I'm always skeptical when it comes to weight loss pills. Even supplements sales over-hype and under-deliver when it comes to results. So when Dr. Oz began advocating the use of Garcinia cambogia, I was prepared for a lot of hype and no results.
Don't get me wrong. Garcinia cambogia is a fruit from India, Southeast Asia, and Africa that has plenty of healthful nutrients. The question isn't whether this fruit is good for you — it is. The question is whether it can help you lose weight.
Most of the marketing will naturally say that it will help you lose weight when it's part of a healthful diet and regular exercise program. But if you're eating a great diet and getting plenty of exercise, who needs a weight loss pill? As skeptical as I was, I still wanted to know more.
You can find Garcinia cambogia (which you may have heard by the names Malabar tamarind, gambooge, and brindleberry) in an extract form in most health food stores. Or you might find it under the name HCA, which is short for Hydroxycitric acid. Many claim HCA has weight loss abilities. They say it can suppress your appetite. But they say it also can keep your body from storing carbohydrates as fat. This allows your body to burn them off and you don't add weight.
Julie Chen MD, who is an integrative medicine doctor, says this extract can help you lose about four pounds a month. That's not a lot of weight, but it's better than nothing. He says that taking it with a good diet and exercise can triple that amount. Again, a good low-calorie, low-carb diet (without any exercise) can take off about four pounds per week, so I'm still not impressed.
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Most of the studies I read on this extract gave mixed results. Most of the studies that said it works were quite small. And they weren't very well done. The biggest one I found was in the Journal of the American Medical Association
– 16 years ago. In the JAMA
study, researchers gave 3,000 mg (a high dose) of Garcinia cambogia extract every day to 42 patients. Again, not a huge study, but better than most. And the researchers didn't find any significant weight loss. What's amazing is that Dr. Oz himself admitted in a congressional hearing last week that there isn't a lot of evidence that this extract will help the average person lose weight.
Even so, there could be one group of people where Garcinia cambogia could be effective. That's for emotional eaters. Some studies suggest the extract is particularly effective for emotional eaters because it increases serotonin. This feel-good hormone improves sleep and mood. So it might help curb the emotional eating urges so many people struggle through every day.
So if you're an emotional eater, Garcinia cambogia might be worth trying. The extract is safe for short-term usage (we don't know about long-term use yet), so use it to get on top of your emotional cravings and then wean yourself off of it. The typical dosage of HCA is 250 to 1,000 mg, three times daily. There have been some problems with HCA extracts in the past. One that was recalled in 2009 caused liver problems, seizures, and heart problems (including one death). This has not been a problem with other brands. But still, don't plan to use it for more than a few weeks. And if you notice any issues, stop taking it immediately.
If you're not an emotional eater, stick with a good diet and exercise as the best way to lose weight. You won't have to worry about the side effects. The bottles also say not to take it if you have diabetes, Alzheimer's, dementia or if you're pregnant or a lactating woman. I also think men in general should avoid this supplement, as high doses were highly toxic to the reproductive organs of rats in one study. Seems to me like there are plenty of reasons to avoid yet another weight loss pill. Feel free to eat the fruit, if you can find it. But the extract isn't worth the hype.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.