Garcinia Cambogia: Weight Loss Fact or Fiction?

Written by Rena Goldman | Published on August 4, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 4, 2014

Is there such a thing as a weight loss miracle drug?

What Is Garcinia Cambogia?

When you add rising obesity rates to the busy life of the average American, it’s no wonder people are looking for an easy answer to weight loss. Today’s market is full of “miracle drugs” and supplements that claim to help you drop pounds fast. The famous Dr. Mehmet Oz has even highlighted a few on his TV show. But are products such as garcinia cambogia really safe for your health?

Garcinia cambogia comes from a citrus fruit that grows in Southeast Asia. The fruit rind extract – also known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA) – has historically been used for cooking, but it was thought to have some health benefits as well. Its documented medical uses include weight loss and lowering cholesterol.

You can buy garcinia cambogia online or at most health and supplement stores. You can get it in pill form or as a powder. Sometimes, it’s also included as an ingredient in snack bars. Typical doses are between 250 to 1000 mg each day.

What Does It Supposedly Do?

HCA became widely popular as a weight-loss supplement when Dr. Oz introduced it on his show. The organic acid is said to make you feel full, reduce your appetite, and have an effect on metabolism. It may also help to improve high cholesterol.

However, scientific research on its effectiveness is still unclear. An older study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that garcinia cambogia was not much more effective for weight loss when compared to the placebo (fake pills). A more recent review of hydroxycitric acid studies found that while some research shows possible weight loss benefits, there isn’t enough evidence to show it’s safe and effective for long-term use.

Dr. Oz has also come under fire for promoting ‘miracle’ weight loss products on his show. Most recently, the doctor was questioned by senators on Capitol Hill. Reported side effects for garcinia cambogia are mild. They include dizziness, dry mouth, upset stomach, and diarrhea. However, the supplement may react with certain medications. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you if it’s safe to use HCA with your medication.

What Should I Keep In Mind?

When you consider supplements, it’s important to know that the makers of dietary supplements aren’t required to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they sell their products. The FDA only regulates ingredients and product labels, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates language used to advertise these products. However, the organizations might not take action until after a supplement has hit the market.

Food and dietary supplement claims are governed by the FDA and must be based on scientific evidence. Companies are allowed to say a product reduces the risk of health problems, but they can’t state that the product is a cure. A company can claim that a product helps support normal body functions as long as the label has a disclaimer saying that the FDA has not evaluated the statements.

The FDA recommends using caution with products that claim to be quick fixes, promise fast weight loss, and use the term natural. “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe. There are many poisonous plants that are natural, but can cause you serious harm. And according to the FDA, any product – natural or man-made – that’s strong enough to work like a drug is capable of producing side effects. 

Before you add a dietary supplement to your weight-loss plan, discuss it with your doctor. They can tell you if the product looks like a fraud or may be worth a try.

What Else Could I Do to Lose Weight?

Remember, diet and exercise are the only tried and true methods for losing weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who limit weight loss to just one or two pounds per week are more likely to keep the weight off.

In order to lose you must take in fewer calories than you burn. For weight loss, the CDC recommends that you reduce your calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 per day and get 60 to 90 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. 

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Chuah, L. O., Yeap, S. K., Ho, W. Y., Beh, B. K., & Alitheen, N. B. (2012). In Vitro and In Vivo Toxicity of Garcinia or Hydroxycitric Acid: A Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 197920, 1-12.

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Garcinia (hydroxycitric acid) Uses, Benefits & Dosage (n.d.).  Drugs.com Herbal Database. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.drugs.com/npp/garcinia-hydroxycitric-acid.html   

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Kurtzweil, Paula. (February 25, 2010). How to Spot Health Fraud. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved July 25, 2014, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/BioterrorismandDrugPreparedness/ucm137284.htm

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Vasques, C., Schneider, R., Klein-Júnior, L., Falavigna, A., & Piazza, I. et al. (2014). Hypolipemic effect of Garcinia cambogia in obese women. Phytother Res., 28(6), 887-91.

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