Students of Ethnobotany: Beware the ‘magic’ fruit


Do you buy this? Image created by someone else, but we’d rather not link to them…

This skeptical edition of Students of Ethnobotany comes to from the clear-eyed Sydney Beatty-Mills.

Procrastination tends to get sweeter as the days go by while studying for my final exams. Often times, this procrastination will involve perusing the web for the most frivolous and non-academic entertainment I can find; anywhere from Facebook to searching for fun things to do once exams are over. While perusing through fun Christmas recipes and how to knit cute socks online I have lately been bombarded with advertisements for a ‘miracle’ weight loss supplement that goes by the name “Garcinia Cambogia”.These sorts of promises come a dime a dozen but I thought I would humour my botanical curiosity and click on the link which presented a svelte women’s abdomen next to an odd looking squash-like green fruit with an off-white fleshy interior.

Once I clicked on the advert I was bombarded with half naked thin women seductively holding white pharmaceutical bottles. The website promises me one free bottle, holding four weeks supply, of the weight loss supplement which appears to be nothing less than a miracle; it will block fat, suppress my appetite, increase the serotonin in my body, and last but not least, decrease my calorie intake by 25%. Forever a cynic, and in addition to my observation of clear typos on the site, I decided to do some research into this magical plant.

Garcinia Cambogia is in fact the outdated name of this particular species which is referred to by academics by its botanical name, Garcinia gummi-gutta. It is from the Clusiaceae family and is referred to by common names such as Bitter Kola, Brindall Berry and Malabar Tamarind, among others. Perhaps by referring to the extract as coming from a source with an exotic botanical, albeit no longer accurate, name, producers are hoping that people will be intrigued by this fruit. In fact, it is native to Southeastern Asian countries and has been used for hundreds of years as a condiment for meals in order to make them more ‘filling’ for the diner.


Garcinia gummi-gutta. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.

Like many ‘super foods’ on the market, there appears to be much debate regarding the effectiveness of the supplement derived from the plant. However, due to the fruit’s high concentration of hydroxycitric acid (HCA) it has been witnessed to suppress the synthesis of fatty acids, lypogenesis, food consumption, and induce weight loss in rats and mice. However, when it comes to human beings, despite its supposed popularity as a magical weight loss supplement, the supplement did not cause any statistically significant weight loss among overweight participants in a double-blind study. In fact, those who were given the placebo supplement and did the same amount of exercise, ate the same lower-calorie diet, etc., lost the same amount of weight as those who took the supplement.

In people’s desperation to lose weight quickly, it is easy to fool individuals with little to no scientific literacy by the mention of “noted researchers” and the demi-God that is Doctor Oz in American lifestyle entertainment. The prolific rates of obesity in the United States, among other nations, is startling and I can certainly understand peoples’ desperation to find the latest and greatest way to curb their cravings for sugar and fat and to lose weight without resorting to “intensive exercise regimes”.  However, it is of the upmost importance that consumers recognize and question the reliability of a product such as the extract of Garcinia gummi-gutta when it is being given out ‘free’ of charge for a ‘limited time’ and only until ‘tomorrow’. Especially when that promise still rings false when I go to click on the advertisement a few days later, when I am procrastinating… again.


Pure Garcinia Cambogia. [Internet]. 2013. Pasadena, California (US). [updated 2013 December 9; cited 2013 December 2]. Available from:

Lim TK. 2012. . [Internet]. Dordrecht, Netherlands. Spring Netherlands; [cited December 2, 2013]. Available from DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-1764-0_7

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