Let’s talk about Garcinia cambogia.
I could probably talk about it for days, because I’ve been sent more requests to write SEO content about this recent-ish addition to Dr. Oz’s Line of Poorly Researched Placebo Horseshit than I can count. I have spent more time researching G. cambogia than, in all likelihood, half the people who hawk it for a living. It would also appear that about 350% of them think that the comment section of a blog tangentially related to herbalism is the best place to get their advertising on.
Now, I’m a huge fan of alternative and complementary therapies. I am hell of down with herbs. There are entirely too many antimicrobial-resistant pathogens out there, and I have successfully treated myself for one or two using over-the-counter stuff that I researched the absolute crap out of. (Uva ursi, I will never not be indebted to you.) I’ve even managed to mitigate some of my IIH symptoms that way.
What I will not brook is misinformation. So, here goes.
What is Garcinia cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia is the name of a tropical fruit native to southeast Asia and India. It is most often marketed as Garcinia cambogia extract, as opposed to the whole fruit. This extract is supposed to be high in hydroxycitric acid, which is the compound most heavily implicated in inhibiting the production of body fat in studies involving G. cambogia.
Tl;dr version? It’s a plant that’s supposedly one of the latest and greatest all-natural weight loss aids.
How does it work?
Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Hydroxycitric acid inhibits a specific enzyme (ATP-dependent citrate lyase). Because this enzyme catalyzes part of the reaction responsible for creating one of the key components of fatty acids (acetyl-CoA). This reaction is believed to be responsible for the weight loss observed in some G. cambogia studies.
Yeah, pretty much. See, the problem is that any studies involving absolutely anything have to be able to be replicated– that’s part of what makes them difficult to parse for the average reader. Published studies generally aren’t written for a lay audience, they’re written so that other scientists can look at the nuances of their methods, determine if their methodology is sound, and, if they so choose, replicate exactly what the original scientists did. Unfortunately, here’s where G. cambogia came up lacking: the studies involving it had mixed results and methods that were often unable to support the conclusion that G. cambogia extract was effective for fat loss. In fact, the two studies with the best methodology didn’t find any significant difference in weight loss between Garcinia cambogia and a placebo. One study even found that, while the subjects lost weight, their body compositions stayed roughly the same!
Does this mean it doesn’t work? Not necessarily. It just means we still don’t know, but an “I don’t know” is an awfully shaky foundation for a weight loss aid empire. There will always be customers that lost weight on G. cambogia supplements, but a fair number of them can probably attribute their results to either following the diet and exercise guidelines that come packaged with many of these products, or the caffeine and other additives that frequently make their way into them.
How safe is it?
While G. cambogia studies don’t demonstrate any significant toxicity at the dosages typically used in weight loss aids, supplements have a dubious record at best. They aren’t regulated the same way medications are, so quality control measures can be a little… janky. One preparation had to be pulled after it was linked to cases of liver damage. Analyses of different G. cambogia extract supplements found that some contained much less GCE than the label claimed.
Considering the huge market for GCE that spawned roughly seven nanoseconds after Dr. Oz touted it as the new hotness in weight loss, the idea that a bunch of unscrupulous companies practically tripped over themselves to pack it into capsules, ship it out, and sit back to count their money is, perhaps, unsurprising.
Is G. cambogia just bunk, then?
Not at all! There are actually a couple promising things to come out of the studies involving Garcinia species. While its effects on body fat loss seem to be overstated, it looks like hydroxycitric acid may shape up to be a treatment for high cholesterol and triglycerides. One study found that a Garcinia atroviridis extract reduced fat deposition in the aorta of guinea pigs. This is great for people whose blood lipids place them at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Now if all of the marketers could take a break and reconvene the next time Dr. Oz pulls something out of his metaphorical ass, that’d be great.