What is it?
The herb Garcinia cambogia, a diminutive purple fruit native to India and southeast Asia, has garnered a lot of attention as a popular natural weight loss aid. The reason is that the rind of the pumpkinlike fruit is rich in a substance called hydroxycitric acid, or HCA, closely related to the citric acid found in grapefruits and oranges.
Animal and test-tube studies indicate that HCA may promote weight loss in two basic ways. First, HCA seems to work in part by blocking the conversion of sugary foods and starches into fats. Put another way, this means HCA is believed to help inhibit fat production. Second,, recent findings indicate that by raising levels of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin, a key regulator of appetite control, HCA also may suppress appetite.
Evidence is mixed, however, on whether Garcinia cambogia truly helps overweight people shed pounds and body fat. In one 1996 study of 60 obese men and women who took the supplement for eight weeks, HCA appeared to help them lose weight, compared with other study participants who took a dummy pill. But in a subsequent 1998 trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which 135 overweight adults took Garcinia cambogia for 12 weeks, the supplement failed to contribute to any measurable weight loss. (Those men and women ate a high-fiber, calorie-restricted diet, and some researchers believe that the fiber may have interfered with absorption of therapeutic HCA.) To add to the confusion, in a 2000 study, the supplement seemed to help women drop weight, although it did not suppress appetite.
Clearly, additional research is warranted. It’s important to remember there is no one “magic pill” for weight loss. In these and other studies, dieters also followed a low-calorie diet to help them lose weight.
When it comes to weight management, Garcinia cambogia is often combined with other herbs and compounds such as St. John’s wort and chromium.
The usual dosage is one pill providing 500 mg of HCA, the active ingredient in Garcinia cambogia, 3 times a day. (A 1,000 mg pill usually contains about 50%, or 500 mg, of HCA.) Take it 30 to 60 minutes before each meal along with plenty of water. Garcinia cambogia is also added to certain snack bars and chewing gums.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with Garcinia cambogia. More studies are needed to determine whether a high-fiber diet or other nutritional factors may alter the effectiveness of the supplement, however.
• The pumpkin-shaped Garcinia cambogia fruit is a traditional food of southeast Asia and has long been used as a seasoning in curries. Supplements containing the active ingredient, HCA, are not known to cause any adverse side effects.
• As with many supplements, Garcinia cambogia has not been well tested in pregnant women. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant or are breast-feeding, check with your doctor before using this supplement.