[Review] Evaluating Garcinia Cambogia (HCA) — Is Garcinia Cambogia Really Effective For Weight Loss?
“It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.” — Dr. Oz
My eyes are rolling uncontrollably. Out of their sockets.
If you’ve surfed the internet over the past year for any shade of health, fitness, or weight-loss info, you’ve undoubtedly been bombarded with ads, shady testimonials, and other marketing gobbledygook about a “miraculous,” unpronounceable new weight-loss supplement — garcinia cambogia.
Prepare to be flabbergasted. According to US-based Google search volume, garcinia cambogia hit 1.5 MILLION search queries in January 2014; with a 12 month average of 823K searches/month. To put that into context, that’s 13.6x more popular than fish oil and 25x more popular than protein powder. Garcinia cambogia was also searched for more frequently than “Obama” or “Olympics” (olympics hit 301K in January 2014). Priorities.
Similar to the trajectory of raspberry ketones, African mango, and acai before it, garcinia cambogia is the latest “revolutionary” fat burner to be popularized by the Dr. Oz engine. Look at the trends — it was nothing prior to it’s debut on the show in November 2012. Now it’s a behemoth, and the rest is history. So the fat burner market goes.
We’re cutting through the
bullshit hype and getting to the bottom of the garcinia cambogia trend. Is it legit? Can it help you lose weight? Will it make you spontaneously combust? We investigate.
What The Hell is Garcinia Cambogia?
Garcinia cambogia is a small green fruit — more commonly known as the Malabar tamarind — that’s native to Southeast Asia and commonly used in curries, chutneys, and other ethnic foods. It looks more-or-less like a radioactive pumpkin. GC’s eruption in popularly, and any potential impact on weight loss, is directly tied to high concentrations of hydroxycitric acid, or HCA for short.
HCA naturally makes up about 30% of the dried garcinia cambogia rind, which is ultimately extracted from the fruit, stuffed into capsules, bottled up for mass consumption, and plastered with a colorful fat burner label. Theoretically, higher HCA concentrations — meaning more of the active ingredient — should indicate a more potent product.
And there’s one of the major issues. If HCA doesn’t actually impact weight loss to begin with, well, then it’s purely a mechanism to convey quality and charge higher prices. As the meme world would say: IT’S A TRAP!
What Does Garcinia Cambogia Do, And is it Actually Effective?
Garcinia cambogia — and again, HCA — is specifically touted for its ability to suppress appetite and decrease fat gain; both of which are due to separate effects in the body.
- Appetite: In mice, HCA has been shown to inhibit serotonin uptake, which increases its availability in the brain. Serotonin (aka 5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate eating, amongst a bucket of other functions. Elevated levels can help decrease appetite and control hunger; plus they boost mood, which helps prevent emotionally binging on Ben & Jerry’s.
- Fat gain: Hang in there for a second. HCA is thought to block the formation of ATP citrate lyase — an enzyme that the body uses to build fat from non-fat sources — specifically carbs. By blocking ATP CL, HCA may reduce the creation and storage of fatty acids that typically lead to weight gain.
It sounds like the ultimate 1-2 punch to hit fat in the mouth and accelerate weight loss. But when you dig into available research supporting its perks — and there isn’t much — garcinia cambogia’s lofty claims start to wilt.
One 12-week study (1998) of 135 overweight men and women found that 1500mg/day of HCA produced no significant differences in weight loss OR fat mass loss over the placebo group. A second 12-week study of 86 overweight subjects was published in 2011. The results? No weight loss. 2g/day of garcinia cambogia extract had no impact on weight loss or body fat %. A third, albeit smaller, 2-week study in 2001 again found zero additional impact on appetite or weight loss.
As far as appetite control goes, HCA hasn’t proven to do much of anything in humans. A 2000 study found that 12 weeks of HCA supplementation (1/2mg/day) had no impact on appetite. That said, the HCA group actually lost an average of 1.3kg more than the placebo group; an extra 2.8 lbs over the course of 3 months (8.2 lbs vs. 5.3 lbs). It’s not robust, but it’s something to support weight loss claims.
On top of shaky science, the garcinia cambogia Jenga tower further crumbles on the backs of LQ, deceptive products. ConsumerLab, an independent testing agency, tested 11 garcinia cambogia supplements and found that 6 products were completely mislabeled (55%); containing only 16-81% of the advertised HCA content. The most egregious offenders: Healthy Clip Pure Garcinia Rapid and Absolute Garcinia Cambogia, which packed only 16.2% and 21.8% of their labeled HCA levels, respectively.
The talk is eloquent and tantalizing, but in almost all cases, garcinia cambogia hasn’t been proven to be effective beyond modest weight loss.
Our Bottom Line Recommendation
Don’t buy it.
Between the lack of supporting research, embarrassing labeling, and consistently horrendous product quality, we don’t recommend investing in garcinia cambogia. In most cases, it’s borderline extortion. If you’re looking for a slight boost in fat burn, both green tea extract and caffeine are legitimate options with more science to back their effectiveness (plus, they conveniently exist in tea and coffee). Again, GTE and caffeine slightly enhance the fat burning ability of exercise. Key qualifier — exercise is required.
That said, if you’re entranced by the potential and want to give garcinia cambogia (HCA) a shot, we won’t stop you. Inexpensive versions exist and it’s proven to be safe up until 2,800mg/day; just make sure to stay away from disreputable companies that charge exorbitant prices. Any garcinia cambogia product should always contain >60% HCA, and shouldn’t run more than $25/bottle.
Our pick (if we had to pick one): Puritan’s Pride Super Citrimax Garcinia Cambogia. It passed all ConsumerLab testing for accurate HCA levels and heavy metal content, and provides HCA at the cheapest price per gram. $25.
PLEASE REMEMBER — NO supplement can replace a consistently clean diet, proper nutrition, and sustainable exercise. There’s no “magic pill,” miracle cure, or quick fix. Stop looking for it.
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto.
I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP
, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid
, and all-around fitness junkie.
I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine
When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses
and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
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