According to the CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010), more than one-third of American adults (35.7%) and almost 17% of youth were obese in 2009-2010.[1] With obesity affecting so many people, sellers of weight loss products are busy marketing weight loss pills and potions. Apparently, income limitations seem to be no obstacle: even those with limited funds have told me how they scrape together money to buy a product they perceive may help them lose weight.

What is Garcinia?

Garcinia cambogia is a member of the Clusiaceae family. Although the tree is not in the same genus or family as Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), it is sometimes called Malabar Tamarind, because of its similarly bitter flavor and its use in recipes as a substitute for tamarind. Other names for Garcinia cambogia include Assam fruit, monkey fruit, Brindal berry (Brindall or Brindleberry), Camboge or Goraka.

Evergreen, tropical Garcinia trees can grow 15 to 40 feet tall. They are native to Asia, Australia, southern Africa and parts of India. In some regions, the green, bitter fruits are sliced before ripening, and then sundried and used to impart flavor to Indian curries. Smoked fruits, called Kodampoli (kudampoli), add unique flavor too - a favorite for some chefs.

Other species in the same family include Garcinia atroviridis and Garcinia mangostana, native to Indonesia and Malaysia. Garcinia gummi-gutta trees areImage also native to South East Asia. These slow growing, tropical, glossy-leaved trees prefer hot, moist growing conditions.

Garcinia Health Claims

Garcinia fruits contain Hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a derivative of citric acid found in many weight loss supplements bearing claims to "burn fat quickly" and "reduce appetite". Garcinia cambogia is said to aide in weight loss by decreasing appetite and therefore food intake, while boosting serotonin levels. Some say that eating Garcinia fruit can block fat and may benefit in reducing cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides.

Garcinia cambogia-based diet pills have been linked to liver injury. In 2009, the FDA Warned Consumers to Stop Using a popular dietary supplement product because of its link to death and risks for liver damage.[2]

Can Garcinia Help in Weight Loss?

Science-based studies for the effectiveness on HCA in weight loss are limited. Back in 1998, a randomized controlled study on 135 people, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that Garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss beyond that observed with a placebo.[3] Image Some Garcinia diet pill companies point to a near-decade-old study done for 8 weeks in India on 60 people, which concluded that Garcinia was effective for weight loss.[4] Most studies, however, have been done on laboratory animals. WebMD posts on their website that preliminary research indicates that Garcinia might prevent fat storage and aid in controlling appetite; but they caution that these effects in humans are unclear.

At this time, there does not seem to be enough significant scientific evidence that Garcinia fruit promotes weight loss.

Monkey Fruit

Perhaps it would be wise to use Garcinia fruit in foods like curries, or leave the garcinia fruits as a food source for wildlife like monkeys and Archduke butterflies (Lexias) of tropical eastern Asia.

If you or someone you know is battling obesity and wants to lose weight, I'd get a referral from your doctor and go see a registered dietitian, who can help you achieve your weight management goals.

Happy and Healthy Gardening!

Photos courtesy of Garcinia fruit photos courtesy of Ginsengman, Wikipedia.

[1] Prevalence of Obesity in the United States 2009-2010

[2] FDA Warns Consumers to Stop Using Hydroxycut Products Dietary Supplements Linked to One Death; Pose Risk of Liver Injury

[3] Garcinia cambogia (Hydroxycitric Acid) as a Potential Antiobesity Agent A Randomized Controlled Trial

[4] Effects of a natural extract of (-)-hydroxycitric acid (HCA-SX) and a combination of HCA-SX plus niacin-bound chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract on weight loss.