar swings, you’re prediabetic, diabetic or taking medications that alter insulin’s effects, GC might make your blood sugar drop dangerously low. While this doesn’t appear to happen in everyone who takes GC, it’s something else to consider and something to discuss with your doctor.
Potential Garcinia Cambogia Side Effects
While some people claim they don’t experience any side effects at all from using GC, others have had very different experiences. Here’s one disturbing account regarding the use of garcinia cambogia extract that you might not have heard about: It’s contributed to at least several patients winding up in the hospital with liver failure and needing emergency liver transplants.
A 2016 article published by the Transplantation Center at the Mayo Clinic reports that millions of Americans regularly use herbal supplements, often in pill form, but aren’t aware of their full effects. Many weight loss drugs pose potential hidden dangers and are “associated with hepatotoxicity and acute liver injury.”
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