One thing that those of us in the fitness industry will tell you is that there is no shortcut: there are no magic pills, no secret ingredients, nothing that we do that you don’t do. It all just comes down to hard work, proper training and consistency. That’s why, when magic pills crop up, we treat them with a degree of scepticism.
One such magic pill, garcinia cambogia, has been doing the rounds for some time now. It’s touted as a miracle weight loss product.
What is Garcinia Cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia is a tropical fruit native to the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, also known as the Malabar tamarind. Various claims persist surrounding it. Proponents of the Malabar tamarind say that it blocks your body’s fat making abilities whilst suppressing your appetite; they say that it can help to balance out your blood sugar levels and keep your cholesterol levels healthy.
Garcinia cambogia in itself is not a new product by any means. Garcinia cambogia’s rind is a traditional ingredient in many cuisines. It’s often used as a preservative and as an aromatic seasoning in curries. However, it has not been used for weight loss until relatively recently.
Pros and Cons
- Can lead to minor weight loss
- Can help to aid in digestion
- Can help to stabilise blood sugar
- Can increase energy levels
- Can lead to an increase in serotonin levels, elevating your mood
- A relative dearth of reliable scientific data
- Results are often minimal
- Side effects are common and can be dangerous
- Suggested dosage is relatively unclear
How does garcinia cambogia work?
It also contains an ingredient that is key to this discussion: hydroxycitric acid (HCA). This is the genesis of the weight loss claims surrounding garcinia cambogia.
HCA has been studied throughout the years for its use in weight loss both through appetite suppression and fat burning. It appears to block the enzyme citrate lysase, which is crucial in the formation of body fat. In addition, it is thought to raise serotonin levels in the brain- such a raise would theoretical make you feel less hungry.
Supplements containing garcinia cambogia extract- and thus HCA- are therefore sold as weight loss supplements with a degree of credibility. At present, there are over a dozen separate products containing HCA that can be sold as supplements, over the counter and labelled as garcinia cambogia.
Since garcinia cambogia began to grow in popularity in the west several years ago, it has become something of a staple in certain circles. Sales have risen and TV featurettes and commercials have helped to promote it; more and more people are looking to it as a miracle drug in hopes of losing the stubborn body fat that plagues increasing numbers of us year on year.
Of course, the idea of any product that can give you effortless, instantaneous weight loss will be attractive to anybody struggling with their weight- to be able to achieve long sought after gains without any change to your dietary habits or exercise load would be fantastic.
But is it too good to be true, as such things usually are?
Can Garcinia Gambogia Help You Towards Your Goals?
This is a tricky question to answer, mainly because the evidence and data- both scientific and anecdotal- are really quite mixed on the subject. There have indeed been studies conducted on garcinia cambogia that have successfully linked it to weight loss, though they are widely reputed to be unreliable and outdated.
A research review by Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, of the National Centre for Weight & Wellness, sheds some light on the subject. Researchers found that there have only been five suitably controlled and randomised studies of the effect of garcinia cambogia on weight loss conducted in the last fifty years. In those studies, there was very little weight loss found amongst participants, with the most weight loss attributable to garcinia cambogia in all of those studies being a mere pound of weight loss over several months. To put this into perspective, a daily deficit of 500 calories over one week will give you a pound’s weight loss.
So far, garcinia cambogia’s ability to aid in weight loss looks pretty shaky.
Further to this, a review publish in the Journal of Obesity found similarly underwhelming results to be had from garcinia cambogia. On average, participants who took the supplement lost an average of 2 pounds more than those who didn’t. This might sound good, but two pounds really isn’t worth the price tag, and there is more: reviewers were unable to confirm that this extra weight loss was down to the garcinia cambogia at all but could rather be down to better exercise or dietary regimes.
More research is needed to confirm all of this, of course.
Mood and Appetite
One area in which garcinia cambogia might shine is in its effect on the neurotransmitter serotonin, as mentioned above.
Studies have suggested that the HCA from garcinia cambogia can help in lowering your appetite by increasing levels of serotonin production. This will theoretically lead to feelings of calm and happiness, as serotonin plays a key role in mood regulation, and this will therefore sometimes lead to fewer food cravings and reduced desire for food for comfort.
Animal studies have suggested that this could also lead to increased feelings of energy and energy expenditure.
There are, however, more reliable and less worrisome ways of achieving all of this, including regular exercise and a well-balanced diet.
Type 2 Diabetes and High Cholesterol Management
However, garcinia cambogia could have quite a positive effect both on your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It may make glucose (the sugar your body uses for energy) usage easier for your body. Lab studies on animals have shown that rodents who took garcinia cambogia had lower insulin than those that didn’t. For diabetics especially, this could come as welcome news- a faint weight loss boost alongside increased insulin control would be of great help to them.
This might also help with weight loss, through the inhibition of pancreatic alpha amylase enzymes alongside changes in alpha glucosidase and in the synthesis of fatty acids: all of this (jargon aside) means that there may be a positive change in the way in which your body metabolizes carbohydrates, leading to feelings of satiation and to a lack of sugar rushes.
Take note, however, that if you take garcinia cambogia in conjunction with prescribed medication, there is a danger that your glucose levels might drop too low. Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before embarking on such a course of supplementation.
Research has also linked garcinia cambogia supplementation with improved cholesterol levels. It may help to lower levels of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) whilst raising those of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol.) Once more, however, if you suffer with cholesterol and are already on prescribed medication, consult your doctor prior to supplementing.
Possible Side Effects of Garcinia Cambogia
There are a few potential unwanted side effects that can occur when you supplement with garcinia cambogia, including:
- Headaches and dizziness
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Lowered immune function and therefore an increased susceptibility to catching colds
Possible pitfalls of supplementation with garcinia cambogia
There have also been some alarming cases connected with garcinia cambogia supplementation. In the US in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning telling people to stop using a weight loss product that made use of garcinia cambogia. Some people taking the product were reported liver problems.
However, there is nothing to suggest that this was due to the garcinia cambogia, as there were other ingredients involved in the product that could equally be to blame. Research is undecided on the effect of garcinia cambogia on the human liver.
According to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), garcinia cambogia is safe, at least for short term supplementation- anything up to twelve weeks.
It’s always advisable to be wary of the extra ingredients that weight loss supplements like garcinia cambogia come packaged with, however. The FDA issued another warning, this time in 2017, concerning the weight loss supplement Fruta Planta Life. This product uses its garcinia camobogia ‘premium’ content heavily in its marketing, delivering both Garcia cambogia itself alongside sibutramine, an appetite suppressant that most manufacturers and health authorities avoid due to concerns over its side effects. These include increased risks of strokes and heart attacks, as well as jaundice and the triggering of seizures.
Another concern arises when looking at the classification of garcinia cambogia products. They are not medicines, they are supplements, and so lie out of most regulatory bodies’ jurisdictions. For instance, in the US, the FDA has no regulatory power over them. They cannot judge their efficacy or safety unless warning signs appear- they can only investigate once their use is proven to lead to multiple instances of chronic illness. This may sound dramatic and a little alarmist, but it’s always worth bearing in mind when looking at any supplements.
Make sure if you are buying garcinia cambogia to always look up the full range of ingredients, alongside whatever impartial reviews you can find on the products you’re considering. It is too common a story for people to idly take herbal supplements, pills and remedies without making sure that they are fully aware of their range of effects. Many weight loss drugs come with the potential for hidden pitfalls and dangers, often being associated with liver damage and hepatoxicity. Whilst this isn’t necessarily the case for garcinia cambogia itself, the ingredients it’s packed in with could pose such a risk.
Garcinia cambogia can also often be over prescribed. Remember, the companies looking to sell you their products have a vested interest in having you consume as much as possible. Couple this with a lack of regulation and the tendency to overuse garcinia cambogia looks quite high. Moderation will always be key with supplements like this- look up an advisable healthy dose for your weight and body composition, and if in doubt always check with your doctor.
See below for some more information on correct dosing.
Drug and existing condition interactions
This is always worth considering, and I have mentioned it in passing a few times already. Always check with your doctor if you are on any medicines or drugs, or if you have any pre-existing health issues. There is quite a long list of people who should either avoid garcinia cambogia supplements, or who should at least exercise caution in taking them. Complications include:
- pregnancy and breastfeeding
- existing cases of liver or kidney damage
- medications that are taken to control asthma and allergies
- diabetes medications and insulin
- iron supplements (usually taken by people with anemia)
- pain medications
- medications used to control mental disorders like anxiety and depression
- statin drugs that lower cholesterol
- blood thinning drugs (like warfarin and aspirin)
If any of these apply to you, speak to your doctor before taking garcinia cambogia or changing your supplementation regime in general.
What is a good dose?
If you do want to give garcinia cambogia a go – and I would encourage you to explore it if you feel you could benefit, just do so with your eyes open about the potential for the product to not measure up – there are a few things you will want to bear in mind with regards dosage:
- Studies using GC have used a wide range of doses, anywhere from one gram to 2.8 grams daily. Typical doses are usually between 250–1,000 milligrams per day.
- Study durations have also varied widely, ranging from using GC between two to 12 weeks at a time.
- The optimal dose of HCA is currently still unknown. It’s not clear if a higher HCA dosage even means a higher bioavailability of HCA once consumed.
- There does seem to be a significant correlation between the dosage of HCA and body weight loss, meaning higher doses have slightly more effects.
- Garcinia cambogia continues to be the most widely used supplement in studies for providing HCA. However, HCA can also be found in supplements made from the plant Hibiscus subdariffa.
- Because most studies have investigated the effects of GC taken for about eight weeks, researchers believe this is ultimately too short a time to assess the effects of HCA on body weight.
I would avoid looking for formulas or supplement blends – this will limit the amount of extra ingredients and the side effects that often come with them. Often, such blends will not list everything that goes into them, nor will they accurately report the levels of garcinia cambogia or HCA that they contain- they will use reduced amounts and sub-standard parts of the plant in order to drive costs down.
Rather, try to look for purer forms of garcinia cambogia from reputable retailers. Read the labels. Look out especially for the words:
- ‘pure garcinia cambogia’, and
- ‘hydoxycitiric acid (or HCA) extract.’
These ingredients should make up at least fifty percent of the product’s mass. Seeing a blend without an amount listed should put you off- always look for these ingredients in these quantities, with as few extras as possible, and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
By all means, if you want the added benefits reported to be had from garcinia cambogia, I would thoroughly recommend you trying it out. Though the scientific data is thin on the ground, sometimes contradictory and, often, finds little of note, the anecdotal evidence is there to show that there may be something to it.
There are some reputable brands out there who put nothing extra in that could be of harm, and who keep to appropriate dosages. Please see the end of this article for a list of the better quality ones available.
If you want to try it out, I would suggest changing no other variables when you do so: keep your diet and activity levels the same. Keep going for 6-8 weeks, weighing yourself on the same day, at the same time, each week for weight loss. For other benefits, like mood or energy levels, keep track of how you are feeling compared to normal. If you lose weight, and/or feel happier and/or more energised, then garcinia cambogia works for you. Keep going for a full twelve week cycle before coming of it once more.
If you see no benefit, chalk it up to experience and don’t bother with it again: your findings will concur with the scientific community’s.
And of course, consult your doctor before trying it if you have any health concerns.
- Pure Garcinia Cambogia Extract – 95% HCA Capsules by Potent Organics
- NatureWise Pure Garcinia Cambogia,100% Natural HCA Extract by NatureWise
- 100% Pure Garcinia Cambogia Extract 95% HCA by Orphic Nutrition
- Garcinia Cambogia 95% HCA Pure Extract with Chromium by BioSchwart