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The fruit Garcinia cambogia was once just the less popular cousin of a trendy fruit, the mangosteen. But now, nutritional supplements containing Garcinia cambogia extract have become the rage, touted for their purported ability to curb appetite and stop weight gain.
The gambooge fruit, also known as the Malabar tamarind, grows across southwest India, Myanmar and Indonesia. It ripens to a red or yellowish fruit about the size of an orange, but resembling the shape of a pumpkin.
People have long used the dried gambooge rinds for chutneys or curries, and sometimes as an aid for stomach problems. But in the late 1960s, scientists identified a substance in the rind of the fruit called hydroxycitric acid, or HCA, which has some potentially attractive qualities. Some studies say HCA works, and some say it doesn’t. Animal studies of HCA showed that mice taking the substance ate less, lost weight and produced less fat from sugar.
Human studies had more conflicting results. One weight loss trial showed no difference between people who took Garcinia cambogia and those who took a placebo pill. Other trials linked HCA to weight loss and healthy blood lipid levels (lipids are fats).
“Further, well-designed clinical trials are needed before any firm conclusions can be made,” Ulbricht said. People may safely eat the fruit, of course. And clinical trials have shown it’s safe to take Garcinia cambogia extract by mouth — at least for 12 weeks, the length of the studies.
But take caution. Garcinia cambogia has side effects – it may lower a person’s blood sugar, so it can interact with diabetes treatments. The fruit hasn’t been adequately studied in pregnant women or women who breastfeed. And Garcinia cambogia may be a problem for patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, Ulbricht said.
In 2009, the FDA issued a safety warning after receiving more than 20 reports of severe reactions, including liver damage, in people taking the supplement Hydroxycut. At the time, Hydroxycut contained Garcinia cambogia extract and other compounds, including chromium polynicotinate and Gymnema sylvestre extract.
Ulbricht said it’s unclear if the Garcinia cambogia extract caused the liver damage.
The bottom line is that people should tell their doctors before trying a new supplement, including Garcinia cambogia and HCA,
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