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The Hype On Hydroxy Citric Acid

Fitday Editor

Turn on the television, open a newspaper or magazine, go online and you'll see endless advertisements for weight loss products. They're everywhere, most of them touting huge amounts of weight loss in a short amount of time. Many of them also contain an ingredient called hydroxy citric acid (or HCA) that is derived from the Garcinia cambogia plant.

How Does it Work?

Citric acid is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and HCA, a modified form of citric acid, inhibits the enzyme that allows carbohydrates to be stored as fat. In other words, when HCA is present, excess carbohydrates are burned instead of stored as fat. An added benefit is a decrease in appetite that, of course, promotes weight loss.

The American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, published by The American Physiological Society, showed HCA delays intestinal glucose absorption in rats, reducing insulin output. Rats were administered HCA prior to mimicking a meal by infusing sugar into the stomach. The rise in blood sugar was much slower showing HCA works as an effective food supplement. The absorption delay is significant because sugar that is normally absorbed quickly, within 20 minutes or less, took over two hours with HCA. This can reduce the high peaks of glucose that the body would normally have to produce a lot of insulin to handle the meal.

Is it Safe?

This sounds great in theory, however the FDA recalled many dietary supplements that contain HCA stating it received reports of liver problems in those who took them. Seizures, cardiovascular problems and other health problems were also reported.

HCA still remains an active ingredient in many weight-loss supplements currently on the market today. The results are mixed when it comes to the effectiveness of HCA in both animal and human studies. Some studies showed no adverse side effects while one study found that high daily doses of HCA led to testicular atrophy and other toxicity levels in rats. The same is true for studies involving weight loss. Some showed HCA to be very effective while other studies showed it did not promote weight loss or prevent fat storage.

Many weight loss websites and companies claim that HCA is safe, however the long-term effects are not really known. We must decide if the possible risks of HCA are worth it or not. Interestingly enough, HCA is also known as Brindle Berry or Malabar tamarind, which is used in Indian and Thai food as a flavoring agent and condiment. Indian folk medicine uses it as a tea or dried powder for a laxative and for treating rheumatism. It can be substituted for lime as Malabar tamarind. In Ceylon, it is used to cure fish along with salt.

The Bottom Line

The goal of using HCA is to reduce the peaks and valleys of insulin and slow down the progression of Type 2 diabetes. More studies need to be done as HCA may still have a therapeutic benefit. It appears to reduce food intake however the jury is still out. Read the label of any weight loss supplement you are taking and always follow label directions. We still are not able to buy health and fitness in a bottle and must make smart food choices and exercise.


Sherry L. Granader is a Sports Nutritionist, National Speaker and Spokesperson, Author of 2 healthy cookbooks, Writer, Ghost Writer, Nationally Certified Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. She has shared the stage with such celebrities as Whoopi Goldberg, Suze Orman and the late Governor Ann Richards and served as the On-Air Nutritionist for QVC television in the United States and the UK. She has cooked for her favorite bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) and his family, shared her nutrition expertise with Chuck Norris on the set of his movie "Sidekicks" and appeared on 8-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney's Championship Workouts on ESPN. Sherry hosted her own "Healthy Living" show on PBS for several years. For more information on Sherry, visit or write to Sherry at [email protected].

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