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Garcinia Cambogia: Evidence-Based Information on Uses, Health Benefits, & Possible Side Effects

Garcinia Cambogia: Evidence-Based Information on Uses, Health Benefits, & Possible Side Effects

A critical look into the uses, potential benefits, side effects and other important information regarding the popular weight loss extract, Garcinia Cambogia.

garcinia cambogia

Learn the facts about Garcinia Cambogia and find out if this supplement does actually work to promote weight loss. Photo/Shutterstock


Quick and easy fixes to aid weight loss have been of the public interest for many years. It is the topic of many news segments and you may have found yourself inundated with ads not only online but in commercials on your TV, radio, or streaming device.

Supplements fill store shelves to an overwhelming degree with claims that make it difficult to decipher what is reliable and effective.

Many of these supplements and formulas have similar compounds and extracts, such as two well-known weight loss formulas like CitriMax and Hydroxycut. One of the most commonly used compounds in these formulas is Garcinia Cambogia.

What is Garcinia Cambogia?

Garcinia Cambogia is a small to medium-sized tropical evergreen tree that grows fruit in the shape of a multilobed pumpkin and is native to India, parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.[1][2]

It goes by many names, such as:

  • Garcinia
  • Malabar tamarind
  • Brindle berry
  • Red mango
  • Pot tamarind
  • Gamboge
  • Kokum butter oil tree
  • Garcinia gummi-gutta

The size of the fruit grown typically resembles that of a tomato, but it can also grow to the size of a grapefruit as well.

Garcinia has been used for centuries for culinary purposes as a condiment and flavoring agent in place of tamarind or lemon, and to make meals more filling.[3]

You can most commonly find the rind of the fruit in curries, more specifically fish curries. The rind of the fruit is very sour and often pickled and used as a condiment.

The rind contains high amounts of a chemical called hydroxycitric acid (HCA), and it is the source of extracts for supplements. Along with extracts, Garcinia Cambogia can also be made into tea, capsules, tablets, and lotion.

General Uses

Garcinia extract has been used in the traditional Ayurvedic medical system for many years in the treatment of intestinal worms and other parasites, for bilious digestive conditions, for dysentery, rheumatism, and in the treatment of tumors.

The fruit rind has also been used in rickets and spleen enlargement and to heal bone fractures.[4][5]

Garcinia Cambogia extract has also been used by people for diabetes, cancer, ulcers, pains, heart complaints, diarrhea, and constipation. The biggest claim that has also been the most researched is that Garcinia Cambogia may help speed up weight loss and reduce appetite.[2][6]

What Does the Research Regarding Garcinia Cambogia and Weight Loss and Appetite Reduction Say?

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a compound found in large quantities in the rind of Garcinia Cambogia, is a derivative of citric acid and can be marketed alone as a weight loss supplement or in combination with other supplements. It can be found in the weight loss formulas previously mentioned, CitriMax and Hydroxycut.

Since HCA is similar in structure to citric acid, it can disrupt fatty acid synthesis in your body by blocking an enzyme that converts carbohydrates into body fat.

Therefore, the body is prevented from making and storing fat. In fact, in human studies, oral intake of HCA increased the body’s ability to break down fat when accompanied by moderate intensity exercise.[7][8]

Another way that Garcinia Cambogia is thought to aid weight loss is through appetite suppression and increasing satiety, or fullness. However, the mechanism is not fully known, but animal studies suggest that HCA can increase the release or availability of serotonin in the brain and therefore lead to appetite suppression.[9][10]

The evidence is very mixed regarding weight loss. Garcinia Cambogia may produce modest weight loss in some people, however, the effectiveness cannot be guaranteed as several studies did not show similar results.

The largest and most rigorous randomized controlled trial found no significant difference in weight loss between HCA and a placebo.[9][11][12]

Definitive conclusions that Garcinia Cambogia/HCA supplements are efficient tools against obesity and other various health problems remains to be proven in larger-scale and longer-term clinical trials.

It has also been difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of Garcinia Cambogia as a weight-loss supplement as it is typically found in supplements containing several active ingredients, and therefore it cannot be directly pinpointed.

It is important to note that Garcinia Cambogia/HCA may reduce weight only if added to a regular diet with higher carbohydrate intake rather than a higher-fiber diet.[11][13]

Other Possible Health Benefits from Garcinia Cambogia

Research studies suggest that Garcinia Cambogia could have some anti-diabetes effects, such as:

  • Decreasing insulin levels
  • Decreasing leptin levels
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving blood sugar control
  • Increasing insulin sensitivity

Garcinia Cambogia may also boost the digestive system, protect against ulcers and reduce damage to the inner lining of the digestive tract.

However, these studies were animal and test-tube studies rather than human studies and therefore these effects need to be studied further before any conclusions can be drawn.[10][14][15][16][17]

Garcinia Cambogia is thought to produce cholesterol-lowering capabilities as some people have suggested HCA extract causes carbohydrates to be converted into glycogen instead of fat, disrupting the production of triglycerides, the bad cholesterol.

In a study using HCA-SX (Super CitriMax, a calcium-potassium salt of HCA) with 60 human subjects for 8 weeks, the authors found that the use of HCA-SX resulted in decreases in body weight, BMI, food intake, serum cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and an increase in HDL-cholesterol and serotonin levels.

However, more studies need to be done to assess the efficacy and safety.[18][19]

What are the Side Effects, Dosage Recommendations, and Considerations?

As with anything that is ingested or coming in contact with the body, some people may develop side effects, and therefore consulting with your doctor is recommended.

Some of the possible, milder side effects that have been recorded include:

  • Headaches
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Allergic reactions
  • Skin rashes

More serious side effects may include serotonin toxicity, especially if taking Garcinia Cambogia with antidepressant medications, and liver damage (and possibly liver failure) in certain individuals.

Consult with your doctor before taking Garcinia Cambogia or supplements with HCA to ensure the highest safety. People with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia should not take Garcinia Cambogia because it increases acetylcholine levels in the brain.

People with diabetes should be cautious when using this supplement, as Garcinia Cambogia/HCA has been known to lower blood sugar levels.

It is not known if Garcinia Cambogia is safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, so it is best to discontinue the use of the supplement during these times.

Be cautious if taking other nutritional supplements or medications as Garcinia Cambogia has not been extensively studied for interactions, however, it may interfere with:

  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Antidepressants
  • Statins
  • Montelukast (Singulair)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
Most studies conclude that Garcinia Cambogia and HCA, is safe for healthy people in recommended dosages, or up to 1,500 mg of HCA per day, as over the counter weight loss supplements usually offer HCA in dosages of 250-1,000 mg 3x daily.

It is not recommended to consume more than 3,000 mg of HCA in a 24-hour period. The exact dosage for individuals may vary from person to person due to the different variables, circumstances, and needs of each individual.

Garcinia Cambogia is available in capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids. The capsules should be taken on an empty stomach, 30 minutes to one hour before a meal.

It is important to acknowledge that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and so there is no guarantee that the actual content of HCA in the supplements will match the HCA content on the label, and therefore buying from a reputable manufacturer is important.

Takeaway

While Garcinia Cambogia has been used in different parts of the world for culinary purposes as well as treatment for various illnesses, it has been in the limelight for weight loss and appetite reduction and added to several weight loss supplements.

However, results have been inconclusive regarding its effectiveness. There is no convincing evidence that Garcinia Cambogia will help you lose weight or control cholesterol and more reliable human studies are needed.

As with most supplements and nutrients, effectiveness varies based on each individual, and if you are considering taking Garcinia Cambogia make sure to consult with your doctor beforehand and buy from a reputable brand that contains at least 50% HCA.

While supplements such as Garcinia Cambogia may seem like an easier approach to weight loss, whole foods, diet, and exercise have been shown to be the most effective methods regarding long-term weight loss results.

Speak with your doctor or even a Registered Dietitian to find the best method that works for your individual needs.

Feedback:

References

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Garcinia cambogia. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Published January 2017. Updated Feb 2019. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/garcinia
2. York Morris S. 29 things you didn't know about garcinia cambogia. Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/things-you-didnt-know-about-garcinia-cambogia#1. Published June 6, 2019. Accessed November 22, 2019.
3. Chuah LO, Yeap SK, Ho WY, Beh BK, Alitheen NB. In Vitro and in vivo toxicity of garcinia or hydroxycitric acid: a review. Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. 2012; 2012:1-12. doi:10.1155/2012/197920
4. Akshay KR, Sudharani N, Madaiah D, Shivakumar BS, Sreekanth HS. Back yard malabar tamarind (garcinia gummi-gutta): a miracle anti-obesity agent. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2018; SP3:515-517 http://www.phytojournal.com/archives/2018/vol7issue3S/PartM/SP-7-3-128-446.pdf
5. Sharma PC, Yelne MB, Dennis TJ. Database on Medicinal Plants Used in Ayurveda. New Delhi, India: Central Council for Research in Ayurveda & Siddha, 2005, 2
6. Gogoi A, Gogoi N, Neog B. Dubious anti-obesity agent HCA from garcinia: a systematic review. Int J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2015; 7(7):1-8 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277959071_Dubious_anti-obesity_agent_HCA_from_garcinia_A_systematic_review
7. Iyer A, Panchal S, Poudyal H, Brown L. Potential health benefits of indian spices in the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome: a review. Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2009; 46(6):467-481 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361710
8. Tomita K, Okuhara Y, Shigematsu N, Suh H, Lim K. Hydroxycitrate ingestion increases fat oxidation during moderate intensity exercise in untrained men (2003). Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003; 67:1999-2001 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14519990
9. Onakpoya I, Hung SK, Perry R, Wider B, Ernst E. The use of garcinia extract (hydroxiycitric acid) as a weight loss supplement: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Journal of Obesity. 2010; 2011:1-9. doi:10.1155/2011/509038
10. Bjarnadottir A. How garcinia cambogia can help you lose weight and belly fat. Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/garcinia-cambogia-weight-loss. Published December 6, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2019.
11. Heymsfield SB, Allison DB, Vasselli JR, Pietrobelli A, Greenfield D, and Nunez C. Garcinia cambogia (hydroxycitric acid) as a potential antiobesity agent: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2011; 280(18):1596-1600 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9820262
12. Kim J, Jeon S, Park KH. Does glycine max leaves or garcinia cambogia promote weight-loss or lower plasma cholesterol in overweight individuals: a randomized control trial. Nutr J. 2011; 10:94
13. Jirsa A. 3 herbs for weight loss support. Mindbodygreen.com. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4866/3-Herbs-for-Weight-Loss-Support.html. Accessed November 22, 2019.
14. Semwal RB, Semwal DK, Vermaaak I, Viljoen A. A comprehensive scientific overview of garcinia cambogia. Fitoterapia. 2015; 102:134-148. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2015.02.012
15. Sripradha R, Magadi SG. Efficacy of garcinia cambogia on body weight, inflammation and glucose tolerance in high fat fed male wistar rats. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015; 9(2):BF01-4. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2015/12045.5577
16. Mahendran P, Vanisree AJ, Shyamala Devi CS. The antiulcer activity of Garcinia cambogia extract against indomethacin-induced gastric ulcer in rats. Phytother Res. 2002; 16(1):80-83. doi:10.1002/ptr.946
17. dos Reis SB, de Oliveira CC, Acedo SC, Miranda DD, Ribeiro ML, Pedrazzoli J Jr, Gambero A. Attenuation of colitis injury in rats using garcinia cambogia extract. Phytother Res. 2009; 23(3):324-329. doi:10.1002/ptr.2626
18. Alraei RG. Herbal and dietary supplements for weight loss. Top Clin Nutr. 2010; 25(2):136-150
19. Preuss HG, Rao CV, Garis R. et al. An overview of the safety of a novel, natural ( - )-hydroxycitric acid extract (HCA-SX) for weight managements. J Med. 2004; 35:33-48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18084863
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Meghan Rittmaster, MS, RDN, LD

Meghan is a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her areas of expertise include functional ...

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