Reviewed by Dr. Richard Foxx, MD
What Is Garcinia Cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia is a tropical fruit that’s also known as Malabar tamarind or brindleberry. It has become a popular weight loss supplement that is purported to promote weight loss through appetite suppression and the blocking of fat production. Other claims suggest it may reduce insulin and inflammation levels and improve digestion.
Like many supplements, however, these claims may be a little more hype than truth.
The tropical Garcinia gummi-gutta (as it’s also known) species is native to Indonesia and looks like a small pumpkin or tomato, varying in color from dark green to pale yellow. The extract used in supplements is made from the peel, which is high in hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is the ingredient that is believed to aid in weight loss and the other benefits of garcinia cambogia supplementation.
How Does Garcinia Cambogia Work for Weight Loss?
The claims about garcinia cambogia’s effect on weight loss are likely overstated, but that doesn’t mean it could not have a slight impact on fat loss. Studies have shown that HCA can boost fat-burning and reduce appetite—but the impact might not be substantial or even moderate.
Research in both animal and human models has shown that HCA may block an enzyme called citrate lyase that works to produce fat. It may also raise serotonin levels, which can lead to less hunger. The main issue, though, is that the findings are not consistent.
Whereas some studies have shown the extract is effective for weight loss, others have shown no effect.
A review of multiple studies indicates that people taking garcinia cambogia for two to 12 weeks lost about 2.2 pounds more than those taking a placebo. But the reality is that the amount is pretty insignificant.
It’s also important to keep in mind that other studies have observed no weight loss differences for people supplementing versus those on a placebo.
Studies have shown that supplementing with garcinia cambogia can make people feel full, thereby limiting the likelihood of overeating. The fewer calories a person consumes, the more likely they are to lose weight. This effect may have something to do with HCA’s ability to increase serotonin, a brain chemical that is also a known appetite suppressant.
Yet the findings are not set in stone. Studies have had mixed results, with some observing no change in the appetites of people taking garcinia cambogia compared to those taking placebo.
Altering Fat Metabolism
Human studies have indicated there may be benefits for fat metabolism by taking garcinia cambogia. It may lower the production of new fatty acids and fats in the bloodstream.
There is also a single study that shows the extract can lead to targeted fat loss in the belly when taken by overweight individuals. As mentioned, it could have an influence on the citrate lyase enzyme. By inhibiting this enzyme, the body may not produce or store fat as easily.
Other Purported Benefits of Garcinia Cambogia
Other findings have shown additional benefits to supplementing with garcinia cambogia, albeit some have only been observed in animal and lab settings. But one human study noted benefits for cholesterol and triglycerides.
Participants taking 2,800 milligrams per day for eight weeks showed the following benefits:
- Total cholesterol dropped by more than six percent.
- “Bad” LDL cholesterol went down by more than 12%.
- “Good” HDL cholesterol climbed by nearly 11%.
- Triglycerides decreased by about 8.5%.
- 125% to 258% more metabolites were excreted through urine.
The benefits may relate to garcinia’s effects on citrate lyase. Still, these findings have not been replicated. Other studies have not shown similar benefits, and it is not recommended that people with heart disease or high cholesterol take garcinia cambogia as a form of treatment.
Studies indicating benefits for blood sugar and diabetes exist in animal or test-tube models. Observations have included potential benefits for blood sugar control, increased insulin sensitivity, and lower insulin levels; however, it cannot be said whether these results would translate to human studies.
Therefore, it is not recommended to use garcinia cambogia as a form of treatment for diabetes.
Garcinia Cambogia Side Effects and Precautions
So, is garcinia cambogia safe? It seems to be, provided you don’t take it for extended periods. Doses of up to 2,800 mg for 12 weeks have not shown problems, but they may not be free of risk.
At this point, dietary supplements are still unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so you’re not always getting what you think you are. Levels of HCA may differ between brands, while some companies may use inferior products or cheap fillers. Do some research to find a reputable company before purchasing a supplement.
Although usage is typically safe, that doesn’t mean supplementing with garcinia cambogia will agree with everyone. There are reports that some have experienced digestive problems, headaches, or rashes.
Moreover, there have been cases of people experiencing adverse effects when garcinia cambogia is taken with existing medications for diabetes and high cholesterol, among others. At least one individual was found to have serotonin toxicity when they took it alongside antidepressants. Thus, if you are taking any medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before supplementing.
Due to the lack of research and consistent findings of any benefit to garcinia cambogia, it’s hard to establish a standard recommended dose. As such, it might be best to go with directions on the bottle.
There are a number of supplemental varieties, and some experts report that selecting a brand with 50% to 60% HCA is best. Dosing instructions typically suggest 500 mg three times per day, taken roughly 30 to 60 minutes before a meal.
Should You Take Garcinia Cambogia for Weight Loss?
Because there is so little supporting evidence for its effect on weight loss, garcinia cambogia shouldn’t be a central component in your efforts to get slimmer. The impact may be negligible at best and would pale in comparison to that of a healthier diet and increased activity.
That said, if you’re not taking medications for other health conditions, it’s unlikely to cause harm; just be aware that garcinia cambogia appears to have far more sizzle than steak.
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