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Garcinia Cambogia – is it safe?

Recently a weight loss shake containing garcinia and green tea was in the news – not for good reasons however!

The weight loss shake was taken by an Australian man who developed liver failure and required a liver transplant. The weight loss supplement was blamed and the question was – is it the garcinia, the green tea or whatever else is in the shake?

Important facts about this man’s diet and lifestyle or antecedent predisposing factors for liver disease were not revealed or discussed, so it is impossible to really know what caused his liver failure. Typically, the ever hungry sensationist media used this opportunity to disparage dietary and weight loss supplements saying they are unregulated and potentially dangerous!

Well, this is ridiculous as there is a wealth of scientific literature on herbal medicine, vitamins and minerals and the manufacture of dietary supplements is regulated by the TGA in Australia and the FDA in the USA. It is important to only take supplements certified by GMP practices and to get health advice from your practitioner before taking supplements.

The phenomena of selective publishing and selective reporting by drug companies and the media has gone on for many years and the public are often unaware of the liver toxic side effects of many prescribed drugs such as anti-fungal drugs, antibiotics, statins, anti-inflammatory drugs and immune-suppressant dugs. Yes, we are a very trusting public and we should and need to ask more questions about side effects of drugs and supplements. It is not a good idea to take anything long term without checking for potential side effects.

One of the most liver toxic over the counter drugs is paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen), which is used extensively by people with arthritis and other types of pain. This drug is also promoted to parents as a treatment for children with pain or fever and is often given frequently over several days. Most parents are unaware that paracetamol is the leading cause of acute liver failure in children and the need for liver transplants in children. This should make the news headlines but it does not – why not ? Another case of selective reporting due to vested interests.

In a child with a fever I recommend vigilant observation, vitamin C, liquid selenium, iodine and zinc and sponging down in a tepid bath along with plenty of fluids. Unfortunately, we have been brainwashed into reaching first for the paracetamol and think that this is 100% safe. As always it is important to see your health care practitioner.

Dr. Oz made garcinia cambogia famous as a possible weight loss tool and what was otherwise a obscure, lowly fruit grown in only a few regions of the world has now become the center of many weight loss programs. For centuries, garcinia cambogia resided in dry, dusty bags only to be sold as a curry supplement and for the occasional therapeutic remedy. Today, however, it is one of the world’s most popular weight loss supplements and has not been shown to be dangerous.

Origin of Garcinia Cambogia

Garcinia cambogia is just one of the 300 to 500 species in the Garcinia genus, all of which are native to regions in Asia, Australia, Polynesia, and southern and tropical Africa. Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia are also well acquainted with the garcinia cambogia. In these countries, the Muslim population often includes the dried rind as a flavorful pickle or condiment.

Taste of Garcinia Cambogia

The taste of Malabar tamarind is sour and acidic, which contributes to its reputation as a digestive aid in Ayurveda. Although there’s a bit of sweetness to the fruit, the overwhelming sourness of it makes it unpalatable to eat raw. As such, the fruit – particularly the rind – is used to enhance the zest of several dishes. Many Indians use the fruit as a substitute to the sour tamarind because of its likeness in taste.

Health Benefits of Garcinia Cambogia

In Ayurvedic medicine, the garcinia fruit treats ailments from rheumatism, arthritis, digestive disorders to gum disease. It also treats worms, parasites, dysentery, purgatives, and, allegedly, tumors.

The most touted compound of the Malabar tamarind is its hydroxycitric acid or, HCA. Supplement specialists promote its extracts as a fat-burning, metabolism-boosting, appetite-suppressing weight loss mechanism. The claim is that HCA inhibits an ezyme, citrate lyase, from converting carbohydrates into fat. This process compels the body to burn the carbs, instead of the normal reaction of storing them as fat.

Safety and Side Effects of Garcinia Cambogia

A study at Spain’s Virgili University showed that taking garcinia cambogia extracts produced no harmful or adverse side effects.

Though the garcinia fruit extract might be safe on its own, it’s best to verify the safety of other ingredients. Supplement manufacturers often add a cocktail of other herbs, fruits, and extracts. Anecdotally, people who have taken supplements write of a few interesting effects in the comment section of garcinia cambogia extract websites. Some complain of dizziness and shortness of breath, stomach pains, diarrhoea, headaches and cramps. Though these side effects may be the result of supplement additives, it’s best to use any supplement with caution.

Research on the effect of Garcinia on weight loss varies. Some research shows that taking Garcinia extract that contains 50% hydroxycitric acid (HCA) for 8-12 weeks doesn’t decrease fat breakdown or energy expenditure in overweight people. However, other research suggests that it might improve weight loss when taken for 12 weeks. Taking a specific Garcinia product containing 60% HCA by mouth in three doses daily 30 to 60 minutes before meals for 8 weeks, together with a healthy diet, seems to improve weight loss more than just diet alone. Reasons for the inconsistent results might be the dose, duration of treatment, or formulation of Garcinia extract that was used. Garcinia is probably safe for most people when taken by mouth for 12 weeks or less. Long-term safety is unknown. Excessive doses of garcinia can cause nausea, digestive tract discomfort, and headache.

There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking Garcinia if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

It is always more effective and safer to combine garcinia with a healthy low carbohydrate diet and exercise program. I have used garcinia supplements in my patients for 20 years and have never seen any adverse effects, but as always stay under the supervision of your health care practitioner.

Scientific studies

A 1973 study published in Lipids indicate suppressed food intake when HCA was administered to animals. Another 2009 study published in Nutritional Research found that animals had a decreased body weight gain.

One 2004 study published in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism prescribed 60 overweight adults in India to take HCA and niacin-bound chromium, and another to take a placebo. Both groups ate 2,000 kcal a day and did a walking program. At the end of the trial, the HCA group lost 1% more weight (not significant), but the group taking HCA also left more food on their plate.

A 2013 study published in Investigational New Drugs found that using a combination of molecules—of which HCA is included—targeting cancer metabolism resulted in decreased tumor growth in mice.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, short-term HCA supplementation enhances athletic performance and endurance.

A 2007 study published in Nutrition Research found that a mixture of psyllium and HCA reduced body weight gain and body fat when tested in rats.

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