Garcinia cambogia is one of the most popular natural supplements used for weight management today. With celebrity endorsements and miracle weight loss stories in the media, the various products containing the fruit are flying off the shelves.
Although some positive effects of the supplement that have been documented in animal and some human trials, these have also shown some adverse side effects in terms of toxicity and liver damage.
In order for us to make an objective verdict on Garcinia cambogia, we need to look at and summarise the various research and findings available. There is a considerable amount of research published in journals and papers regarding the health effects of supplementation with Garcinia cambogia extract or HCA.
When looking at human trials, the majority of studies examine the effect of the fruit on obesity and weight management.
Most of these studies are contradictory to popularly advertised claims that Garcinia is a ‘miracle weight-loss wonder supplement’ as very few findings indicate that Garcinia may result in weight loss in humans and others indicate no changes seen in weight27. The majority of the studies conducted to date have been relatively small, making it impossible to draw conclusive results for the broader population.
With regard to the anti-obesity effects of Garcinia, the large number of studies conducted have involved rodents or test tubes, making them pre-clinical. These studies suggest that there are promising health benefits to using Garcinia cambogia extract, however, very few of these claims have been examined in clinical studies. The underlying premises pertaining to these findings are therefore only hypothetical, also known as the ‘generation of hypotheses’. These beliefs based on test-tube and animal studies are vital to future studies as pre-clinical claims should lead to the design and implementation of clinical studies to examine these hypotheses in human trials.
In terms of the safety of Garcinia cambogia, the general findings of clinical trials performed in humans, which are mostly conducted over short periods of time, do not suggest any obvious signs of toxicity. Bear in mind however, that there are a few reported cases that Garcinia cambogia leads to liver failure. These reports which have surfaced over the years are not conclusive in specifically blaming Garcinia or HCA for the health issues as other agents may have been involved in the development of hepatic failure and other health issues. Still, caution is advised, especially in those with existing liver conditions.
While the evidence suggests that the claims of ‘miracle’ and spectacular health benefits of Garcinia cambogia extract are largely unfounded, there may still be a role for the fruit to play in weight loss. Although larger and more accurately designed human trials are necessary to substantiate preliminary claims with scientific evidence.
Another issue that arises is that several diet supplements containing Garcinia or HCA also include a combination of various active ingredients, as opposed to one single agent. This makes it difficult for the effectiveness of Garcinia as a single agent to be evaluated and once again, this would require larger scale trials to do so.
It is also vital that regulation and monitoring of the development and distribution of health supplements be improved. This would require the systemic collection of data to allow for the characterisation of the various side effects of Garcinia cambogia to be accurately profiled in order to determine any dangers associated with toxicity.
Before taking any natural health supplement, it is advised that you speak to your professional healthcare provider. Until further safety measures, tests and larger controlled trials are conducted on the effects of Garcinia cambogia in humans, its would be wise to seek the advice, guidance and treatment of a dietician or general practitioner when trying to lose weight or treat and ailment or condition.
A number of people may find natural products to have fewer side effects in comparison to pharmaceutical prescriptions, however, these drugs are regulated, approved for distribution and well-researched.
There is no quick fix for losing weight. Diet, exercise and sleep are vital factors in achieving sustainable weight management.
27. NCBI. 2012. Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of hydroxycitric acid or Garcinia cambogia extracts in humans. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22530711 [Accessed 21.11.2017]