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Garcinia Cambogia: Fab or Fad?

May 30, 2014

If a new supplement out on the market sounds too good to be true, it usually is…right? Garcinia Cambogia Extract (GCE) is a pill that promises dramatic weight loss and has been receiving a lot of buzz from television doctors and famous celebrities in the media and on the web. GCE is advertised as a 100% natural and pure product that contains a key weight loss ingredient called Hydroxycitric acid (HCA.) HCA is extracted from Garcinia Cambogia, which is a "pumpkin shaped fruit that grows in Southeast Asia and India". GCE claims to "burn fat quicker without dieting or exercise," to "improve overall mood," and to "control food cravings" - but just how effective has this extract shown to deliver these promises? Before you jump on the bandwagon and purchase your "30-day money back guarantee" bottle, The Sage wants to dismantle the hype and deliver the truth (1).

GCE boasts weight loss through HCA’s fat blocking abilities by stopping your metabolism from building fat from the food you consume. HCA inhibits the activity of an enzyme that plays an important role in fat synthesis within our bodies. In spite of this mechanistic discovery, the ability of GCE supplementation to promote weight loss in random, controlled trials for both animal and human subjects has been inconsistent. When users continued their usual diet, no significant weight loss was observed. In the clinical trials that saw significant results in weight loss, users also adhered to a calorie deficits or exercise regimens, which contradicts the claim to lose weight without diet or exercise while taking GCE (1-4).

GCE claims to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of appetite and mood. By improving serotonin levels, GCE supplementation can possibly improve mood and decrease appetite. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression and obesity. The mechanism by which HCA increases the availability of serotonin is not quite understood but because significant increases in serotonin have been observed with GCE supplementation, GCE has become a hot topic in the study of new drugs. The efficacy of GCE supplementation has been substantial enough to back up the claim for increasing serotonin levels, but the effects of reversing obesity and improving mood disorders is not clear at this time (5-8). UPDATE: GCE when used by a person who takes antidepressants may cause serotonin toxicity, which has a gamut of potentially harmful long-term side effects.

GCE advertises that it follows the stringent standards of the FDA. The fine print disclaimer on the official website, however, reveals that in actuality none of their statements have been evaluated by the FDA. No adverse effects have been reported by people taking GCE but there is a lack of long-term studies.

Like most new drugs on the market, the inconsistent results among clinical trials show that this product does not work for everyone and that results will vary. Exercise and calorie-reduced diets are integral to any successful weight-loss plan - including one that uses GCE. This supplement may help you lose extra, unwanted weight, but it is not a miracle pill. You may seek the aid of supplements and deem they are appropriate for you but it is important to understand that in order to lose weight, it requires permanent lifestyle changes (even more so to maintain that weight you lose). Understanding the possible risks associated with beginning a supplement regimen by speaking with a physician is your best bet at preventing any serious health complications. At this time, it is not conclusive whether or not GCE can hold up to the claims it declares are true. However, with a lifestyle modification plan and exercise regimen, it could be a useful tool along with advice from a dietitian and physician.

Zachari Breeding, RDN, LDN & Alexandria Wolz, Cooperative Intern for:

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