Garcinia Cambogia Is Definitely a Scam—Here’s What You Need to Know

Have you been thinking about trying this "miracle" weight loss pill? You may want to reconsider.


As with any diet pill dubbed a “miracle,” garcinia cambogia is probably too good to be true.

Garcinia cambogia, also called Malabar Tamarind, is a small, sweet Indonesian fruit that came to light in the late 1960s, when scientists discovered an acid it contains that closely resembles the citric acid found in fruits like oranges and lemons. The acid, called hydroxycitric acid (HCA), has built a controversial reputation ever since as a miracle weight-loss supplement.

Advocates claim that HCA blocks fat by inhibiting a key enzyme called citrate lyase, which the body needs to make fat from carbohydrates. They also claim that it can suppress appetite by boosting serotonin levels, as low levels are linked to depression and emotional or reactive overeating. The end result is a supposed decrease in belly fat and a shift in body composition by boosting lean muscle mass.

Studies have shown weak results or were inconclusive. Many of them were performed using animals, which cannot fully support the same effects in humans, and the dosages that show success in animals are typically unrealistic to replicate in people. In one study of the supplement, guinea pigs on a high cholesterol diet given a different garcinia species called atrivirdis showed a decrease in lipid compositions levels and fat deposition in the aorta. Another rat study determined that it lowered body weight gain and visceral fat buildup thanks to a reduction in food intake.

A study on people published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 involving 135 subjects split into placebo and garcinia cambogia groups found that both groups lost weight, but there was no significant difference. Though subjects were given dietary recommendations, adherence wasn’t monitored outside of a food journal. The results seemed to show the weight loss was based more on awareness as opposed to diet pill supplementation. (Don’t forget to also include these supplements on your do-not-buy list.)

Researchers published findings in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 that revealed garcinia cambogia may increase weight loss by only one to two pounds on average. The team compared people who took garcinia cambogia extract to those who didn’t, and found very little weight-loss difference.

“There’s no reliable evidence to support claims for garcinia on weight loss,” said registered dietitian and nutritionist Marisa Moore, noting that there have been no large-scale trials comparing garcinia cambogia to placebos or other supplements and therefore no objective data to consider. “It’s not something I’d recommend,” she says, adding, “Not only is the research not there, but there is concern regarding its safety.”

Indeed, a 2005 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that high doses of garcinia cambogia extract caused testicular atrophy and toxicity in mice. Again, not everything translates from animal studies to people, but why take the risk?

Then there’s the concern of transparency behind the marketing ploys, as most brands of garcinia cambogia extract diet pills have failed independent laboratory quality and quantity testing, and many contain far less HCA than was listed on the bottle.

Unfortunately, slimming down usually requires good old diet and exercise. These simple weight-loss tips can make it easier.

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Alexa Erickson
Alexa Erickson is a lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, SHAPE Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about science news, health, wellness, food and drink, beauty, fashion, home decor, and her travels. Visit her site Living by Lex.