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Garcinia cambogia

How safe is garcinia cambogia and other weight loss supplements?

Are weight loss supplements like garcinia cambogia safe and effective? Do "cleanses" really work? Saju Mathew, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont, sets the record straight.

What is garcinia cambogia?

Garcinia cambogia, a tropical fruit from Indonesia, gained popularity several years ago after it was featured on The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Mehmet Oz called the supplement made from the fruit "revolutionary" because of its purported weight loss benefits.

Garcinia cambogia's rind contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which proponents believe reduces appetite and blocks the body from storing fat. 

If this sounds too good to be true, that's because it likely is. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) said, "Garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo."

Another study published in the Journal of Obesity reported that participants who took garcinia cambogia supplements lost about two pounds more than those who didn't take the pills, but researchers couldn't prove garcinia cambogia was the cause because participants had also followed exercise regimens and lower-calorie diets.

There have also been reports of serious side effects, like liver failure.

The appeal of weight loss supplements

Dr. Mathew says he understands why people reach for supplements in the first place. 

"I know what it's like to struggle to lose weight and make wise choices," he says. "But I also know that when I eat right, exercise and get enough sleep, I feel better. Most of my patients feel the same way."

Safety concerns about weight loss supplements

Weight loss supplements, cleanses and vitamins are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is a red flag for many healthcare providers.

"We have no idea what ingredients they really contain and how they may affect the liver or kidneys," says Dr. Mathew. "I have chosen not to prescribe weight loss supplements to my patients. They are a short-term fix and we should be looking at long-term changes."

Do cleanses really work?

Products or rituals purporting to cleanse the body are unnecessary because the body naturally regulates itself through the digestive process, says Dr. Mathew.

"If you eat healthy, high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water, your body should naturally break down toxins and fats," he says. "We shouldn't need a cleanse if our bodies are working properly, meaning you're having regular bowel movements and you're not constipated."

Getting back to the basics for better health

"We need to get back to the basics when it comes to our health," says Dr. Mathew. "Exercise for 30 minutes a day, eat a balanced diet, make wise choices when you go out to eat and take steps to control your stress. These lifestyle changes will improve your life drastically and you won't have to rely on a short-term fix."

Treat your body like a temple

Dr. Mathew prescribes to the notion "treat your body like a temple."

"I don't think we need to put anything unnecessary in our bodies," he says. "If you lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating right and taking care of life stressors, that's the lifetime medicine I would advocate."

Dr. Mathew practices at Piedmont Physicians Vinings, located at 3020 Paces Mill Road Southeast, Atlanta, GA 30339. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Mathew or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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