I learn a lot from my patients. Often it has to do with the latest and greatest products promoted on the daytime doctor shows, often one particular late afternoon doctor show.
Recently, a patient told me she had spent $30 on a product that was supposed to help control her appetite, but it hadn’t started working yet. She explained that she was told she should try the product garcinia cambogia. I asked her what it was and she really wasn’t sure, but said it was supposed to help curb her appetite.
This product, proposed as the Holy Grail of weight loss, could be purchased on the Internet at prices from $4.99 to $48 a bottle. At this point she had been taking the product for about three weeks. I’m not sure at what point it is supposed to start “working.”
What is garcinia cambogia and is there any benefit to this product? Garcinia cambogia is a yellow fruit, shaped similar to a pumpkin. It is known by many other names including tamarind in Indonesia and in India as gambooge. Found across Southeast Asia, India and central Africa, it is eaten as a food and the rind is used in traditional recipes in south India.
The extract is derived from the rind, which is dried and cured and contains hydroxycitric acid, or HCA, a substance advertised to “block fats and sugar, while suppressing appetite.”
A study was conducted at the Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s hospital in New York to see if garcinia cambogia had any benefit as an anti-obesity agent. A total of 135 overweight men and women were recruited for the 12-week study. They were divided into two groups, one received an active herbal compound of hydroxycitric acid, and the other received a placebo. Both groups were prescribed a high-fiber, low-energy diet.
Patients in each group lost a significant amount of weight. However, there was no significant difference in the percentage of body fat loss. Investigators concluded that garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat loss beyond that observed with a placebo.
In late 2010, the Journal of Obesity published a meta-analysis of studies testing garcinia cambogia as a weight loss product. Out of the 23 trials examined, only 12 were considered methodologically sound enough to include. The analysis revealed that some statistically significant weight loss occurred, but the “magnitude of the effect is small and the clinical relevance is uncertain.” They also found that adverse gastrointestinal events occurred twice as often in the hydroxycitric group than in the placebo group.
Just because something is advertised and promoted on a “doctor” show doesn’t mean there is any truth behind it or sound research to support it. Instead of spending money on the latest and greatest diet pill, take your dollars and invest them in a good pair of walking shoes – and start moving.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 published a systematic review of research on dietary supplements for weight loss by complementary medicine researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth. None of the over-the-counter weight loss aids worked, including garcinia cambogia.
When you are considering the potential benefits of products, look for meta-analysis studies that take in all the sound research available. One-off studies that get a significant result are not evidence of anything. Only when an effect is repeated in many studies by many scientists should you believe it’s real.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.