Garcinia cambogia was once a super-hot must-have supplement for weight loss that could “melt off” fat almost like magic. Does it still hold up?
Our research team dug into the substantial amount of research on garcinia cambogia’s potential benefits.
While it isn’t a magic treatment, garcinia cambogia does appear to have some potential benefits that make it worth considering as an add-on to your weight loss routine. Here are the biggest benefits you can expect from garcinia cambogia.
Garcinia cambogia benefits
1. Garcinia cambogia first rose to prominence for its fat-burning effects
A 2003 study published by K. Hayamizu and other researchers at Kyushu University in Japan investigated the effect of a garcinia cambogia extract in mice who were fed an obesity-inducing diet (1).
Lab mice were fed a diet consisting of 10% pure sugar by weight, a standard procedure for inducing fat gain in lab animals (and one that many humans unwittingly replicate). Half the mice were given fed a 3.3% garcinia cambogia extract, while the other half were given no special supplementation.
Over the course of the four-week study, the mice fed garcinia cambogia did gain any less weight than those which were not, but they did have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism and levels of a hormone called leptin, which signals fullness.
2. Garcinia cambogia could combat belly fat
A 2013 study looked at garcinia cambogia’s effects on visceral fat in lab rats (2). Over the course of 16-week study, obesity-prone mice were fed a high-fat diet; half of the mice’s food had 1% garcinia cambogia extract by weight added to it.
At the study’s conclusion, neither group of mice differed with respect to their body weight or food consumption, but the mice fed garcinia cambogia extract did have less visceral fat (“belly fat“) than the mice on the standard diet.
Further, by analyzing the activity of enzymes inside fat cells, the researchers were able to determine that this was likely a direct result of an inhibition in the activity of a particular enzyme that is responsible for synthesizing fatty acids inside fat cells.
3. Clinical trials in humans suggests that garcinia cambogia is associated with small but significant weight loss
A systematic meta-analysis published in 2010 in the Journal of Obesity pooled the results of 12 separate randomized trials on using garcinia cambogia for weight loss (3).
This study was important because it was able to gain insights not possible from the smaller studies considered alone. The results showed that the weight loss effect was small but statistically significant when combining the results of all the studies.
However, the results were not significant when the authors only considered the most statistically rigorous studies.
After considering the results, the research team recommended larger and higher-quality studies into the potential benefits of garcinia cambogia for weight loss, but the initial results from studies in humans do show some promise.
4. Garcinia cambogia could combat glucose imbalance
A newer study from 2022 suggests one possible way garcinia cambogia could work (4). By enhancing uptake of glucose (sugar) in muscles, garcinia cambogia appears to stabilize levels of glucose in the body, counteracting one of the well-known effects of a high-fat diet. As with much of the other preliminary work on garcinia cambogia, this study was done in lab mice, so it’s not clear if this mechanism also happens in humans.
Garcinia cambogia side effects
Animal model studies have indicated that garcinia cambogia could cause liver damage. In one study, researchers discovered that the mice fed garcinia cambogia extract showed increased fibrosis in their liver and signs of increased oxidative stress throughout their body. This raises concerns about the safety of garcinia cambogia extract in humans; if it causes liver damage, taking it could be a very bad idea.
Not all researcher agree that garcinia cambogia is harmful. The hepatoxicity of garcinia cambogia extract, or its potential to cause liver damage, was questioned by a later paper published by D.L. Clouatre and H.G. Preuss in the same scientific journal (5).
Clouatre and Preuss argued that garcinia cambogia extract has several studies (including some in humans) that attest to its safety.
A few case studies have reported people developing signs of liver damage in people taking garcinia cambogia supplements, but no research beyond these small case studies has reported such an effect (5).
Garcinia cambogia dosage
Super high doses of garcinia cambogia aren’t necessary to get its benefits. In the same meta-analysis discussed above, the authors of the review attempted to identify whether there was a relationship between the dosage of garcinia cambogia and the amount of weight lost.
They did so by plotting, for all twelve studies that they evaluated, the dosage of HCA per day against the average amount of weight lost by the participants in the experimental group.
While the amount of weight lost ranged from zero to up to about ten pounds, there was no significant trend in greater amounts of weight lost for greater per-day dosage of HCA. In fact, one study which used a fairly low dosage of 1.5 grams per day of HCA produced nearly exactly the same amount of weight lost as a study that used double the dose.
The optimal dose is probably around 1.5 grams per day of HCA. From these results, it seems that lower doses of garcinia cambogia generate the same amount of weight lost as larger doses. To this end, it seems smarter and safer to use a dose of 1.5 grams of HCA per day, split into two or three daily doses.
Increasing beyond this level does not appear to help, and might be harmful based on the side effect profile of garcinia cambogia.
Garcinia cambogia benefits FAQ
Q: What is in garcinia cambogia?
A: Garcinia cambogia is a natural extract of the fruit of the garcinia gummi-gutta plant species. It produces a pumpkin-like fruit, and garcinia cambogia is extracted from the flesh or rind of this fruit.
The active ingredient is thought to be hydroxycitric acid, or HCA. In animal studies, HCA exerts weight loss effects by reducing appetite, inducing fullness (satiety), decreasing the synthesis of new fat, and increasing the oxidation of fat already in your fat cells. However, some research also suggests that HCA could damage your liver.
Q: What effects does garcinia cambogia have on your heart?
A: Unlike the liver, where there are several studies which have expressed concerns with the safety of garcinia cambogia, whether there are any negative effects of this supplement on heart health remains less well-examined.
One case report describes a patient who developed acute heart inflammation after taking a garcinia cambogia supplement for two weeks (5), but aside from this, there isn’t any research, even in animals, on what kind of mechanism might account for this kind of result.
Q: What effects does garcinia cambogia have on your liver?
A: From animal models, we know that garcinia cambogia affects liver function because it decreases your body’s rate of de novo lipogenesis, or new fat synthesis.
This happens primarily in your liver, and incidentally is also why obesity and a diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates are associated with fatty liver disease.
So, given that garcinia cambogia reduces the synthesis of fat in the liver, it suggests that there is a biochemical interaction going on between the active ingredient in garcinia cambogia and your liver cells. There are concerns that hydroxycitric acid, or HCA, which is in garcinia cambogia, could be toxic to liver cells.
This is supported by research in mice, which has found that HCA helps with fat loss but also causes inflammation and scarring in the liver (6).
Case reports in people taking HCA-containing supplements have also noted serious liver problems that can occur, likely as a result of HCA.
Some articles argue that HCA is not toxic to the liver (7), and instead ascribe these case reports to improperly manufactured supplements (notably, one of the authors of this study is from a company that makes supplements that use HCA).
While the issue of liver toxicity is not yet fully settled, it’s clear that garcinia cambogia does not have the same level of safety that can be claimed by some other supplements, such as protein powders for weight loss or other compounds that are derived from natural and safe foods.
Q: Is garcinia cambogia safe?
A: Garcinia cambogia has been studied in a number of small to medium-sized clinical trials with only minor side effects, but there are some concerning case reports related to liver toxicity.
One such report was published in 2016 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology (8), and detailed the case of a 34-year-old man who had been taking a garcinia cambogia supplement for the past five months who presented to a medical clinic with symptoms of liver failure.
Medical testing revealed that the man’s liver was failing, likely as a result of the presence of toxic compounds in the body.
Since the man was not a drug user, was not drinking alcohol, and was not taking any other supplements, the medical team indicated that this provided strong evidence that the garcinia cambogia supplement was the cause of the man’s liver injury.
Another case report had similar findings (9), and garcinia cambogia has been linked to serotonin toxicity as well (10). So, while it may be effective, there are definitely safety concerns about garcinia cambogia.
Q: How do you use garcinia cambogia for weight loss?
A: Most research on garcinia cambogia follows roughly the same protocol: people take a garcinia cambogia supplement two or three times per day, shooting for a total dosage of 1.5 to 3.0 grams of hydroxycitric acid total per day.
Meta-analytic research has found that taking a higher dose is not associated with a greater amount of weight loss, so doses of 1.5 grams of HCA total should be more than adequate to produce whatever weight loss effect you can get from garcinia cambogia.
The amount of weight loss is usually modest, with averages around five or six pounds across eight to 12 weeks being a typical amount of weight lost in the clinical research done so far.
Related: Our best garcinia cambogia picks
Though it may not be the miracle drug some people believe it to be, the available scientific evidence suggests that garcinia cambogia might have a small but significant benefit when it comes to weight loss.
It’s a popular choice both for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight after successfully completing a weight loss program.
Research to date indicates you don’t need to go overboard with the dosage: only about 1.5 grams per day is necessary to get the same level of effects that are seen in clinical research.