Weight loss is a major goal for many, and it’s easy to see why. For millions of overweight and obese people, losing weight can lower blood pressure, prevent chronic disease and cancer, reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, and improve health in many other ways (1). That’s all in addition to the less tangible benefits like increased energy and confidence.
But with junk food always within reach, it can hard to stick with a healthy diet. After going through the cycle of weight loss and gain repeatedly, it becomes tempting to look for short-cuts such as supplements for weight loss. There are several formulations of supplements marketed for weight loss, but Garcinia cambogia weight loss pills are an especially popular choice.
These supplements are marketed with terms like “fat-burning” and “metabolism-boosting”. But what exactly is in these pills, and are they are safe and effective for losing weight? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
What is Garcinia cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia, also known as the Malabar tamarind, is a tropical plant native to South Asia. Its fruit is used as an herbal weight loss supplement which has exploded in popularity since being promoted by Dr. Oz on his TV show in 2013. The active ingredient in Garcinia cambogia is hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is a derivative of citric acid, the acid that gives citrus fruits their sour flavor. It has been suggested that HCA causes weight loss by inhibiting an enzyme involved in lipogenesis (fat production). HCA also might increase the availability of serotonin in the brain, leading to appetite suppression, and might inhibit carbohydrate metabolism (1).
Does it really work?
HCA has been effective for weight loss in animal studies, but studies of humans have shown mixed results (2). In 2010, a meta-analysis of human studies on HCA from Garcinia cambogia was published. Twelve randomized clinical trials including a total of 706 participants were reviewed. HCA was found to cause slightly more weight loss than a placebo, but the difference was only about two pounds, which is of borderline statistical significance. Many of the studies had methodological problems, and the results of the meta-analysis seemed to be skewed in favor of HCA due to three studies with small sample sizes (1). As a result, no solid conclusions could be drawn from the meta-analysis.
Overall, Garcinia cambogia as a weight loss supplement is not supported by convincing evidence. And if you need any more reasons to avoid buying the supplement, it has caused adverse side effects in some people. Six case studies have reported hepatoxicity (abnormal liver function caused by chemicals) after taking Hydroxycut, a weight loss supplement containing Garcinia cambogia as a main ingredient. Patients reported symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever while taking the supplement. Laboratory results indicating liver function were abnormal in all the patients, but returned to normal after they stopped taking Hydroxycut (3).
Considering that about 15% of the U.S. population takes a weight loss supplement (3) and Garcinia cambogia is one of the most popular supplements, there may be many more unreported cases of hepatoxicity related to the supplement. Since the FDA cannot take action against a supplement without a large amount of evidence that it is unsafe, Garcinia cambogia remains on the market.
Garcinia cambogia is not worth the risk.
Not only is Garcinia cambogia unsafe in itself, but these weight loss pills may be tainted with other dangerous substances. In 2017, the FDA issued a statement warning that Garcinia cambogia supplements from the company Fruta Planta Life contained sibutramine, a controlled substance that has been removed from the market for safety reasons (5). Unfortunately, weight loss supplements tainted with unlabeled and unsafe ingredients are not uncommon.
An Amazon search for Garcinia cambogia reveals over 2,000 results. Among the top results, I couldn’t find any that have reliable certifications verifying their quality and purity. And since companies are not required to prove the safety of their products before selling them, there is no guarantee that these supplements won’t cause adverse side effects or aren’t tainted with unsafe chemicals.
Try a vegan diet instead.
Hopefully, the evidence I have provided here can save you from wasting your money on ineffective and potentially dangerous Garcinia cambogia weight loss pills. It can be very tempting to look for a short-cut to weight loss, and all the flashy advertising for weight loss supplements can easily convince you that they are worth a try.
Garcinia cambogia weight loss pills have a special appeal because they are herbal supplements from a tropical plant. But it’s important to realize that a supplement being “natural” doesn’t make it safe or effective. Compounds occurring naturally in plants can be just as dangerous as chemicals synthesized in a lab. And important health decisions should be based on evidence from clinical trials, not celebrity endorsements.
Garcinia cambogia weight loss pills are not worth the risk, but don’t give up yet. You can achieve your weight loss goals without feeling deprived or wasting your money on diet pills. How is this possible? By eating a plant-based diet that gives you variety and satisfaction while providing all the nutrients that your body needs. Going plant-based is a permanent lifestyle change, not just another diet, so it will help you to maintain your weight and health over the long term.
This can be a big lifestyle change, but change is necessary in order to truly improve our lives. If you aren’t sure how to get started, this online, interactive guide will help you through the transition. With some planning and proper supplementation, you can start enjoying the real, permanent weight loss solution you have been searching for.
1. Pictures: What a 5% Weight Loss Can Do for Your Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-five-percent-weight-loss
2. Onakpoya, I. et al. (2010). The Use of Garcinia Extract (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Weightloss Supplement. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 1-9. doi:10.1155/2011/509038
3. Heymsfield, Steven et al. “Garcinia Cambogia (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Potential Antiobesity Agent: a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 7, no. 4, 1999, pp. 1596–1600., doi:10.1016/s0965-2299(99)80023-5.
4. Lobb, A. (2009). Hepatoxicity associated with weight-loss supplements: A case for better post-marketing surveillance. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 15(14), 1786. doi:10.3748/wjg.15.1786
5. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Medication Health Fraud – Public Notification: Fruta Planta Life (Garcinia Cambogia Premium) contains hidden drug ingredient. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/MedicationHealthFraud/ucm585944.htm