Hydroxycitric acid is a chemical that occurs naturally in a range of fruits and flowers, and is believed to have beneficial effects on human metabolism. It is frequently used in diet and weight loss drugs, often in very high concentrations, but the efficacy of these sorts of medications hasn’t been firmly established in most cases. Drugs are often a part of a successful weight loss plan, but even the most potent concoctions aren’t usually able to work on their own. Diet and exercise are usually important elements, too. The chemical can also have a number of negative side effects, some of which can be quite serious. As a consequence, most medical experts don’t advise people to take supplements that contain it without getting a check-up and an individualized medical workup first.
From a Chemical Perspective
The acid is closely related to citric acid, which occurs in high concentrations in most citrus fruits and is a well-known and often-used preservative in packaged foods. Hydroxycitric acid shares many of the same core structures, but is different primarily because of the arrangement of the hydrogen atoms. It carries the chemical formula C6H8O8.
Where it Comes From
The compound is typically found in a variety of tropical plants, including most predominantly Hibiscus subdariffa, a West African flowering plant sometimes also known as Roselle, and Garcinia cambogia, which can also be called either brindleberry or Malabar tamarind and is native to Indonesia. Even though the acid usually occurs in relatively high concentrations in these and other related plants, actually extracting it can be somewhat burdensome, and usually requires quite a few plants to get a useful amount. Scientists sometimes also synthesize the chemical artificially in labs in order to make it in greater quantities less expensively. Synthetic versions usually have the same chemical attributes, and typically react identically.
Use in Weight Loss
Animal research has generally shown that the acid has a favorable effect on metabolism, which may be helpful in treating obesity and weight loss. Subsequent studies on humans, however, remain equivocal, and many researchers remain skeptical of its true benefits. Just the same, it has become a very popular additive in diet drugs and supplements, many of which are sold as “nutritional boosters” and aren’t subject to prescription or other regulation.
The science behind the weight loss claims is fairly simple. Essentially, the acid is thought to prevent carbohydrates from forming fatty acids, therefore suppressing the appetite. Supplements are believed to check the conversion of excess carbohydrates to fat and increase the storage of glycogen in the liver, thereby enhancing endurance capacity and facilitating weight loss. Other benefits include the conversion of fat to energy during extended periods of exercise, and the suppression of appetite by increasing the amount of serotonin in the blood.
Theories behind the fat-burning properties of hydroxycitric acid are that it inhibits an enzyme called citrate lyase from converting excess carbohydrates into fatty tissue. The body instead burns all excessive carbohydrates and boosts carbohydrate oxidation. Many people who have used the chemical as a diet supplement claim that it has suppressed their appetite and encouraged them to eat less. The precise mechanism by which the acid exerts its apparent appetite suppressing effect is unknown, however.
Common Side Effects of Supplementation
While the acid in its natural state doesn’t typically pose any harmful side effects, research has demonstrated that supplements based on the acid may be linked to a number of potentially serious health issues. Among the most concerning is liver damage. A number of hydroxycitric-acid based weight loss supplements have been banned or recalled by various authorities around the world because of the risk of harm.
Other potential problems associated with hydroxycitric acid supplementation include jaundice, fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. The acid affects the body’s glucose, or blood sugar, levels. An elevated glucose level poses a serious health risk to people with diabetes, and can be hard on the heart in most others.