What Is HCA, and Is It the "Natural" Weight-Loss Supplement It Claims to Be?

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It'd be wrong to say that you shouldn't be skeptical of supplements that have anything to do with metabolism or weight loss-you 100% should. The struggle is real when it comes to finding legitimate and safe diet additives that actually live up to their convincing claims. We know how it goes all too well: You spend hours perusing the internet and reading reviews in search of the next best thing to boost your metabolism.

You probably do your best at the basics, like working out and eating healthy, but you're intrigued when something promises to make your fitness goals happen faster. When we found out Malaysian women were eating a tropical fruit called garcinia cambogia (also known as HCA) to block their body's ability to produce fat and lower their appetite, I was intrigued. I mean, being hungry all the time is one of my personal weaknesses that I've yet to come to terms with. You already know what my next Google search was: “What is HCA?”

In layman's terms, it's an extract from a Malaysian fruit that's also known as hydroxycitric acid. Studies have shown that this ingredient has the potential to aid weight loss by doing two things. It starts by increasing your body's chemical serotonin levels, which in turn decreases your appetite and makes you feel less hungry. Then, it supposedly fights off your body's fat-making enzyme called citrate lyase and lowers your level of cholesterol.

In the U.S., you'll most likely see HCA being sold as a supplement. Like every other metabolism and weight-loss supplement sold on the market, I'm sure you're asking yourself whether it really works, right? And, more importantly, is it safe for you to take? I reached out to four registered dietitians to get their professional take on HCA and all it's hype.

Before you get your hopes up, read on to see what they had to say about this natural weight-loss supplement that everyone's talking about.

Does It Really Help You Lose Weight?

Registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz always tells her clients to be skeptical and cautious of any supplement that makes bold weight-loss promises. “While it may help with some mild appetite suppression and possibly increase fat burning, it rarely has a significant impact,” says Moskowitz. “In order to get results from taking a supplement like this, you must also be eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.”

Along those lines of proceeding with caution, registered dietitian Brooke Alpert also believes that anything that seems to be a quick and easy fix is normally too good to be true-and it's very important that you consider the potential side effects. “There is some evidence that HCA helps with weight loss because it blocks an enzyme that forms fat cells. However, I am concerned about the side effects like liver damage, digestive problems, and dizziness,” Alpert explains. “In addition, the studies show minimal weight-loss success. You can lose more weight by following a healthy diet and lifestyle with zero side effects.”

Nutritionist Ali Wender notes that some studies have shown positive weight-loss results when it comes to HCA, but like Alpert, she also believes there's still not much information out there that addresses its long-term potential. “Not enough is known about its side effects on health and whether or not it is safe to be used by the general population,” Wender explains. “I would advise using precaution when considering any supplement promising weight loss.”

Jonathan Valdez, registered dietitian and owner of Genki Nutrition, feels like more research needs to be done as well. He also found conflicting claims in current HCA research. “At this time, because of the limited research, I wouldn't recommend HCA as a method for weight-loss because of the conflicting research regarding its efficacy and longer-term safety of use,” Valdez says.

HCA's Relationship With Metabolism

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“The few mechanisms reported about HCA include increasing serotonin levels, which may suppress appetite and inhibit enzymes that contribute to fat storage. Therefore, it can possibly help you eat and store fewer calories,” Moskovitz explains. “As with any weight-loss supplement, it's important to keep in mind that many of them are not regulated by FDA, which means there are no guarantees that you're actually getting what it says on the label.”

Before You Try HCA…

Moskovitz advises that taking any form of HCA should be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding or if you are on any blood sugar level-controlling medication like for diabetes. As with anything related to your health, it's important to do your research and consult your doctor before taking a dietary supplement.

“I'd recommend following up with your primary care physician if you are pregnant, lactating, or plan to become pregnant. If you plan on taking it, I'd recommend checking to make sure that it has a USP seal, which indicates that the ingredients listed on the label is its declared amount and potency, does not contain harmful contaminants, will break down and then be absorbed into the body within a specified amount of time, and has followed the FDA current good manufacturing practices using sanitary and well-controlled procedures. You must follow this step because many supplements are not regulated by FDA.”

Curious about supplements nutritionists can actually stand behind? Check out five supplements nutritionists would totally buy on Amazon.