Diet Mythbusting

Garcinia Cambogia: Does It Actually Help With Weight Loss?

As of 2016, there are about 93.3 million obese adults in the United States alone. The illness is accompanied by various conditions such as heart disease, type II diabetes, and even some cancers that ultimately lead to death if not addressed. With the prevalence of illness over a wide demographic, it’s no wonder how there are thousands of people hopping on a variety of fad diets and weight loss trends.

One of the so-called trends is the use of Garcinia cambogia supplements. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian have talked about the supplement and how it aids in her diet and exercise regimen, especially after the holidays. Influencers like herself with massive reach in a single platform can start an entire trend on their own. So imagine how many people hopped on the Garcinia cambogia bandwagon?

What is Garcinia Cambogia?

The Garcinia cambogia (current proper name: Garcinia gummi-gutta) is a tropical plant native to south and southeast Asia and India with lush and moist rainforests. The fruit of this particular plant is described to be pumpkin-like and comes in green and yellow hues.

In South India, the plant is commonly called the Malabar tamarind and is used in curry dishes similar to its cousin, the Tamarindus indica. The sour flavoring is said to aid in activating the digestion process. A few studies were done to determine the fruit’s phytochemical content, and it includes compounds like hydroxycitric acid, polyphenols, luteolin, and kaempferol.

There have been dozens of claims about the plant and its extract, implying that it can control diabetes, soothe ulcers, stop diarrhea, constipation, and even cancer. But Garcinia cambogia is more famous for its claim to suppress appetite, improve workout endurance, and speed up the weight loss process. But how much of this is true?

Can Garcinia Cambogia Help You Lose Weight?

Gaining popularity as an anti-obesity supplement, Garcinia cambogia has raised quite a few eyebrows in the scientific community. There have been several studies conducted to prove its efficacy as a potential weight-loss supplement, and sadly, it has not been producing significant results, especially with human subjects.

The very first study conducted that debunked the theory was dated back on November 11, 1998. This particular study indicated that hydroxycitric acid inhibits the enzyme adenosine triphosphate-citrate that plays a vital role in de novo lipogenesis, thus lowering the weight and fat mass in humans. A group of researchers designed a 12-week study with overweight men and women with a body mass index of 6.6 lb/ft2.

The test subjects were grouped into two and given either a placebo or 1,500 milligrams of the active herbal compound. Both controls were provided with a high-fiber and low-carb diet. The weight of the subjects was recorded from day zero until day 12 for comparison and analysis purposes.

During the experiment, Garcinia cambogia failed to show any significant weight and fat mass loss versus the placebo given to the other half of the test subjects, thus stating that it isn’t as potent as you would think it is.

Many more studies followed. Though results varied due to the type of test subjects used, all human studies seem to be pointing to one answer: No, Garcinia cambogia does not help you with weight loss. It was simply marketed as an anti-obesity supplement but did not deliver the results it was supposed to.

The Science Behind Garcinia Cambogia Inefficacy

Let’s start with where it all began. In the 70s, a study looked at the effects of hydroxycitric acid (the active agent of Garcinia cambogia) on the accumulated lipids in rats. The results of this experiment showed evident suppression in the appetites of the test subjects, as well as the reduction of total body weight. Assuming that it would have the same effect on humans, the supplement went mainstream into the market in no time.

It was quite popular during that era and was making waves in the health and fitness community up until the study conducted in 1998 disproving this claim of efficacy.

How did one study prove it’s effectiveness, and the other ultimately show the opposite results? The answer to that is simple: the test subjects. The first study used rat test subjects, while others used actual humans for their controls.

Although rats and other rodents are deemed the best test subjects due to their physiological similarities with humans, there are still some bodily functions they cannot replicate entirely.

Here’s a perfect example of that fact. Garcinia cambogia contains hydroxycitric acid, which inhibits ATP citrate lyase. This enzyme is responsible for producing the fatty acids in the body.

The thing is, humans don’t wholly rely on de novo lipogenesis (DNL) to reduce fat mass, as opposed to rats that are entirely dependent on the process. As humans, we have glycogen synthesis aside from DNL to help with processing carbohydrates, glucose, and fat.

What is De Novo Lipogenesis?

Before we get to the definition of DNL, let’s talk about how humans lose weight. Any weight gain or loss is due to the excess of fat stored in our bodies. Ideally, depending on height, gender, and age, an individual should consume a maximum of 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. Anything beyond will be stored as excess. For one individual to gain one gram of fat in a single day, they must consume an extra 500 calories on top of the caloric limit.

If your goal is to lose weight, you should be taking a minimal amount of calories per day. Or at the very least, you should burn those calories. Glycogenesis, or glycogen synthesis, is the process by which glucose molecules are connected into glycogen chains in preparation for storage. If the glucose we consume isn’t burned off or limited to the bare minimum, fat is accumulated.

DNL, however, is a tad bit complex. It is active in the liver and is primarily associated with the adipose tissues. It converts the excess carbohydrates into fatty acids. If you recall, the active ingredient of Garcinia cambogia is hydroxycitric acid, which inhibits the production of fatty acids through the enzyme ATP citrate lyase. Without this, DNL cannot convert carbohydrates into fat. It is creating the assumption that it can genuinely cut fats.

The first paper on hydroxycitric acid isn’t wrong; the active agent is quite useful on a smaller mammal species, just not on humans, which is precisely why the extract is not effective on humans.

Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr

Garcinia Cambogia’s Comeback

Aside from the fact that celebrity influencers have been using and standing by the claims of the many supplements that use Garcinia cambogia as their main ingredient, there was more recent research done in 2011 stating that it can cause short-term weight loss.

The effect was minimal compared to placebo groups, and other studies had proven it flawed and irrelevant. Nonetheless, it has made its way to mainstream media and influenced many people in spite of the supposed side effects.

In 2012, Dr. Oz (Mehmet Oz) announced the revolutionary fat buster that is the Garcinia cambogia, claiming it to be an effortless solution that avoids exercise and dieting. In 2014, he was brought in front of US senators for allegations of false advertising on the effects of the supplements.

He admitted to using flowery language when talking about specific products he promotes on his show. Still, he felt that they were genuinely useful and argued that he would even let his family use them in spite of probable dangers consuming these supplements caused.

Debunking Dr. Oz’s Claim

Dr. Oz mentioned that the consumption of Garcinia cambogia is “No Exercise. No-Diet. No Effort.” Let’s break it down and discuss how these are false claims.

As we now know, the whole science behind the Garcinia cambogia relies on de novo lipogenesis. Regardless if you exercise or not, hydroxycitric acid will inhibit ATP citrate lyase. So technically, there is no need to exercise. But since the effects are minimal, most manufacturers encourage exercise to boost the fat-busting activity of the supplement.

When consuming supplements, most manufacturers would include a recommended diet plan. Some researchers studied the efficacy of the Garcinia cambogia extract with different diets and found that it was not effective with individuals who consume high-carb, low-fat, and high-fiber meals. For Garcinia cambogia to be “effective,” the individual must take the supplement with a high-fat diet, making the whole “no diet needed” claim false.

A lot goes into losing weight, not just the meal planning, exercise routine, and additional supplements. You put in a lot of your time, money, and sacrifice into the process. Even with the Garcinia cambogia supplement supposedly aiding you in your weight loss journey, there is still much effort on your end. So in retrospect, it isn’t a “no effort” way out of obesity.

A class-action suit was filed against Dr. Oz, and the famous TV doctor, along with the network, settled for $5.25 million but still denied being liable for the damages and injuries inflicted on the plaintiffs. As part of the settlement, the network and Dr. Oz agreed not to re-air the episodes where he promoted Garcinia cambogia supplements. Dr. Oz also made it clear that he did not receive any compensation to promote the products in question.


The brand Hydroxycut has been in the market since 2002. It developed MuscleTech Research and Development supplement company, which was later bought off by Iovate Health Sciences in 2003. The company then filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

There has been serious controversy regarding the supplement. One of its key components is Garcinia cambogia. If we recall, the active agent of the extract is hydroxycitric acid (HCA). Hydroxycitric acid is precisely where the name of the supplement came from, as it supposedly cuts fat with the use of HCA.

A study published in the Internal and Emergency Medicine Journal had laboratory results that revealed that all liver function tests for aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, total and direct bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and gamma-glutamyl transferase were way above range, suggesting severe liver damage.

Another study revealed severe hepatic failures linked to Garcinia cambogia that required affected individuals to undergo transplantation, which compelled the FDA to take action. In 2009, a warning on the usage of Hydroxycut was issued by the FDA. This was due to hepatotoxicity, which led the manufacturer to recall of all the products that used HCA.

After the recall, Hydroxycut was reformulated and was on sale again in 2013. It no longer has the Garcinia cambogia extract. Instead, it is primarily made of caffeine out of Coffea canephora robusta.

According to studies cited on the Hydroxycut website, a month-long review was conducted with two controls – one consuming the Robusta extract and the other a placebo. Both controls consumed a low-calorie diet. In a span of 60 days, the Robusta group had lost 10.05 pounds more compared to the placebo group. Iovate Health Sciences has come a long way after the Garcinia cambogia fiasco and has completely modified the ingredients of Hydroxycut.

FDA Ruling on Weight Loss Products

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate, promote, or even study the use of weight loss supplements the same way they do with pharmaceutical drugs.

Based on the current laws in most countries, companies that manufacture these supplements do not need approval from the FDA to market them to the public, given that they make their products safe and provide complete and clear labels.

This is why the FDA warns the community to stay vigilant against supplements that have claims that seem too good to be true. Their website states, “Just because you see a supplement product on the shelf does NOT mean it is safe or effective.”

A new brand of the extract reached the shelves and has been under much scrutiny after previous studies had shown how lethal the consumption of Garcinia cambogia is. In 2017, the FDA issued a statement advising consumers to stop using the product.

In addition to Garcinia cambogia, it also contained sibutramine. Sibutramine is a controlled substance that has been removed from the market in 2010. Both elements posed a great risk for consumers since it substantially increased blood pressure and caused several cardiovascular diseases.

The Risks of Consuming Garcinia Cambogia Supplements

Garcinia cambogia comes in various forms, including liquids, powders, tablets, and capsules. With worldwide distribution, there’s no saying how many people have been using and abusing the supplement in hopes of losing weight instantaneously.

The adverse effects involved in the consumption of the extract in the supplement exponentially outweigh the benefits. Though supplements vary from one brand to another, the consequences seem to be similar, such as headaches, nausea, skin rashes, flu symptoms, hypoglycemia, and digestive problems.

Some Garcinia cambogia supplements even go as far as causing liver damage, seizures, cardiovascular disease, and even rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is the death of muscle fibers, which can lead to kidney failure. Most of the time, rhabdomyolysis is caused by crushing injuries, prolonged muscle compression, and reaction to a snake or insect venom.

In addition to these side effects, Garcinia cambogia supplements cannot be taken by individuals with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. It is known to lower blood sugar and can be dangerous for people who are already pumping insulin in their systems.

Furthermore, it is dangerous for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia who require medication to break down acetylcholine. Garcinia cambogia increases the amount of acetylcholine in the brain, which would technically speed up the progression of these diseases.

Garcinia cambogia also interferes with a variety of medications and essential supplements, like antidepressants, statins, calcium, potassium, warfarin, and others. You are making it quite dangerous for consumption if you think about the ramifications.

The critical takeaway is to always consult a licensed physician before taking any form of medication or supplement. There can be dozens of interactions and adverse effects depending on your current medical status and health.

Why is Garcinia Cambogia Still on the Market?

You can simply go online and do a quick search, and you’d be led to hundreds of online suppliers that have the product on hand. The answer is simple: profit. Dozens of businesses bank on the backs of desperate individuals looking for a solution to their problems, like the millions of people suffering from obesity who are just looking for an easy way out, given that the FDA doesn’t require screening supplements as thoroughly as they would with other pharmaceuticals.

This does pose a grave threat to ordinary consumers who would believe in the obscure truths that have been twisted to influence their buying behaviors. This is why doing thorough research before committing to a product is very important. In small doses, the extract seems not to harm but is equally ineffective. Consuming it in hopes that it would aid your weight loss is entirely pointless.

The Garcinia cambogia fruit has been around for years and has been commonly used by locals that the fruit is native to. The fruit is relatively safe to eat, and the supplements have aided some individuals to a certain point. But more studies have proven that Garcinia cambogia does more harm than good.

The bottom line is that the supplement cannot help you lose weight and can have life-threatening side effects.

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