Are herbal anti-obesity food supplements effective?

Are herbal anti-obesity food supplements effective?

Kruthika Rao

According to the WHO, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, close to 650 million adults were found to be obese worldwide, while 1.9 billion adults were overweight.  Obesity amongst children below 5 years is a shocking 41 million worldwide with WHO declaring childhood obesity as ‘one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.’

In India, the numbers are equally dismal. According to a study in 'The New England Journal of Medicine', 14.4 million children were categorized as obese in India in 2015, the second highest in the world after China. Obesity can have far-reaching consequences on the health of the future generation.

In the face of this global crisis emerged a global market for herbal anti-obesity food supplements. Garcinia L. (Clusiaceae) fruits, locally known as Kudam Puli are a rich source of Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) and have gained considerable attention as an anti-obesity agent and a popular weight loss food supplement. Weight loss food supplements curb appetite and are used in the treatment of obesity.

A new study conducted by ATREE’s Gopalakrishna Saroja Seethapathy, Ramanan Uma Shaanker, and Ravikanth G indicates that herbal food supplements of Garcinia fruits have anywhere between 4.6 per cent to 50.3 per cent of Hydroxycitric acid in each capsule. This study was conducted on 10 food supplements of Garcinia, which were randomly purchased from e-commerce sites and pharmacies.

Two out of the ten products, which claimed that they contained 60 per cent HCA contained only 5.5 per cent and 4.6 per cent of HCA. However, the other eight products contained anywhere between12.8 per cent to 50.5 per cent HCA.

The study used DNA barcoding method for the identification of Garcinia species in herbal trade, and NMR spectroscopy for detection of HCA in the Garcinia food supplements.

Ravikanth G, one of the authors of the study said, “ Garcinia food supplements are freely available in pharmacies, health food stores, and via the internet without any regulations and quality control. While it is still not clear if Garcinia products do indeed help in weight loss, there have been concerns with respect to the intake of products with varying levels of HCA content.”

According to the authors, DNA barcoding and NMR spectroscopy can be used to complement traditional methods of quality control for consumer safety. They also suggested that in order to increase consumer confidence in herbal food supplements there is an urgent need to study food supplements derived from traditional medicinal plants.