- Garcinia cambogia is a small fruit that is commonly sold as a weight loss supplement.
- Despite its popularity the science is not promising and suggests it won’t help you lose weight.
- It is likely that it’s only sold because it is well marketed and cheap to produce.
You know, I don’t like conspiracy theorists.
It just seems that so often in life there are things that seem illogical or unfair at first glance but upon further investigation are totally logical. Why envision a grand scheme of conspiracy when you can easily explain things?
But it’s frustrating when you come across something that you can’t explain yet you really don’t want to throw conspiracy theorists a bone.
Like, why is the most popular fat burner in existence one that has few studies on it, and the ones that do exist imply that it doesn’t work?
Why is Garcinia cambogia in the position that it is?
Well, I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to do my best to show you why in this article. By the end, you’ll know what garcinia cambogia is, why people everywhere are convinced it will help them lose weight, whether or not it really works, and more.
Let’s start with the basis–what the heck is this thing?
- What Is Garcinia Cambogia?
- Why Do People Supplement with Garcinia Cambogia?
- How Does Garcinia Cambogia Work?
- Will Garcinia Cambogia Really Help You Lose Weight?
- If Garcinia Cambogia Doesn’t Work, Why Is it So Popular?
- So, Is Garcinia Cambogia Useless?
- Does Garcinia Cambogia Have Any Side Effects?
- The Bottom Line on Garcinia Cambogia
Table of Contents
Garcinia cambogia is a small fruit with a large reputation. It has traditionally been consumed in its fruit form as a nice little post-meal snack to help the food go down and limit cravings after a meal, which led to its usage as a dietary supplement.
However, when putting fruits into pills there is one vital component that is lost; the taste. Is garcinia used after meals due to some special component which is captured in the pills or, are the benefits of this tart little fruit lost during encapsulation?
In other words, does this fruit help people lose weight because it cleanses their palate, keeping them from going back for seconds, or because there’s some innate compound in garcinia cambogia that causes fat loss?
Before that question was even answered, it was marketed. Pretty screwed priorities to be fair, but hindsight is 20/20.
For many decades now, garcinia cambogia has been sold as a dietary supplement that claims to both reduce body fat as well as limit appetite; the claims associated with it are drastic and claimed to be science based.
It’s true, they are somewhat science based actually. It’s just that marketing loses two very important things; nuance and context.
I can prove to you that garcinia cambogia works and, with the context known, I’ll have you exclaiming, “rats!”
The main reason people supplement with garcinia cambogia is to lose weight.
Most people who take it believe it will directly burn body fat or help them eat less by reducing their appetite.
Studies on this topic either look at the fruit, garcinia cambogia, or a certain component within the fruit known as (-)-hydroxycitric acid (henceforth just HCA). Most dietary supplements claim that ‘good’ garcinia supplements need 60% HCA by weight.
Studies on animals (rats and mice) tend to all show the same effects. HCA by itself or Garcinia cambogia with a large HCA content is able to reduce body weight pretty reliably. It reduces food intake and inhibits fat creation.
Researchers have also confirmed how HCA prevents fat creation.
There is a process known as de novo lipogenesis (creation of fat from nonfat sources such as carbohydrate) where a vital enzyme, ATP citrate lysase, is blocked by HCA thereby preventing the process from continuing.
The potency of the effects are incredible as well, as those studies just linked suggest that garcinia cambogia intake stopped the majority of weight gain in rats prone to diet-induced obesity.
Wow, with such potency of course it would then get tested in humans, right? Could it prevent us from gaining weight?
Simple way to answer that–just give it to humans and see what happens!
Will this supplement help you to lose weight? Let’s look at the studies available that were conducted on humans and see how they went! They went…
…less than stellar…
One failure to show any effects, another failure, and one study where there was no effect on appetite and the effect on weight loss was present but all over the map, with the placebo group losing 2.4+/-2.9 kg while the garcinia group lost 3.7 +/- 3.1 kg after 12 weeks.
The +/- sign can be read as ‘give or take’, showing variance, meaning that some people taking garcinia cambogia lost as little as 0.6 kg and some in the placebo group lost upwards of 5.3 kg.
Wait, if it reliably and potently prevents obesity in mice and rats then why isn’t it working for us?
Simple answer, we’re humans.
When rats consume food they quite readily gain body fat, regardless of whether it’s carbs or fats, so the process of creating said fat is pretty important; when it is inhibited then the effects can be drastic.
When humans eat food, however, we tend to store fat as fat and store glucose as glucose. We can still create fat from nonfat sources of course but the process is much more limited than in rats. It is more of an emergency button than the norm.
We use rats and mice as research models because they are not only cheap but they are pretty similar to humans at the end of the day, but ‘pretty similar’ means that we do still have our metabolic differences. This is a major one.
However, this isn’t to say that garcinia and HCA are outright ineffective in humans. One study showed benefits to the lipid profile of obese women and another time HCA slightly increased glycogen resynthesis after exercise. Additionally, even if the range of weight loss in the previously mentioned study was wider than the side of a barn it did suggest some weight loss.
These effects, however, are pretty much in line with any other fruit. If there are things in it that can be absorbed then they can affect the body in some minor ways and that’s exactly what the benefits of garcinia cambogia seem to be, minor.
One would think that future studies would then double down and refocus their efforts on trying to truly figure out whether or not, and to what magnitude, garcinia cambogia works but instead we just get trial after trial after trial after bloody trial of garcinia where it is confounded with other stuff.
This is important because we want to know how garcinia works. Not garcinia and product X, just garcinia.
If somebody makes a trial based on garcinia paired with a dietary fiber that shows benefit all we can say is, “Seems garcinia and the fiber show benefit together”; we cannot backtrack and use this as evidence for garcinia working by itself, though.
To use an analogy; if nutmeg and eggnog taste good together you can’t immediately make the conclusion a face full of nutmeg is going to taste just as great.
Ultimately, there is a known species difference between humans and rodents when it comes to garcinia and HCA, and the evidence on HCA is quite unconvincing and oddly scarce given the popularity of this fruit.
So, the bottom line is that garcinia cambogia can help mice and rats lose weight, but it doesn’t seem to work well (if at all) for people.
Please give me a moment, I’m going to unlock my inner pessimist for this section. I’d normally try to tackle this part with a bit of hope in humanity but that part of me is currently crying in the corner.
Tears are dried–LET’S DO THIS.
Right, so there are two major issues that keep garcinia cambogia popular:
Firstly, it is incredibly cheap to produce.
I’ve helped to formulate the supplements at Legion, so I know how pricing works behind the scenes and, even financially, not all supplements are created equal.
Conversely, while I adore the molecule pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) not only for it’s tongue twister potential but also potential wide-spread benefits to the body, it’s just bloody expensive to add to a supplement. We’d put it in Triumph if it wouldn’t increase the cost to the consumer by almost $15 a bottle.
If we sold both of those supplements then we would make much more money off of grape seed extract than we would from PQQ simply because more money goes into our pockets instead of the person getting the powder for us.
Garcinia cambogia is similar to grape seed extract here. Relative to other dietary supplements it is very cheap to put garcinia in a pill. Such a high profit margin per product sold is the first step in getting a cash cow product.
Secondly, people KEEP BUYING IT.
Garcinia has been on the market for so long, debated so heavily, and with so many contrasting opinions that people have become pretty desensitized to it. It’s almost like it was grandfathered past the controversy we see with other up-and-coming ‘fat loss’ supplements.
Hoodia came and went, raspberry ketones came and went, and green coffee extract came and went. A new ‘flavor of the year’ supplement arises every New Years that later fades into obscurity, but garcinia seems to have staying power in people’s minds.
It’s probably related to how a scientist looks at this study, sees 3.7 +/- 3.1 kg weight loss over 12 weeks, and thinks to himself, “Wow, that’s a huge variance, we should get another study to try and make it more reliable.”
A consumer, however, gets all sparkly eyed at the prospect of being ‘that one subject’ who happened to lose 6.8 kg. I mean, it’s cheap so what’s the worst that can happen if you just try it out?
Frankly, I can’t blame them, if something has happened at least once to such a magnitude it does become interesting.
Ultimately though, it just happened once and if you put your faith into single studies rather than the body of evidence you can get burned; fucoxanthin is on record for causing up to 7.9 kg of weight loss over 16 weeks and HMB free acid is on record for causing users to gain more than 10 kg of lean mass in as little as 12 weeks.
When stuff like this happens the best thing to do is to replicate, analyze, and get more studies to dig at the truth.
The worst thing to do is then heavily market the compound by clinging onto the numbers like a baby koala covered in velcro, pumping out ad after ad just so people stop remembering the age-old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”
Basically, garcinia cambogia is a great cash cow.
Garcinia cambogia is over-hyped, over-marketed, and drastically under-researched right now. However, let us remember at times like this to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
(-)-hydroxycitric acid is still a molecule, and this molecule does do things.
There have been some effects noted in some studies associated with this molecule that don’t seem to be placebo, the aforementioned glycogen replenishment and interactions with lipids, and even if they are weak effects they can still be researched further.
When it comes to weight loss, though, it’s basically worthless.
At this moment in time, perhaps related to the lack of proven efficacy, there is also a lack of science showing that garcinia cambogia causes any harm.
Which is pretty good honestly, when Hoodia was marketed people didn’t know it caused potential damage to the liver. Even if garcinia doesn’t help you at least it doesn’t hurt you.
The bottom line on garcinia cambogia is that it is simply a fruit that was harvested for marketing before it became scientifically ripe.
The science behind garcinia does suggest some limited efficacy here and there but if the body of evidence were to be summed up it would be either “preliminary” or “has failed to show promise.”
Even if you view the science as preliminary that can be built upon, there is no way that the advertising behind garcinia is backed by contextual science.
It is an amazing cash cow supplement, being cheap and popular with people continuing to buy it. Shame that more evidence suggests no effects than benefits, though.