Garcinia cambogia products are amongst the most popular dietary supplements used to shed extra pounds.
These supplements are marketed as a way to drop weight fast, but many wonder whether they’re as effective for weight loss as some companies claim.
Plus, the safety of garcinia cambogia has been called into question by some experts, leaving consumers concerned about the potential risks of taking this controversial supplement (1).
This article reviews garcinia cambogia and whether it’s effective.
Garcinia gummi-gutta, commonly known as garcinia cambogia, is a small, pumpkin-shaped fruit native to Indonesia. The rind of this fruit has a sour taste and is used in both culinary and medicinal applications.
Its sharp flavor makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like fish curries, and it’s also used in place of lemon or tamarind to give recipes a pop of flavor.
In addition to its culinary uses, the rind of garcinia cambogia is commonly used as a dietary supplement to treat a number of health conditions, including intestinal issues, rheumatoid arthritis, and high cholesterol (2, 3).
However, the most popular use of garcinia cambogia supplements is to facilitate weight loss.
Why is garcinia cambogia used as a weight loss supplement?
Garcinia cambogia contains compounds that have been shown to have anti-obesity effects. The best known one is hydroxycitric acid (HCA) (3).
This compound is thought to benefit weight loss in several ways.
Studies indicate that it contributes to feelings of fullness and satisfaction, leading to a reduction in food intake. It has also been shown to accelerate fat oxidation and decrease fat production in the body (2, 4, 5, 6, 7).
However, the effectiveness and safety of garcinia cambogia and HCA for weight loss have been called into question, as more recent studies have revealed that these supplements may not be as powerful as earlier research suggested (2).
Garcinia cambogia contains an organic acid called HCA, which may promote weight loss by suppressing appetite and enhancing fat oxidation. However, its effectiveness has been called into question in recent research.
Based on research reviews, it’s unclear whether garcinia cambogia and HCA supplements promote weight loss.
Although some earlier studies demonstrated that garcinia cambogia and HCA had powerful suppressive effects on calorie intake and enhanced weight loss and fat burning, more current reviews have not shown consistent results.
Plus, there’s a lack of long-term randomized control studies in humans, which are necessary to determine the effectiveness of these supplements.
For example, a 2002 study in 24 adults showed that taking 900 mg of HCA per day led to a 15–30% decrease in daily calorie intake and promoted weight loss (5).
Additionally, a 2006 study in 60 adults observed that treatment with an HCA supplement that provided 2,800 mg of the compound per day for 8 weeks led to a 5.4% average reduction in body weight and significantly reduced food intake (8).
Yet, most of the studies that have noted positive results have used small sample sizes and were performed over short periods of less than 3 months (11).
Plus, other studies show that HCA and garcinia cambogia supplements have no beneficial effects on calorie intake, fat burning, or weight loss, adding more doubt that these supplements promote fat loss (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
Given the contradictory findings and overall lack of large, long-term, well-designed studies, research reviews have consistently reported that not enough evidence is available to suggest that garcinia cambogia is an effective tool for weight loss (2, 17).
For example, an update article that included a review of 22 studies revealed that both HCA and garcinia cambogia had limited or no effects on weight loss, feelings of fullness, or calorie intake in human studies (2).
Another review of 9 studies found treatment with garcinia cambogia resulted in small yet significant short-term decreases in weight loss compared with a placebo. Yet, this significance was not observed when only well-designed randomized controlled trials were evaluated (18).
Thus, based on the most recent findings, the overall effect of garcinia cambogia and HCA on weight loss is small at best, and the clinical relevance of the positive findings related to garcinia cambogia and HCA are questionable (18).
Some research suggests that garcinia cambogia and HCA may promote short-term weight loss, but reviews of literature and well-designed studies have found limited or no benefit. Therefore, these supplements cannot be recommended with certainty.
Health experts have called the safety of garcinia cambogia into question.
Although some research demonstrates that garcinia cambogia and HCA supplements are safe, there have been reports of toxicity related to the ingestion of high doses of the supplement.
A review of 17 studies including 873 people concluded that HCA did not cause adverse effects at dosages up to 2,800 mg per day (19).
However, garcinia cambogia supplements have been linked to liver failure and other adverse effects in other, more recent studies.
One such case resulted after a 34-year-old man consumed 2,400 mg of a supplement containing garcinia cambogia extract daily for 5 months. The man experienced severe drug-induced liver failure and required a transplant (1).
Another case of liver toxicity involved a 57-year-old woman with no history of liver disease. The woman developed acute hepatitis after consuming 2,800 mg of pure garcinia cambogia extract daily for 1 month to promote weight loss.
The condition resolved when the women stopped taking the supplement. Yet, after 6 months, she resumed taking the same dose to promote weight loss, which again resulted in liver injury (20).
Additionally, there have been many other cases of liver toxicity related to supplementing with multi-ingredient supplements that contained HCA (21).
HCA was also the main ingredient in older formulations of Hydroxycut, a popular dietary supplement that caused 23 known cases of liver toxicity.
Although the supplement also contained ephedra, which the FDA banned in 2004, 10 of the 23 cases that resulted in liver toxicity — one of which resulted in death — were reported after the removal of ephedra from the product (1).
This led the producers of Hydroxycut to remove HCA from the currently available formulation. Experts believe that HCA was the cause of these toxicity cases, though there’s no conclusive evidence (1).
HCA and garcinia cambogia products have also been linked to side effects, including digestive upset, headaches, and upper respiratory tract symptoms. These supplements may also interact with common medications, including drugs used to treat cancer, viruses, and pain (22).
As you can see, garcinia cambogia and HCA supplements have been associated with a host of side effects and may interact with commonly prescribed medications. For these reasons, using this controversial supplement to promote weight loss may not be worth the potential risks.
Garcinia cambogia and HCA supplements have been linked to liver toxicity and other potentially dangerous side effects. The products may also interact with commonly prescribed medications.
Although some research demonstrates that garcinia cambogia and its main organic acid HCA may support weight loss via several mechanisms, many studies have found that these products are ineffective and may even be downright dangerous when taken in high doses.
Plus, the FDA has found a high rate of adulteration in garcinia cambogia products.
This means that some garcinia cambogia products may contain hidden ingredients, such as active compounds found in prescription drugs, as well as ingredients that have been removed from the market due to safety concerns (23, 24).
Given that it’s currently unclear whether garcinia cambogia promotes weight loss, as well as the fact that this ingredient has been linked to potentially serious safety concerns, taking garcinia cambogia or HCA for weight loss is not worth the risks.
Instead of relying on ineffective supplements, it’s recommended to use safer, more evidence-based methods to reach a healthy body weight.
For example, decreasing your intake of sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined carbs, as well as increasing your intake of fiber, healthy fat, and proteins, are healthy ways to encourage weight loss.
Also, increasing your daily physical activity, getting enough sleep, and ensuring proper hydration by drinking enough water are smart ways to promote fat loss and overall health.
Remember, although the market is saturated with products promising rapid weight loss, reaching a healthy weight is not supposed to be quick, especially when you have a lot of excess body fat to lose.
While shedding extra pounds may take some time when using healthy, science-supported methods, it’s safer and more effective than relying on potentially harmful weight loss supplements.
Research has called into question the safety and efficacy of garcinia cambogia and HCA supplements. It’s best to avoid supplements promising rapid weight loss and instead use safe, evidence-based methods to reach a healthy body weight.
Garcinia cambogia and its main organic acid HCA are popular dietary supplements used to boost weight loss.
Although the companies that market these products promise rapid weight loss, research shows that garcinia cambogia and HCA promote minimal fat loss at best.
Plus, these supplements have been linked to dangerous side effects, including liver toxicity.
If you have extra weight to lose, skip the garcinia cambogia supplement and instead get healthier by making sustainable dietary and lifestyle modifications that support your overall health and help you reach your goals safely.