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Does Garcinia Cambogia Help with Weight Loss?

What's the evidence to support the claims behind this popular weight loss supplement?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #249

Losing weight isn't easy. Keeping it off can be just as challenging. So, when we hear about a pill that supposedly subdues your appetite or revs up your fat-burning metabolism, we want so badly to believe that the claims are true! My friend Carly, for example, is a fit and youthful-looking 62. She's worked hard over the years to get and stay slim and for the last couple of years has been taking garcinia cambogia. She's convinced that the supplement takes the edge off her appetite and keeps her on track. Could she be onto something or has she simply fallen prey to good marketing or wishful thinking? 

See also: How to Lose Weight Without Dieting;

What's in Garcinia Cambogia?

The fact that HCA has actually been the subect of scientific research puts it significantly ahead of many weight loss supplements.

Garcinia cambogia is a fruit native to Asia and India. The rind, which has a sour flavor similar to tamarind, is traditionally used in curries and other condiments. The fruit also contains a compound called Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA), which has been studied as a potential weight loss agent.  The fact that HCA has actually been the subect of scientific research puts it significantly ahead of many weight loss supplements. But what did the research reveal? 

Research on Garcinia Cambogia for Weight Loss

Early research on garcinia and HCA was actually sort of promising. High doses appeared to suppress the accumulation of fat in lab rats and a couple different plausible mechanisms were identified. It was enough to build a believable story--and when it comes to weight loss supplements, that's really all you need to be off and running.

Unfortunately, subsequent research on humans was significantly less encouraging.  In one study, researchers put 135 overweight people on a high-fiber,  low-calorie diet for 12 weeks. Half of them took garcinia cambogia and half took a placebo.  Everybody in the study lost a significant amount of weight, thanks to the low-calorie diet. But there was no difference between the two groups. That study was published in JAMA in 1998.

Over the next decade or so, a couple dozen additional studies were done. Many of them were small. Some of them weren't particularly well designed. And the results varied. Some studies found positive effects, which helped bolster its reputation and spur supplement sales.  Other studies, however, failed to find any benefit from taking garcinia. So, what should we believe?

When you have a whole bunch of studies on the same subject, researchers will often attempt to pool the data from all the studies and re-crunch the numbers.  This is called a meta-analysis and the results are generally considered to be more reliable than the individual studies. And in 2011, researchers conducted meta-analysis of all the published studies on HCA as a weight loss aid for humans...

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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