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Garcinia Cambogia: Benefits, Dangers, Side Effects & Reviews

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Garcinia cambogia is a plant known for its claimed weight-loss action, especially its extracts. Garcinia cambogia may not only prevent obesity, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, but also boost the immune system, and prevent ulcers. Keep reading to learn more about the potential health benefits and side effects of Garcinia cambogia.

What Is Garcinia Cambogia?

Garcinia belongs to family Guttiferae (Clusiaceae), which includes over 200 species, today mostly found throughout Asia and Africa. Garcinia cambogia, also known as Garcinia gummi-gutta or Malabar tamarind, originated in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa [1, 2].

The plant rind is used to polish gold and silver, its resin is used as a pigment for paintings and watercolors, and the gum is used as a varnish [3].

The fruit of the plant has a yellow or red color and resembles a pumpkin. Although the fruits can be eaten, they are usually not consumed raw because their taste is very acid [1].

The peel of the fruit is commonly used in Asia to preserve food and enhance its flavor. Traditionally, it was used as a remedy for constipation, rheumatism, and menstrual pain [1].

Extracts from Garcinia cambogia and compounds from the fruit are best known for potentially lowering body weight, reducing appetite, and preventing obesity [4, 5, 6, 7].

However, Garcinia cambogia supplements have a variety of other potential benefits, including:

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Garcinia cambogia may cause liver damage or failure, among other side effects [26, 27, 28, 29].

Components

The main components of Garcinia cambogia’s fruit are hydroxycitric acid (HCA) and its lactone, which are responsible for its potential to reduce weight, appetite, and fat buildup [30, 31].

Both the fruit and the bark contain [32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38]:

  • Xanthones (also found in the root) [32]
  • Benzophenones

Other parts of the plant also contain many alkaloids, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds.

The Garcinia cambogia fruits also contain many amino acids (such as arginine, asparagine, glutamine, threonine, glycine, proline, γ-aminobutyric acid, leucine, isoleucine, ornithine, and lysine) [32].

How It Works

Hydroxycitric acid may prevent fat buildup and lower blood fat levels by:

  • Reducing the levels of a fat-producing enzyme (fatty acid synthase) and blocking an enzyme (ATP citrate lyase) that promotes fat production (via acetyl-coenzyme A) [39, 33, 1, 2].
  • Decreasing the activity of proteins that increase the levels of fat-producing enzymes (C/EBP-α, PPAR-γ, SREBP1c, and aP2) [40, 41, 42, 43].
  • Increasing the levels of a fat-burning enzyme (lipoprotein lipase) [44].
  • Decreasing the production of triglycerides, phospholipids, cholesterol, and fat (free fatty acids) in the liver [45].

It also lowers appetite by:

  • Blocking the ATP citrate lyase, in response to which the body produces more glycogen in the liver and increases the feeling of satiety [37, 46, 47].
  • Increasing the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that suppresses the feeling of hunger [48, 49].

Garcinia cambogia may fine-tune immune function by:

It acts as an antioxidant by:

Its hydroxycitric acid may enhance exercise performance by increasing fat breakdown and decreasing carbohydrates breakdown. This spares glycogen to be used for exercise [54, 55].

Health Benefits

Possibly Effective for:

1) Weight Loss

In a clinical trial on 99 obese men, Garcinia cambogia together with a weight-loss drug (orlistat), lowered BMI, belly fat, overall fat under the skin, and waist circumference in 3 months [56].

In two 12-week studies on over 100 overweight and obese people, Garcinia cambogia reduced weight by about 3.6 kilos [57, 58].

After 16 weeks, Garcinia cambogia extract decreased total fat, belly fat, and fat under the skin in a clinical trial on 39 overweight people [59].

In two 8-week studies on almost 150 overweight and obese adults, hydroxycitric acid decreased the body weight and BMI by 5%-6% [5, 60].

In an 8-week study on 40 obese adults, Garcinia cambogia reduced belly and under-the-skin fat better than the placebo [61].

Garcinia cambogia extract reduced body weight by 4.67% in 30 overweight or obese adults (compared to only 0.63% in 28 adults receiving placebo) in a 60-day study [62].

Hydroxycitric acid decreased body weight in a study of 21 obese adults after 2 weeks [63].

In obese rats, Garcinia cambogia blocked fat build-up and reduced body weight [64, 14, 65].

In chicken cells, both Garcinia cambogia extract and hydroxycitric acid increased fat breakdown, leading to fat loss [46].

However, not all clinical trials with Garcinia cambogia or hydroxycitric acid found it effective at reducing weight.

In a 10-week study, Garcinia cambogia did not decrease the bodyweight of 86 overweight adults [66].

Similarly, hydroxycitric acid did not decrease body weight or fat more than the placebo in a 12-week trial of 135 overweight adults. This compound had no effect on fat or carbohydrate breakdown in 10 cyclists [4, 67].

Although the results are mixed, the evidence overall suggests that Garcinia cambogia may help lose weight. You may discuss with your doctor if it may be recommended in your case. However, other strategies such as doing more exercise and improving your diet may be more effective. Importantly, never implement lifestyle changes aimed at losing weight without first consulting your doctor.

2) Lowering Blood Fats

In a 3-month study on 99 obese men, Garcinia cambogia together with a weight-loss drug (orlistat), reduced total cholesterol levels and increased HDL-cholesterol levels [56].

In an 8-week study on 82 obese adults, hydroxycitric acid (the main component of Garcinia cambogia) decreased LDL-cholesterol levels by 12.9% and triglycerides by 6.9% while increasing HDL-cholesterol by 8.9% [9].

In 60 moderately obese adults hydroxycitric acid with or without Gymnema sylvestre extracts reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL levels during an 8-week study [5].

In a 60-day study of 43 obese women, Garcinia cambogia reduced triglyceride levels by 28% [10].

In an 8-week study on 35 healthy adults, Garcinia cambogia decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels better than the placebo [68].

However, in 86 overweight adults undergoing a 10-week study, Garcinia cambogia did not impact the blood fat levels [69].

In rats, Garcinia cambogia decreased triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and VLDL cholesterol blood levels [70, 71, 72, 73, 14].

Again, some contradictory results exist but the evidence overall suggests that Garcinia cambogia may help lower blood fat levels. You may discuss with your doctor how to take it for this purpose. Never take Garcinia cambogia in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Insufficient Evidence for:

1) Lowering Appetite

In a 6-week study on 24 overweight adults, hydroxycitric acid, the main component of Garcinia cambogia, reduced food consumption while maintaining the feeling of satiety [74].

After 8 weeks, hydroxycitric acid decreased food consumption in another study of 60 moderately obese adults [5].

However, in a 12-week study of 89 mildly overweight adults, Garcinia cambogia decreased bodyweight but did not affect appetite [57].

In various other studies, after 2 weeks of hydroxycitric acid consumption, 42 obese or overweight adults lost weight but their appetite and energy were unchanged [63, 75, 76].

Garcinia cambogia extracts reduced food consumption and appetite in rats within an hour [77].

At normal doses, hydroxycitric acid lowered appetite and food intake in obese rats [37, 78, 14, 54].

Because there are only a few clinical trials on small populations and with mixed results, there is insufficient evidence to claim for certain that Garcinia cambogia suppresses appetite. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to shed some light on this potential effect.

2) Diabetes

Hydroxycitric acid had no effects in 8 patients with type 2 diabetes, but did lower blood sugar levels in 12 healthy adults [11].

In mice, Garcinia cambogia reduced the levels of leptin and insulin, improving blood sugar (glucose) breakdown [13].

In rats, hydroxycitric acid decreased sugar uptake in the gut, lowering blood sugar levels after a meal. It also reduced fasting levels of insulin and blood sugar, preventing insulin resistance [79, 14].

In human muscle cells, hydroxycitric acid increased the rate of blood sugar storage and enhanced insulin sensitivity [80].

A small clinical trial and some animal and cell-based research cannot be considered sufficient evidence to support this potential health benefit. Further clinical research is required.

3) Exercise Performance

In a 5-day experiment of 6 male athletes, hydroxycitric acid increased fat burning while decreasing carbohydrate breakdown. This may help boost endurance performance while sparing sugar reserves [55].

A 5-day treatment with Garcinia cambogia increased fat breakdown and enhanced exercise performance in 6 untrained women [81].

Only 2 small trials have evaluated the effects of Garcinia cambogia on exercise performance. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed to confirm their preliminary results.

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of Garcinia cambogia for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Inflammation

Hydroxycitric acid reduced inflammatory compounds (cytokines CPR, TNF-α) in obese rats [14].

In rats with gut inflammation (colitis), Garcinia cambogia extracts reduced inflammation by blocking the production of inflammatory enzymes and molecules (myeloperoxidase (MPO), cyclooxygenase (COX-2), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS)) [15].

In mice with multiple sclerosis, hydroxycitric acid decreased nerve damage and lowered inflammation. It decreased the levels of inflammatory compounds (cytokines IL-6, TNF-α, nitric oxide, and malondialdehyde), and increased those of antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, glutathione reductase) [52].

Antioxidant

In obese rats, Garcinia cambogia extracts decreased free radicals. This protected the kidneys, brain, and liver, measured as reduced levels of oxidative stress markers [14, 16, 17, 18].

Ulcers

In rats, Garcinia cambogia decreased the amount and acidity of the stomach fluid and helped to prevent damage to the stomach. It activated the stomach’s natural defense, helping to prevent ulcers [22, 23].

Bacterial Infections

Garcinia cambogia fruit extracts blocked the growth of the following bacteria [24, 25]:

  • Escherichia coli (gut infections)
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae (lung infections, pneumonia)
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (lung, urinary, and blood infections)
  • Bacillus subtilis (gut infections)
  • Staphylococcus aureus (skin infections, airway infections, food poisoning)

However, these are very preliminary results that haven’t been replicated in humans and even in animals. Further research is needed to determine if Garcinia cambogia may help with the infections caused by these microorganisms.

Increasing Mineral Levels

In rats, Garcinia cambogia, together with a high-cholesterol diet, increased the levels of phosphorus, iron, zinc, and copper [82].

Diuretic

In rats, extracts of Garcinia cambogia leaves increased flushing of excess fluids, acting as a diuretic. In fact, this may contribute to its weight-loss effect, as herbs that are used for weight loss usually act as mild diuretics as well [83].

Malaria

In mice, bioflavonoids from Garcinia cambogia killed the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite, reduced infection rate, and increased mice survival [84, 85].

Limitations and Caveats

Although there is a sufficient number of studies about the effects of Garcinia cambogia on weight loss and appetite reduction, the results are mixed. In most cases, the number of participants was limited or the sample very specific (obese or overweight).

With regard to the other benefits, studies are limited and most of them are on animals or cells. More human studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Dangers & Side Effects

Common Side Effects

Garcinia cambogia commonly caused the following side effects in clinical trials [2, 4, 86, 87]:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash

Less common side effects of Garcinia cambogia include:

  • Mania/psychosis [88, 89, 90, 91, 92]
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and impaired coordination [93]
  • Heart problems (irregular heart rate, heart muscle damage, and heart failure) [94, 95]
  • Serious muscle damage (rhabdomyolysis) [96, 97, 98]
  • Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) [99]
  • Extremely high levels of ketones (diabetic ketoacidosis) [99]

Garcinia cambogia and its main component, hydroxycitric acid, caused acute liver and irreversible liver damage in a series of case reports. The dosage varied from 240 mg to 500 mg hydroxycitric acid daily [26, 27, 28, 29, 86, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113].

People with liver disease should probably avoid Garcinia cambogia due to its potential to damage the liver.

Garcinia cambogia extract caused testes damage and shrinking in a study in rats. This may be a concern for men, but probably only at very high doses. The extract had no effect on testosterone, estrone, and estradiol levels in a 12-week trial on 44 adults and a study in rats [64, 60, 114].

Due to the lack of safety data, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid Garcinia cambogia [2]

Drug Interactions

Supplement/Herb/Nutrient-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

Garcinia cambogia extract may decrease blood sugar levels and should be avoided in people on antidiabetic medications [4].

Garcinia cambogia can increase serotonin levels and cause serotonin syndrome if combined with antidepressants (including reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs) [115].

Its compounds may also block the activity of CYP2B6. This may dangerously increase the levels of drugs broken down by this enzyme (such as blood thinners, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, chemotherapeutics, opioids, and antiepileptics) [116, 117].

Garcinia cambogia may raise red blood cells, which could affect the action of drugs for anemia [73].

Genetics

Garcinia cambogia blocks the activity of obesity-related genes (C/EBP-α, PPAR-γ, SREBP1c, CCAT, and aP2). Its weight-loss effects may differ depending on your genetic variant for these genes [40, 41, 42, 118].

This herb may be less effective in reducing weight or appetite in people with genetic variations in the following genes: PLIN4 (11482G), FTO (-rs9939609), and ADRB3 (Trp64Arg) [12].

Is Your Weight Influenced by Genetics?

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If you’re sick and tired of guessing about your health, SelfDecode can help you find specific answers that conventional doctors/diagnostics may never uncover.

Dosage & Supplementation

Because Garcinia cambogia is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Discuss with your doctor if Garcinia cambogia may be useful as a complementary strategy in your case and which dose you should take.

In clinical trials, the dosage of hydroxycitric acid varied between 300 mg to 2,800 mg per day [57, 74, 4, 10, 9].

The highest levels of Garcinia cambogia extract which found to be safe without adverse effects is 2,800 mg/day [119].

Garcinia cambogia supplements can be found in powder form, liquid extracts, tablets or capsules [120].

Most supplements contain hydroxycitric acid extracted from the dried fruit rind of Garcinia cambogia, in doses ranging from 250 mg to 900 mg [120].

There are also weight- loss supplements that contain hydroxycitric acid together with calcium, potassium, green tea extract, vitamins, and other nutrients [14, 120].

Garcinia Cambogia In Combination With Other Supplements

Glucomannan

In 214 overweight or obese adults, 6-month consumption of Garcinia cambogia together with glucomannan decreased body weight by 16%, total fat by 12%, and deep fat by 15% [12].

In the same study, cholesterol levels decreased by 8%, triglycerides by 10%, and blood sugar by 3% in 3 months and by 13%, 15.3%, and 6% in 6 months [12].

Konjac

In a 12-week study on 58 obese adults, Garcinia cambogia combined with Amorphophallus konjac greatly decreased total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels in 32 of the participants but did not lower body weight, waist circumference, or body composition [121].

Asparagus, Green Tea, Black Tea, Guarana, Mate, and Kidney Beans

In 98 overweight adults, a multi-herbal supplement with Garcinia cambogia and these botanical extracts decreased fat mass but did not lower body weight, BMI, or waist-to-hip ratio after 12 weeks [122].

Seaweed

In 28 healthy adults, a combination of Garcinia cambogia, L-carnitine, and an extract of the seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum reduced the of hunger and increased satiety [123].

Pear Pomace Extract

The combination of Garcinia cambogia and pear pomace extract promoted fat-burning in cells. It blocked the activity of fat-producing genes (C/EBP-α, and PPAR-γ), decreased fat production, and increased fat breakdown (hormone-sensitive lipase) [40].

Apple Cider Vinegar

In rats, apple cider vinegar reduced body weight, chest and stomach circumference, and prevented obesity [124, 125].

Garcinia and apple cider are often used together to boost weight loss. Users report mixing two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water and taking two standard pills of natural garcinia cambogia.

However, there are no studies confirming the benefits of this combination.

Green Coffee Bean

In mice and rats, green coffee beans decreased body weight and fat, thus preventing obesity [126, 127].

Garcinia cambogia and green coffee beans are often consumed together to speed up weight loss. However, there are no studies confirming the benefits of this combination.

User Experiences/Reviews

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of Garcinia cambogia users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Many users reported that Garcinia cambogia helped them lose weight, reduced their appetite and made them feel more energetic and lively.

Users with fibromyalgia reportedly experienced reduced joint pain from taking Garcinia cambogia. Another user reported feeling increased sex drive and stamina.

However, many users complained that Garcinia cambogia did not affect their health or help with weight loss in any way. Some experienced dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, diarrhea, dry mouth, stomach cramps, nausea, hair loss, insomnia, allergic rash, chest pain, and low energy. Surprisingly, one user even felt hungrier after taking Garcinia cambogia.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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