Obesity is a growing health problem today. In our world with increasingly affordable, high-calorie food, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, it is no surprise that this condition had significantly increased in the last few years worldwide.
According to the latest key facts from the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity almost tripled since 1975. Of the 1.9 billion overweight adults in 2016, 650 million were obese. Even more concerning is the number of obese kids, averaging to 41 million (1).
Making lifestyle changes can be difficult; hence most people turn to the use of dietary supplements for weight loss.
Around 15% of adults in the US have used a weight-loss supplement at least once in their lifetime, especially women (2). They are spending approximately $2.1 billion yearly in the hope that these pills will help them achieve their goals easily (3).
For years now, people are in the hunt of a supplement that can pare away excess fat without any side effects.
One of the most popular weight loss pills is Garcinia cambogia.
Below, we’ll go over the most important details that you need to know about this supplement.
What is Garcinia cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia (GC) has the shape of a small pumpkin. It is widely cultivated in India and Southeast Asia. The main active ingredient of this fruit is hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is known to be effective for weight loss (4).
This is not a new product. Actually, it has been used in Asia for hundreds of years, but not only for weight loss.
It’s also known as Malabar tamarind. It gained its popularity in the US after being featured in different popular health TV shows. Since then, it became a favorite of those who have been struggling for years to lose even just a few pounds of excess weight.
Today, there are hundreds of different HCA-containing products available in the market tagged as “garcinia cambogia.” People are drawn to the idea of using GC because it promises an easy, quick weight loss without the need to do a strict diet and hardcore exercises.
But similar to other weight loss supplements, studies about GC’s effects and safety are not consistent. While there is evidence proving that HCA can really help in weight reduction, there are also issues about serious side effects like liver failure (5).
So what’s the truth behind this purported weight loss miracle product? Isn’t it that GC is derived from a fruit? Does that somehow guarantee its safety? Is it really effective? Read on to know how it works, what are the contraindications, and the possible side effects.
How Does Garcinia cambogia work?
GC reviews and researches are not consistent to say at least. By far, the best-publicized benefit of this supplement is its ability to induce weight loss. But how?
1. Blocks Fat Production
Researchers suggest that HCA, which is the main active ingredient of GC, can block a specific enzyme known as adenosine triphosphate-citrate-lyase (6).
This is an essential enzyme for the production of fatty acids. It also plays a role in lipogenesis, which converts carbohydrates into fat stores (7).
By blocking this enzyme, there will be decreased fat gain.
2. Curbs Appetite
Studies also show that HCA can help decrease appetite.
It increases the production of a neurotransmitter known as serotonin.
3. Lowers Cholesterol
There are supports for GC being able to increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower triglyceride (12).
One study found out that GC might also have a small effect on lowering cholesterol (13).
4. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
This causes a decreased level of blood glucose and insulin responses after a meal, hence indirectly causing a suppression in one’s appetite.
Another way by which it could improve weight loss is by inhibiting pancreatic alpha-amylase enzymes and altering fatty acid synthesis. These can affect how carbohydrates are being metabolized (18).
Other claims of garcinia cambogia include:
- Increased energy and concentration
- Enhanced bowel movements
- Less joint pains
- A strong desire to stay physically active
- A more positive feeling or mood
While most of the claims mentioned above have been backed by scientific studies, the actual weight loss results are not really impressive.
In a review presented in the Journal of Obesity, study results showed that those who had GC during the experiment lost around 2 pounds more than the subjects who did not use it (19). The reviewers could not even confirm if that weight reduction was because of the supplement. Other factors like low-calorie diet and exercises were not ruled out.
In another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, GC users of 1500 milligrams dosage for 4 months did not produce a significant weight loss as compared to those who were given placebo (5).
The conclusion of the meta-analysis about GC is not significant either. Authors summarized their findings by confirming that the magnitude of GC’s effects is small (20).
More studies are needed to know if HCA can really help people lose a lot of weight before it can be considered clinically relevant.
How much should you take?
There is no standard dose when it comes to weight loss supplements.
One recent review has compiled several pieces of research on the toxicity of GC at different levels.
It was concluded that research had shown no direct side effects with dosage levels up to 2,800 milligrams per day (21).
Duration of use may also range from 2-12 weeks (12).
The right dose to take may vary from one patient to another. To err on the safe side, one must consult a medical professional before taking this supplement.
Are there any side effects?
While some users claim that they do not suffer from any side effect, others have had bad experiences. The minor ones include:
- Common cold symptoms
- Dry mouth
- Bad breath
- Skin rash
What’s alarming is that several patients end up having liver damage (22).
In 2009, the FDA warned people to stop using GC for weight loss because of this serious side effect. The exact mechanism remains to be unknown though.
Aside from the possible side effects, one must also take into consideration the long list of medical or drug interactions possible for GC.
The following must not use GC for weight loss:
- preg and breastfeeding women
- Patients with liver disease, kidney diseases, asthma, allergy, diabetes, and anemia
- Patients taking medications for pain, anxiety, and depression
- Patients using blood thinning agents like warfarin
- Patients on statin drugs
From the sound of it, Garcinia cambogia doesn’t seem to be a healthy choice for weight loss. Not until more scientific studies would prove its efficacy and safety, it is probably wiser to invest in healthy food and physical activities.
Marixie Ann Obsioma, is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD).
She had her internship training in a government hospital for a year, serving mostly retired Veterans and their dependents. Her experiences during preceptorships in medical school allowed her to see patients regularly from different medical departments.
The combination of having a good medical background, being a mom, and wanting to help people especially the elderly has cultivated her passion of working in remote areas with love and compassion.