Garcinia cambogia, also known as Malabar tamarind, is a fruit that is native to Southeast Asia. A compound called hydroxycitric acid (HCA) found in the rind of this fruit is attributed with aiding weight loss.
However, not all research shows a significant impact on weight loss with HCA. Therefore more research is needed. Long term safety and weight loss effects are not clearly known with Garcinia/HCA.
Garcinia cambogia or HCA are popular weight loss supplements by themselves or as an ingredient in weight loss supplements claiming to increase fat burn or curb appetite.
In general, you should consult your physician before taking any supplement.
HCA may be considered safe for most people in recommended doses, but HCA supplements may cause side effects in some people or cause drug interactions.
The safety and purity of supplements is not well regulated, and therefore consuming any supplement may have some risks.
For example, there is some concern Garcinia cambogia supplements may cause harm to the liver in some people.
Certain supplements containing Garcinia as an ingredient have been pulled from the market over concerns that it may be damaging to the liver.
Taking a supplement with Garcinia cambogia or HCA at recommended doses may be considered safe for most people for a short-term period, but it is not well known what the health risks are for taking these supplements long term.
It is important to remember weight loss supplements are not meant to be a magic bullet for weight loss, and they are not a substitute for lifestyle changes for long term weight loss.
A 2013 review (1) on the weight loss effects of Garcinia/HCA suggests these compounds may have effect of curbing appetite.
The exact way HCA can help curb appetite is still being clarified, but a suggested way HCA curbs appetite is because it may increase serotonin levels in the brain.
Serotonin is a hormone that can help regulate mood and can also lower appetite. Therefore, increasing levels of serotonin may help curb appetite.
Mice and rat studies have shown HCA to reduce weight gain after initial weight loss. However, not all research studies have shown a significant association with HCA and lowering appetite.
Increasing fat loss
Some research with mice has shown HCA administration may increase fat oxidation. Short term HCA administration has also been shown to increase fat oxidation during exercise.
Increasing fat oxidation means you are increasing burning fat as a fuel. Therefore, increasing fat oxidation can help promote fat loss which is obviously desired for weight loss.
Some short term studies have shown HCA in humans may help promote fat oxidation.
Researchers measured fat oxidation by measuring urinary concentrations that would be excreted during fat metabolism.
Researchers found fat metabolites were higher in urine from those who were taking HCA (2).
These short term studies suggest HCA may have a positive effect on increasing fat loss. However, an important consideration is that studies showing a positive effect with HCA and fat loss are short term studies not beyond 12 weeks (3).
It should also be noted some studies have not shown HCA to have a positive impact on weight loss.
Lower blood cholesterol levels
According to WebMD (4), some research has shown HCA to lower blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
HCA may also help increase HDL cholesterol which is considered the good cholesterol. If you are taking a cholesterol medication, speak with your doctor before taking a supplement that contains HCA or Garcinia cambogia.
Taking a supplement on top of taking cholesterol medication could cause negative side effects.
Blood glucose control
Besides possibly promoting fat loss and curbing appetite, Garcinia cambogia may help with blood sugar levels.
Some research from mice found garcinia helped lower insulin levels. Therefore, research with garcinia/HCA as a treatment method or possibly prevention for type 2 diabetes risk is ongoing.
If you are at risk for or have type 2 diabetes, speak with your doctor before taking a supplement that contains HCA or garcinia.
If you are taking insulin or medication for blood sugar, it is not recommended to take HCA or garcinia supplement because it could lower blood sugar levels too low.
A 2016 case report article from Annals of Hepatology suggests numerous supplements have been associated with liver injury.
In fact, dietary or herbal supplements are a growing source of liver injury. In 2009, the FDA warned the product called Hydroxycut was a concern for liver damage and may have been linked to one reported death.
Hydroxycut contained a mix of ingredients including Garcinia.
This case report of a 52 year old women concluded the women had extensive liver damage that resulted in a liver transplant. The cause of the liver damage is thought to be from a supplement that contained Garcinia.
Conclusion: Is HCA a supreme weight loss supplement?
Some studies suggest Garcinia/HCA may have promise for a boosting short term weight loss efforts.
However, some of this research is in rodents, and not all studies show a benefit of taking a HCA or Garcinia supplement on weight loss.
Studies that do show a benefit for weight loss are short term studies, therefore long term health effects of HCA/ garcinia are not known.
There is research ongoing for the effect these supplements may have on aiding blood sugar regulation, but more research is needed.
You should not take HCA or garcinia to help regulate blood sugar before talking to your doctor. Taking these supplements while taking medication for blood sugar may lower blood sugar levels dangerously low.
Some supplements that contain garcinia as an ingredient have been shown to cause liver damage. Liver injury from “natural” or seemingly healthy supplements is a concern.
Check with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you have any health conditions or on any medications.