Hydroxycitrate acid, also known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA), is a citric acid derivative found in plants. Two of the most common are the Hibiscus subdariffa and Garcinia cambogia. The Garcinina cambogia plant is a subtropical species found in Indonesia and India, and is also known as Brindall berry and Malabar tamarind. This plant is often used in Indian and Thai cooking as a seasoning. The human body does not require any amount of HCA to function properly.
The most popular commercial use of hydroxycitrate acid is as a component of weight-loss supplements. Early clinical testing of it indicated that it might have an effect on lipid metabolism, which could limit body fat accumulation. Further trials later indicated that the natural form of the compound was of little to no use for weight loss.
Modified isomers of hydroxycitrate acid, however, have demonstrated the ability to aid in weight loss. Hydroxycitrate acid is extremely similar to citric acid in chemical composition, and the human body treats HCA as if it were citric acid. Once in the body, HCA causes the liver to release excess glucose into the blood stream, which, for many people, results in a feeling of fullness. In addition, hydroxycitrate acid is able to suppress the function of the enzymes that create fat from carbohydrates.
The use of this acid can lead to many serious side effects, including fatigue, vomiting, liver damage, and death. An April 2009 report in the World Journal of Gastroenterology listed HCA as a hepatoxin, which means that it can severely damage the liver. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carried out its own studies the same year, and came to the conclusion that HCA was the cause of a number of health problems. As a result, certain products containing hydroxycitrate acid were banned by the FDA.
The most well-known of these products was the popular weight-loss formula known as Hydroxycut™. In total, 14 Hydroxycut™ products were banned in the U.S. because of reports of illness, and one confirmed death. The product still exists in a new formulation, but without its most active ingredient, HCA.
Many weight loss websites still maintain that hydroxycitrate acid is safe for human use and causes no side effects when taken properly. According to these sites, the consumption of this acid will cause the body to burn fat, rather than carbohydrates, as fuel. They also claim that the substance is non-toxic. The drug is still sold as part of certain weight loss formulas, and should be taken with caution.