For centuries, Caralluma fimbriata has been used in India as a hunger and thirst blocker. Although the extract is mainly used for weight control, recent studies have revealed other potential benefits such as its antioxidant, energy-boosting, and glucose-lowering activities. Read on to learn about the health benefits of Caralluma fimbriata, how it works, and potential side effects.
What is Caralluma fimbriata?
Caralluma fimbriata (also known as Caralluma adscendens var. fimbriata) is a cactus-like plant belonging to the Apocynaceae family. It is native to India and Africa and highly abundant.
In India, it has been used for centuries in times of famine and long hunts to reduce appetite and thirst. The plant is typically eaten raw or cooked with spices, as well as preserved in chutneys and pickles .
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The composition analysis of the stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits (aerial) of Caralluma fimbriata revealed the following elements:
Composition analysis of Caralluma fimbriata aerial parts .
Caralluma fimbriata has a remarkably high concentration of fiber, which is an essential component of digestive health.
The key active compounds in the Caralluma plant family include :
- Pregnane glycosides (appetite suppressants)
- Flavone glycosides (antioxidants)
- Megastigmane glycosides (anti-inflammatory)
- Polyphenols (antioxidants)
- Flavonoids (antioxidants)
- Saponins (immune system enhancers)
- Bitter principles (protectors of the digestive system and pancreas)
Natural Sources and Forms of Supplementation
Caralluma fimbriata is traditionally eaten raw, cooked, with spices, or preserved in chutneys and pickles .
Currently, there are several supplements containing Caralluma fimbriata extract on the market. In combination with a suitable diet, they claim to help lose weight.
Mechanism of Action
Although the mechanisms by which Caralluma fimbriata’s pregnane glycosides work are not fully understood, these compounds have been suggested to:
- Increase the release of the energy molecule ATP into the hypothalamus and thus, send a signal of energy intake that promotes satiety .
- Reduce the production of the hormone ghrelin, which prevents the formation of the hunger-promoting molecule, neuropeptide Y (NPY) .
- Block the enzyme ATP-citrate lyase and thus, prevent the formation of the building blocks for fat production (acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA) .
Effect of pregnane glycosides on the formation of fatty acids .
- Preventing glucose production
- Enhancing glucose uptake
- Increasing the blood concentration of insulin
The antioxidant activity of Caralluma fimbriata is due to the presence of polyphenols (natural compounds formed by several phenol units) and flavonoids (natural compounds derived from the flavone structure) .
Health Benefits of Caralluma fimbriata
1) Enhances Weight Loss
In 50 overweight patients, intake of 1 gram of Caralluma fimbriata extract per day for 60 days reduced waist perimeter and appetite .
In another study of 43 overweight patients, 1 gram of Caralluma fimbriata extract per day for 12 weeks reduced body weight, body mass index, waist and hip perimeter and ratio, cravings for high-sodium food, and general appetite .
However, in 89 overweight patients, 12 weeks of Caralluma fimbriata extract failed to reduce weight or appetite .
The Prader-Willi Syndrome is a hereditary disease causing excessive appetite, learning disability, and short height. In a trial conducted on 15 children with Prader-Willi Syndrome, 1 gram of Caralluma fimbriata extract per day for 4 weeks reduced appetite and food intake .
In rats fed a high-calorie diet, supplementing Caralluma fimbriata extract decreased food intake and fat buildup in the stomach, kidneys, testicles, and small intestine. Cholesterol, fats, and leptin levels were also reduced [13, 14].
In rats fed a normal diet, the addition of Caralluma fimbriata extract to the diet increased food and water intake. Regardless, the rats lost weight. The extract was thought to interfere with the absorption of fats and sugars, thus preventing weight gain .
Caralluma fimbriata extract blocked the growth of fat cells. This effect was seen most at high doses (over 100 μg/ml) .
2) Boosts Energy
Fat burning releases energy in the form of ATP .
3) Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
- Prevented high blood glucose levels.
- Prevented insulin resistance.
- Blocked the enzyme that breaks starch into glucose (α-amylase).
- Stabilized glucose uptake.
- Promoted the activity of enzymes involved in the breakdown of glucose.
- Reduced the activity of enzymes involved in glucose production.
- Restored normal levels of glycogen in liver and muscles.
In rats fed a normal diet, intake of Caralluma fimbriata extract increased blood insulin levels and reduced blood glucose .
In diabetic rats, treatment with Caralluma fimbriata extract resolved the following symptoms :
- Lower weight
- Higher blood glucose, transaminase, and glycosylated hemoglobin levels
- Lower blood insulin and protein levels
- Tissue damage to liver and kidneys
Caralluma fimbriata extract blocked 2 enzymes used for glucose production (α-amylase and α-glucosidase), and enhanced glucose transport in cells .
4) Has Antioxidant Activity
- Prevented breakdown of fats from cellular membranes
- Prevented protein oxidation
- Increased activity of antioxidant enzymes
- Increased levels of the antioxidant molecule glutathione
Different Caralluma fimbriata extracts were prepared and tested for their antioxidant activity in cells. Of all the tested extracts, those with the highest contents of polyphenols showed the highest antioxidant activities .
The abundance of flavonoids and polyphenols, which target free radicals in the body, suggests its potential use as an anti-aging supplement.
5) Protects Testicular Function
In rats fed a high-calorie diet, Caralluma fimbriata extract protected counteracted the following abnormalities in testes :
- Decreased volume
- A higher fat buildup in the region responsible for sperm storage and growth (epididymis)
- Deterioration of the region responsible for sperm cell formation (spermatogenesis tubules)
6) Improves Kidney Function
Caralluma fimbriata extract prevented the following symptoms of kidney failure in rats fed a high-calorie diet :
- Higher concentration of urea, uric acid, and creatinine in the blood
- Higher activity of enzymes making amino acids (transaminases)
7) Protects Liver Function
- Higher concentration of enzymes making amino acids (transaminases) in blood
- Higher buildup of fat
- Pale color
- Abnormal cell appearance
- Cell death
8) May Improve Functioning of the Digestive System
Caralluma fimbriata has high amounts of fiber (15%) and is a good source of this plant component when eaten as a vegetable .
Fiber has several health benefits, such as increasing the digestive transit, facilitating nutrient uptake and digestion, and protecting from diseases .
9) May Prevent Artery Hardening
Feeding rats a high-calorie diet led to the buildup of fat in the arteries. Intake of Caralluma fimbriata extract reduced fat accumulation and restored normal blood vessel functions .
10) May Help Build Muscle
Because it increases the availability of ATP, Caralluma fimbriata extract may help gain lean muscle weight through exercising .
In rats fed a high-calorie diet, the intake of Caralluma fimbriata extract restored normal muscle appearance, with the absence of injuries and fat accumulation .
11) May Improve Brain Function and Reduce Anxiety
12) May Have Antimicrobial and Antiparasitic Activities
The extract of Caralluma fimbriata killed the bacteria Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Staphylococcus aureus, the fungi Aspergillus niger and Candida albicans, and the worm Pheretima posthuma in plate studies [27, 28].
Its efficiency against the fungi and the worm was comparable to that of the standard drugs miconazole nitrate and piperazine citrate, respectively .
13) Colon Cancer Cells
Caralluma fimbriata extract killed colon cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner .
Limitations and Caveats
It should be noted that several of the studies included were performed by companies manufacturing or funding the manufacture of Caralluma fimbriata .
Side Effects & Precautions
In a study with 50 overweight patients, 24% of individuals experienced one or more of the following side effects :
- Stomach Bloating
- Stomach inflammation
The symptoms were mild and disappeared within a week.
In another study with 89 overweight patients, 2 to 12% of the subjects (interestingly, from both the experimental and the placebo groups) suffered from one or more of the following symptoms :
- Tongue inflammation
- Sleep deprivation
- Generalized weakness
- Increased blood pressure
Drug Interactions and Contraindications
No interactions with drugs have been described.
Insufficient research has been done on the effects of Caralluma fimbriata extract intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it is recommended not to use it with these conditions.
Based on a safety study and the historical use of this plant in India without any reported adverse effects, Caralluma fimbriata extract was assigned the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status in 2006 .
Users of Caralluma fimbriata extract capsules reported different effects.
A number of users report that Caralluma fimbriata uses daily reduced appetite within a week or two of use. Reported weight loss is mild.
Other users say that it did not reduce appetite but did improve energy levels. Some people experienced improvements in portion control and snacking. Others said cravings for sweets were not affected.
One user finished the entire bottle taking twice daily and did not see any benefits in weight at all.