When chemical testing proves that most of the top-rated products for a popular supplement barely contain the supplement itself, it’s easy to be concerned. This is the current quality control issue for garcinia cambogia, the tropical-fruit-turned-weight-loss-supplement. A record number of consumers and supplement companies are jumping on unproven media claims that garcinia cambogia can rapidly shed pounds, so now, too many people are at risk of buying too many scam products.
If companies are choosing to lie about their products’ ingredients, how will consumers know they’ll be getting what they pay for? What ingredients are being used in place of garcinia cambogia? Are any of them harmful? And how did this situation arise in the first place?
Massive Consumer Interest
Interest for garcinia cambogia rides on the tails of high-traffic media exposure in an already expansive weight loss market. A $60 billion weight loss industry in the US set the stage for Dr. Oz to promote the supplement to his 3.4 million daily viewers as a “revolutionary fat buster”, and the subsequent interest was overwhelming, reaching 1 million internet searches for garcinia cambogia per month during the latter half of 2014. Even now, garcinia cambogia is 4 times more often searched that any other type of supplement. Google’s timeline below shows the dramatic impact of Dr. Oz’s garcinia cambogia promotion in 2013:
Capitalizing on the Opportunity for Profit
Research shows that consumers are changing their supplement decisions regularly, especially in response to media coverage, and that brand loyalty is at an all-time low. It seems, therefore, that Dr. Oz’s garcinia cambogia segment appeared at an ideal time to give supplement companies the freedom to capitalize on the market even before research could confirm garcinia cambogia’s effects.
Now, evidence from LabDoor, a supplement testing and rating entity, also shows that many of these companies compromised on quality to push their garcinia cambogia supplements to the market quickly and cheaply. LabDoor discovered in its July 2015 chemical analyses that 21 of the top 29 garcinia cambogia products had far less than what their labels listed for garcinia cambogia’s active ingredient, hydroxycitric acid (HCA). To confirm results, a separate FDA-registered lab repeated the tests and reported very similar findings. LabDoor further detailed actual percentages of HCA in each product and the presence of other ingredients in the formulations.
Objective Product Testing
LabDoor’s data prove how inaccurate labels can be and that some are outright deceptive. Liquid Supps Garcinia Cambogia’s label, for example, lists 300mg of HCA, but lab testing only found 24mg. That’s not even 1% of the HCA consumers are told is in the product. And even though Liquid Supps was the most inaccurate of the tested products in its label claims and contained the least amount of HCA, it was not a unique case. 15 of the 29 tested products had about 15% or less of the HCA that was listed on their labels. 14 of the products had less than 100mg of HCA. On the other extreme, more than a quarter of the tested products had more HCA than what their labels claimed. Swanson Super Citrimax Clinical Strength deviated most with 32.2% more HCA than its label claim – 1189.8mg compared to 900mg.
Purely Inspired 100% Pure Garcinia Cambogia in tablet form turned out to have the most accurate label. The product’s label claimed it had 800mg of HCA and the actual measured amount was 824mg, only off by 0.3% of the claimed amount. Nutrigold Garcinia Cambogia Gold was a close second with a measured HCA amount of 312mg, 0.4% higher than the label’s claim of 300mg. Although some products fared better than others on label accuracy, it’s obvious that left with labels and a lack of independent third-party testing, consumers can’t know for sure how much garcinia cambogia they will be getting, if any at all.
(For full analysis results, visit Labdoor’s Garcinia Cambogia Rankings.)
In addition to inaccurate label claims for HCA content, some of these top-rated garcinia cambogia products also contain potential toxins. Case in point: not only was Liquid Supps Garcinia Cambogia most deceptive in its HCA label claims, but it also contains benzoate, a food preservative that reacts with Vitamin C to form benzene, a known carcinogen that causes cancer at high enough concentrations. Benzene is also a chemical that is released into the air from car emissions and industrial manufacturing plants. Titanium dioxide, an additive used to add whiteness to products like paint, plastics, paper, and foods, was found in Phytogenix Laboratories Ultimate Garcinia Cambogia and Nature’s Science 100% Pure Garcinia Cambogia, and was recently classified as potentially cancer-causing for humans. And finally, Red 40, an artificial food dye often under scrutiny for possible brain toxicity and cancer-causing potential, was found in Purely Inspired 100% Pure Garcinia Cambogia, even though the product performed best in HCA label accuracy.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide the FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products.” Because the law is so loose, supplement companies can essentially get away with fraud and misinformation about dosage and safety. The weight-loss industry is especially tricky. A survey conducted by the US Federal Trade Commission found that Americans are now more vulnerable to fraud from weight-loss products compared to any other type of consumer fraud. In garcinia cambogia’s case, let’s not forget that the number of potentially duped consumers is in the millions.
No Evidence for Weight Loss in Humans
For all the attention surrounding garcinia cambogia, its 30-year research history still has not yielded substantial evidence of weight loss in humans.
Some research evidence does suggest that rats experience decreases in food intake, body weight, appetite, and circulating fats when their diets are supplemented with HCA. The dosage and duration of taking HCA differed in orders of magnitude between studies though, and some studies reported no effects of HCA regardless. And even with these varied results, supplement companies are clinging to these findings as proof that HCA promotes weight loss in humans, stating that HCA will suppress appetite and block the body’s production of fats. This is based in part on findings in rat studies that HCA prevented serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in the feeling of being full, is therefore supposedly allowed to exert its satiety effects longer. Along with this mechanism, molecular studies on rat enzymes showed that HCA was able to somewhat limit the activity of ATP citrate lyase, an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of fats, thus preventing new fats from being made.
The obvious caveat in discussing this research is that rats are not humans. Oftentimes, as in the case of garcinia cambogia, theories about rats can’t simply be applied to humans just because we’re both animals. When it comes to human studies, very few have been able to show that HCA causes weight loss and those that have used small sample sizes, short-term results, or other poorly designed methods. In a meta-analysis of 23 separate clinical trial studies ranging from 2 to 12 weeks long with a total of 706 obese human subjects, a small, but statistically significant weight loss difference of 0.88kg favoring HCA over placebo was found. However, every one of these 23 studies had something wrong with its methodology, meaning that the data collected from these trials might be unreliable. Standard dosing of HCA is 500mg 30-60 minutes before a meal up to three times per day, but it’s uncertain what dosing is ideal since effects have been so minimal regardless of dose.
As far as adverse effects are concerned, studies on HCA have most commonly documented complaints of headache, nausea, upper respiratory, and gastrointestinal tract symptoms, but usually, these effects were similar to those seen in subjects taking placebos. While individuals should always exercise more caution if they are taking other drugs or supplements, generally, studies to date suggest that HCA is safe for human consumption.
Where to Go From Here
After countless complaints filed against Dr. Oz for perpetuating scams and profiting from irresponsible medicine, the webpage for his segment on garcinia cambogia has since been removed from “The Dr. Oz Show” website. To keep selling their products to the millions of people searching for garcinia cambogia since 2013’s media hype though, supplement companies often argue that research can’t prove that garcinia cambogia doesn’t work for weight loss. Research really hasn’t been able to prove that it works either. Nevertheless, companies are absolutely responsible for presenting honest facts about their products so consumers know what they’re buying if they do decide to try them. And, if research is going to study how effective individual products might be, knowing which products have the actual active ingredient is critical. With so much interest in garcinia cambogia but so little known about what’s in available products and whether they work, at least unbiased product testing stands to offer some clarity.
By Benita Lee, for LabDoor.com