Garcinia Cambogia: Not A Miracle Weight-Loss Pill
I can’t help but notice the continuing popularity of garcinia cambogia. The other week, I was in the checkout line at Whole Foods and the garcinia cambogia weight-loss supplements were right in front of me taking up prime marketing space.
Now, the only reason I shop at Whole Foods is for the rotisserie chickens (for which I have a small addiction). And I actually call it “Three Quarter Foods,” as a good quarter of the store is supplements, not real food. So, when I saw the garcinia product, I didn’t think much of it.
But that same week, I had three clients inquire about using the supplement as a weight-loss aid. It also showed up at my other grocery store, in that same prime spot by the register. What gives? Have we reverted to 2012 when Dr. Oz was calling this a miracle diet pill? I thought the fascination had worn off.
What is Garcinia Cambogia?
For those of you lucky enough to have avoided this fad supplement, garcinia cambogia is a plant from Indonesia that produces a small fruit. Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is a component of that fruit’s rind. The actual supplement is usually a powder created from the rind and put into a pill. HCA is thought to inhibit fatty acid production in our body by blocking a specific enzyme involved in the process. It is also supposed to suppress appetite and, therefore, lead to weight loss.
The pill producers and celebrity doctors promoting this product generally recommend a dose somewhere in the range of 500-1500mg before each meal. A bottle of these supplements range from fifteen to thirty dollars in price. So, do the results match the hype or is it an empty promise?
What Does Science Say?
One of the better human studies on this supplement involved 135 subjects split into placebo and garcinia cambogia (GC) groups. A majority of the subjects were women. The GC group took 500mg before each meal. Subjects were given dietary recommendations but the compliance was not monitored beyond a food journal, and as with any human subject study involving food, compliance must be taken with a grain of salt.
Both groups lost weight. But the placebo and GC groups did not significantly differ. So basically, a little more awareness helps you lose weight, with or without garcinia cambogia.
Another study took overweight women and gave them 800mg of GC before each meal. After sixty days, there was a significant decrease of triglyceride levels in the blood of the GC group. However, bodyweight and fat mass showed no significant changes.
"Have we reverted to 2012 when Dr. Oz was calling this a miracle diet pill? I thought the fascination had worn off."
With any of these studies, duration and sample size matter. There haven’t been any long-term studies done on a large group of people. If there is some truth to the hypothesis that garcinia cambogia helps people lose weight, we don’t know about it. There is not enough scientific evidence to back the claims made by the supplement makers, magazines, and celebrity doctors.
The problem with most of these kinds of products is that much of the promising results come from rat studies. It does seem that rats on garcinia cambogia do experience less fat accumulation. This reminds me of CLA, a supplement that was popular before GC and had similar fat-loss claims. It worked really well in rats. Genetically obese rats would deflate like a balloon. Human studies were not so promising. Unfortunately, rats aren’t humans and the dosages that show success in rats are often unrealistic to replicate in people.
Lack of Long-Term Documentation
As far as safety is concerned, there doesn’t seem to be any major side effects to garcinia cambogia. But, as previously mentioned, there also haven’t been any long-term studies. There is one study that showed male rats that had a high dose of garcinia cambogia experienced testicular toxicity and atrophy. The doses were unrealistically high and they were rats, but when I hear “testicular” and “toxicity,” I’ll pass on the product.
Weight loss products make people billions of dollars each year. Marketing can be very convincing, especially for the people who have struggled to lose weight their whole life or are trying to achieve an extreme body fat level. But if a product has to be displayed in the impulse-buy section of the store, then buyers beware.
It appears that garcinia cambogia has little to no effect on human weight loss. If you are a rat who has a tropical vacation in a month, this supplement may be for you. Given the price tag of $20 a month minimum, you can do a lot more for your money. Twenty bucks of high-protein food or a bag full of fresh vegetables will do more for your weight loss than anything else you can pick up at the front section of the grocery store.
Read more on diet and nutrition:
- When It Comes to Food, Options Can Be Obstacles
- Why a Ketogenic Approach to Nutrition is Ideal for Your Health
- Three Weight Loss Supplements That May Actually Work
- What's New On Breaking Muscle Today
1. Vasques, Carlos et al. “Hypolipemic Effect of Garcinia Cambogia in Obese Women.” Phytotherapy Research 28 (2014): 887-891. Accessed March 10, 2015. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5076.
2. Saito, M et al. “High dose of Garcinia Cambogia is effective in suppressing fat accumulation in developing male Zucker obese rats, but highly toxic to the testis.” Food Chem Toxicol 43 (2005): 411-419. Accessed March 9, 2015.
3.Heymsfield, Steven B et al. “Garcinia cambogia (hydroxycitric acid) as a Potential Antiobesity Agent.” JAMA 280 (1998): 1596-1600. Accessed March 9, 2015. doi:10.1001/jama.280.18.1596.
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