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January 13, 2014 at 1:46 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Garcinia Cambogia For Weight Loss: Does It Work And Is It Safe?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

As a doctor, I sometimes feel like a follow-up to Dr. Oz.

Every time he announces a "breakthrough," I get to field the questions. One of his latest recommendations is garcinia cambogia, hailed as an all natural fat-burning wonder supplement. After all, it's the beginning of the new year when weight loss is on the minds of so many people. And these people want any help they can get. 

"Does it really work?"

"Is it safe?" 

"Will the results last?"

Several inquiries have sent me on the path of scientific inquiry. Here's what I've found:

"What is garcinia cambogia?"

Garcinia cambogia is a round, rust-colored fruit that grows on trees. It is found throughout parts of India, Western Africa and Asia. The dried rind of the fruit has been used as a spice for ages, but with recent revelations that it also suppresses appetite, western society has been quick to take notice.

"How does it work?"

Garcinia cambogia's action in the complex fat and energy metabolism of our bodies is not exactly clear.  The active chemical ingredient from the fruit's rind has been determined to be hydrocitric acid (HCA). It is thought that HCA enters the cycle of energy production in the liver, boosting the short-term energy product glycogen and inhibiting production of low density liproprotein (LDL), otherwise known as "bad cholesterol." These actions then theoretically trigger the signals to our brain that we have had enough to eat (without actually eating).

In theory, this sounds great - feeling full without actually eating and lowering the "bad" cholesterol in the process. But the "holy grail" of weight loss? I wouldn't be so quick to say that.

"What do garcinia cambogia studies say?"

Admittedly, research is limited on garcinia cambogia. When something hits the market as a food supplement (it is in fact a fruit), claims can be made quite liberally without being actually scientifically proven. As such, it's easier to leave it as that - make the claims without paying for research and risking proof that the product does not in fact live up to the hype. Examining what scientific literature does exist however, I found a recent analysis that evaluated 23 studies on the garcinia cambogia. Of this number, 11 met the desired standard of being performed against a placebo where subjects did not know what they were taking. Sadly, the tallied weight loss in the garcinia cambogia groups averaged a paltry 0.88 Kg (1.9 lbs). Further, the gastrointestinal side effects (namely abdominal cramping) were doubled in the treatment group as compared to placebo.

"Does garcinia cambogia have side effects?"

Garcinia camobia and its active ingredient hydrocitric acid (HCA) work in the liver -the metabolic work horse of our bodies. By and large, this organ can handle a lot and is very forgiving. Still, when dabbling with one of this finely-tuned metabolic pathway, bad things can happen.  Take statin cholesterol drugs for instance. While they work great for most, many find that they have undesirable side effects from achy muscles to foggy thoughts to liver strain to outright muscle breakdown. Indeed, one weight loss supplement with HCA as its active ingredient, Exilis, was responsible for several cases of liver failure and one death (1).  And as a result, the FDA took it quickly off the market. If you're determined to try garcinia cambogia,  be sure to consult your doctor and take care.

"You're a doctor - what's your . opinion?"

Over the years I've become extremely skeptical that a "wonder drug" or "wonder supplement" exists for sustained weight loss. In my experience, the defining factor in success is not a pill or a capsule, but rather a behavior. Our weight is a two-sided coin with energy in on one side (calories consumed as food) and energy out on the other (calories burned through activity).  In this new year, if you are searching for a weight loss solution, look within yourself toward addressing one or better yet both sides of this coin for lasting success. 


1.  McDonnell WM et al,  Fulminant hepatic failure after use of the herbal weight-loss supplement Exilis. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151:673-674 

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