By: Sara Hill, PharmD Student
As the holidays rapidly approach, more and more people start to think about losing weight for their family functions or maintaining their current weight throughout a food-laden season. However, despite the urge to snap up the first weight loss supplement that we hear advertised, we have to remember the importance of evaluating each product to decide if it is our best option. One supplement that fits that description is Garcinia cambogia, a growingly popular herbal supplement that Dr. Oz and others believe to be a good choice to help us lose weight.
In June, a journal called Phytotherapy Research published a study that researched Garcinia cambogia to determine how effective it truly is. (In case you are wondering, phytotherapy is the use of plants and plant products for medicinal purposes.) The researchers wanted to see if Garcinia cambogia made a difference in several health values, including weight, body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio, and percentage of fat mass in the body. The study involved two groups of women whose BMI values were greater than 25 (BMI >25 is considered obese). The first group of women was given Garcinia cambogia for 60 days and put on a diet that reduced their calorie intake. The second group of women was given a placebo and put on a diet that reduced their calorie intake in the same way as the first group of women. After 60 days, the researchers compared the health values of the women who had taken the supplement and those who hadn’t. Although the study identified that G. cambogia helped to lower the women’s triglycerides (a cholesterol marker), the weight, BMI, waist-hip ratio, and percentage of fat mass was not significantly different between the two groups of women.1 Although the study provided useful information, it did not account for ways that different groups of people gain and lose weight. Men and women gain weight differently, as do young people and elderly people. Furthermore, the study only accounts for the lifestyle and diet of a particular geographic location. The diet the researchers chose may not be reasonable for women (or men) in other parts of the world.
This study only contributes to a growing collection of studies examining Garcinia cambogia. Several studies have been conducted on the benefits of taking G. cambogia, but they do not always come to the same conclusion. Studies published in the late 90’s found that G. cambogia did not cause significant weight loss.2 However, studies from 2000 and 2004 shows that G. cambogia actually does lead to weight loss.2
Our decision to take or not to take Garcinia cambogia involves several things. First, we have to know that G. camgobia has not been proven save, although no studies have seen any harmful effects3. However, G. cambogia has been on the market before as a part of other weight loss supplements that caused safety concerns. It was one of the key ingredients in several versions of Hydroxycut that were removed from the market because of safety concerns. Furthermore, multiple cases of liver damage have led to concerns that G. cambogia is poisonous to the liver. Yet another case reported that G. cambogia interacts with some prescription medications (like antidepressants) and causes harmful levels of certain compounds in the body. Finally, we must remember that no one has conducted an extensive safety study on G. cambogia to identify the risks that go along with taking it. Without being fully aware how likely we are to be harmed, we cannot compare the risks and benefits and therefore make a fully educated decision.
Second, we have to know if G. cambogia is effective. As we have already discussed, the studies that tested how effective the supplement is do not agree with each other. One possible explanation suggests that some forms of G. cambogia work better because your body can absorb it better than the other forms. When more of the supplement makes it into your body, it can actually have its full effect. The scientists who proposed this reasoning recommend looking for bottles that list G. cambogia in the potassium and calcium salt forms instead of simply one or the other, or a completely different salt altogether. (Please note that the term “salt” here does not refer to standard table salt but to the chemical structure that allows the compound to get into your body. You should look for a product like this one that lists calcium and potassium as the salt forms.) The scientists who evaluated the calcium/potassium form of G. cambogia found positive results, indicating that G. cambogia does lead to significant weight loss.
Finally, our decision to take G. cambogia should include a comparison to standard weight loss methods. Our primary study compared women taking G. cambogia to women not taking it, but both groups of women decreased the number of calories in their diet, and both groups of women lost weight. The standard weight loss methods of diet and exercise should always be our first approach (although they are certainly difficult to accomplish during the holidays). By focusing on eating healthier foods (fewer fatty and fried foods, fewer carbs, and less sugar) in appropriate quantities and spending more time being physically active, you may find that additional weight loss techniques are no longer needed. Supplements like G. cambogia should only become an option once you’ve tried these other weight loss techniques and should be used carefully to meet your specific physical needs.
Because weight loss is often such a pressing concern, we are usually tempted to choose what seems to be the easiest, fastest option. However, due to the concerns presented above, G. cambogia does not seem like the best option. Until further tests examine the safety of the supplement as well as the effectiveness of the particular salt forms, you are probably better off staying away from it.
But what do you think? Would you feel comfortable taking Garcinia cambogia to supplement your weight loss efforts? Would you expect it to be effective?
- Vasques, C.A.R.; Schneider, R.; Klein-Junior, L.C.; Falavigna, A.; Piazza, I.; Rossetto, S. Hypolipemic Effect of Garcinia cambogia in Obese Women. Phytotherapy Research. 2014;28(6):887-891.
- Downs, B.W.; Bagchi, M.; Subbaraju, G.V.; Shara, M.A.; Preuss, H.G.; Bagchi, D. Bioefficacy of a novel calcium-potassium salt of (-)-hydroxycitric acid. Mutat Res 2005;579: 149-162.
- Chuah, L.O.; Yeap, S.K.; Ho, W.Y; Beh, B.K.; Alitheen, N.B. In Vitro and In Vivo Toxicity of Garcinia or Hydroxycitric Acid: A Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;1155(10) 12 pages.