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Liver transplant needed after using Garcinia cambogia weight loss supplement

After taking a slimming aid that contained Garcinia cambogia for three weeks, an American woman aged 52 developed a serious liver problem, for which she ended up needing a liver transplant. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix described the case in Annals of Hepatology.

Garcinia cambogia

Liver transplant needed after using Garcinia cambogia weight loss supplement
The woman used a Garcinia cambogia supplement made by USA Nutra Labs. A pot of the stuff is shown here below. According to the information on the label, a daily dose of two capsules contains 50 mg calcium, 200 mcg chrome, 50 mg potassium and 936 mg extract from the Garcinia cambogia plant. The extract consisted of 60 percent hydroxycitric acid [HCA].

The chemical structure of HCA is shown below on the left. HCA resembles citric acid structural formula shown on the right. Citric acid is released in the body during the citric acid cycle, a complex reaction in which nutrients are converted into energy for the body's cells. The enzyme that is needed to convert citric acid in this reaction is blocked by HCA. When this happens the citric acid cycle becomes less efficient, and some studies suggest that HCA has a mild slimming effect.

Roche pharmaceuticals concern did research on the slimming effect of HCA in the 1970s, but stopped tests because lab animals became sick. HCA was an ingredient in the controversial slimming supplement Hyroxycut, which was taken off the market seven years ago after users developed liver damage. Some needed a liver transplant and some even died.

During an annual check-up the woman's doctor noticed unusual values for her liver enzymes, which were sent for further analysis. During the second round of tests the women mentioned that she had used Garcinia cambogia for several weeks. When she became tired, lost her appetite and started to feel confused the women also stopped taking the supplement.

Too late. By the time the doctors examined her she had developed hepatitis, and scans showed serious liver damage. The woman was admitted to hospital, where the doctors tried to save her liver, but in vain. In the end the women needed a new liver.

Her own liver was partially necrotic, the doctors discovered. A piece of the old liver is shown below.

Liver transplant needed after using Garcinia cambogia weight loss supplement

"In summary, Garcinia cambogia was the most probable etiology for the progressive, acute liver failure that ultimately required liver transplantation in our patient", the researchers summarised. "Consumers and health care providers need to be aware of the potential risks associated with herbal supplements."

"Importantly, when patients present with acute hepatitis or liver failure from an unknown etiology, a careful history of dietary or herbal supplement use should be performed."

Ann Hepatol. 2015 Jan-2016 Feb;15(1):123-6.

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