Garcinia cambogia (G. cambogia) is a small fruit originating in Southeast Asia that has been used in that region for cooking and medical treatments for centuries. In recent years it’s been sold in the U.S. as a weight loss supplement, either as garcinia cambogia extract or hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is the substance considered to be its active ingredient.
The buzz around these supplements got started when some studies found that HCA limits the amount of fat the body produces. It’s also been suggested that HCA suppresses appetite and food intake.
Unfortunately the research doesn’t conclusively support evidence that these supplements do what is claimed. Most, but not all, of the 15-odd studies conducted found that people taking it in either form lost more weight than those who took a placebo. (In some of the studies the subjects didn’t change their diets; in others, they cut calories and exercised.)
But -- and it’s a big but -- most available research doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Some studies didn’t include enough people and the trials didn’t last long enough to tell whether or not the supplements were effective. In others, the supplements were taken along with other weight loss ingredients, making it impossible to know which caused pounds to drop. The form of HCA taken wasn’t always specified.
In two recent reviews of the research -- one from Rovira I Virgili University in Spain in 2012, the other from Australia’s Victoria University in 2013 -- the reviewers said that the results weren’t conclusive: While they couldn’t state that the supplements don’t work, there’s not enough proof that they do.
If you decide to give garcinia cambogia or HCA a try, is it safe? Again, not clear. Most studies didn’t report serious side effects. A few cases of leg cramps, nausea, diarrhea, gas and menstrual disorders were reported, but nothing serious enough to remove subjects from the study.
The bottom line: Neither garcinia cambogia nor HCA is the proven magic pill that melts away fat. Until someone discovers it, eating a nutritious, portion-controlled diet and regular exercise is still the most effective way in which to drop unwanted pounds and keep them off.