Recently a friend of mine emailed a me a link to website that sells a product called Garcinia cambogia. On it was a video of Dr. Oz touting its miraculous effects as a “magic bullet” for weight loss. The website has since been shut down, but trust me, it was quite a work of theater. Click here for a youtube video somebody made of the episode.
He puts on this amazing show with a patronizing, child-like model liver and a rather impressive, if not oversimplified and pseudoscientific, computer animation of someone’s gastrointestinal tract absorbing a food that appears to be Kix cereal as far as I can tell. Click on the video to see for yourself. Now that you’ve been wowed with the magic of television, I thought I’d show you how accurate the claims are based on my own research.
What you actually get in the pills is a substance called hydroxycitric acid. The chemical name is more DuPont than Whole Foods and takes away some of the back-to-the-Earth allure than the fruit from which it is extracted. This is a fruit found in Southeast Asia that is a regular part of their cuisine there and has been used in medicinal contexts. It inhibits an enzyme called citrate cleavage enzyme which, in animal studies, suppresses fatty acid production, decreases food intake, and decreases body weight gain. Sounds pretty good. But I thought I’d point out a few of the danger zones in the claims of the website and the recommendations of the esteemed Dr. Oz.
1. The magical claim. This is not hyperbole on my part. He used the term ‘magic bullet’. I have said this many times. If there was a truly magic pill that could melt away body fat without exercise or dietary modification, someone would be making billions off it by now. You would also sure know about it because everyone would be on it and the obesity crisis would be over. I would then have fewer patients and more time to work on my golf game (actually, I’ve never played golf – no time – sorry to ruin the doctor cliche). As you may have noticed on your last trip to Walmart, our nation is not getting less fat.
The facts: When you look behind the curtain of the great and powerful Oz, things are less exciting. His own guest doctor only reported about 4 pounds a month lost in the studies and recommended that the supplement be included with diet and exercise. As for the real research, a systematic review published in the American Journal of Nutrition (2004;79:529-369) discussed Garcinia and concluded that “overall, the evidence for G. cambrogia is not compelling.” This was because there were some studies that showed benefit and some that didn’t. Regardless, it is true that there have been legitimate scientific studies that show weight loss with hydroxycitric acid, but these are countered by an equal number of legitimate scientific studies that showed no more benefit than taking a sugar pill.
2. The reference-less “quote”. The website I was sent was written as if it was a quote from who knows what he or she is talking about yet it doesn’t provide any references for the claims on the page. Here’s the quote:
“Let’s cut to the chase: The most recent study on Garcinia Cambogia published in the Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity journal followed a group of 16 adults who supplemented with Garcinia Cambogia for only 12 weeks. Over the course of the study, the subjects lost an average of 17 pounds each – this was 10.5% of their overall body weight and 16% of their overall body fat!”
The facts. I found the website of the Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity Journal and ran a search on Garcinia but found no articles on the topic. I searched google scholar and pubmed as well and found nothing. Even if the article exists, there is no mention of the nature of the findings. Was there a placebo control group? Did the study drug do better than placebo? Was there prescribed lifestyle modifications involved in the study? What was the nature of the groups study? How many subjects?
3. The unbelievable photos. A picture is worth a thousand words. But those thousand words may be worth nothing if they’re bogus. You have no idea if these people to Garcinia or if the pictures were photoshopped.
4. The all-natural mirage. As was claimed from our phantom article, “There were no side effects reported.”
The facts: Even if the claims of the research are not completely fraudulent, just because one study had no side effects reported after 12 weeks, doesn’t mean that the supplement is safe for the long term. As a matter of fact there have been many serious adverse reactions to other reportedly “safe” natural weight loss supplements including liver failure and death. I am not claiming that Garcinia is unsafe, I’m just saying that just because a website (or even the great and powerful Dr. Oz) says that it is safe does not make it so. Just because something is all natural doesn’t make it safe either. Snake venom is all natural and will lead to weight loss but I wouldn’t recommend it. For more on the all-natural marketing ploy check out one of my earlier posts, “Cleanse Yourself of Deadly Toxins”.
Also check out this great article about Dr. Oz and his claims from the Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_22305784?stopRedirect=trueReferences: Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:529-36 Jama 1998;280:1596-1600 Intl J Obes 2001;25:1087-94 Obes Rev 2005;6:93-111.