Caralluma Fimbriata: Can an Indian Cactus Help You Burn Fat and Tone Muscle?
It is the year 1910 and you are trekking through one of the most remote parts of India. You haven’t seen a village in over a week and you haven’t eaten in days.
Suddenly you realize that you are not hungry and it feels like you have energy coursing through all of the veins in your body. And, incredibly, your belly is flatter, your arms are more toned and your waist is trimmer…how can this be?
No, it’s not because you’ve been doing daily wind sprints and one-handed push-ups while on your trek; it’s because you are following an ancient Indian tradition and chewing on Caralluma fimbriata, an edible cactus shown to suppress hunger, enhance physical endurance, burn fat, and improve muscle tone.
In fact, this incredible succulent has been used for centuries to help tribes survive famine, drought, food shortage, and long hunting trips.
Flash forward to 2010, and your great-grandchildren and their contemporaries have taken note of your use of this succulent plant and learned how to use it to treat one of this century’s greatest health epidemics: obesity.
Researchers the world over have taken this traditional knowledge and use of Caralluma fimbriata and tested it to see if it really can curb the appetite. The initial results are indeed promising.
But is this really the magic weight loss aid we’ve all been searching for, and is it safe and effective?
Thanks to overinflated promises from late-night infomercials, biased paid celebrity endorsements, and ineffective fad diets, we’ve all become skeptics of the “quick fix” when it comes to weight loss, increased metabolism, slimmer waistlines, and trimmer abs.
Could Caralluma fimbriata really be different? Let’s find out.
Ancient Plant, Modern Solution…
Caralluma fimbriata is a member of the cactus family and is commonly found throughout India. It is used as a common vegetable in many areas of India and is either eaten raw, cooked with a variety of spices, or used in chutneys and pickles.
Some Indian tribes continue the practice of chewing on Caralluma fimbriata to suppress hunger during a long hunt, while the poorer classes in Southern India also use the cactus to fend off hunger and increase endurance during times of famine or drought.
Even with this common use in India, few researchers (let alone laypeople) had heard of Caralluma fimbriata until recent years. Armed with folklore and traditional use of this “famine food,” scientists set out to prove (or disprove) its use for weight loss. And what they’ve found is, quite possibly, a weight loss and diabetes breakthrough.
But before we go and “drink the Kool-Aid,” let’s see what the evidence has to say so we can discover for ourselves whether there is any legitimacy to the claims.
What the Research Shows…
According to a 2006 double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard when it comes to study design) from the journal Appetite,1 researchers from Bangalore, India studied the effects of Caralluma fimbriata extract on 50 overweight men and women.
The participants were divided into two groups, with one group receiving a placebo and the other receiving one gram of Caralluma fimbriata extract a day for 60 days.
At the end of the 60 days, although the placebo group did experience some weight loss, it did not experience any statistically significant changes in any of the key measures that were taken, including body weight, BMI, hip and waist circumference, fat loss, or hunger levels.
On the other hand, the group that was taking the Caralluma fimbriata extract did in fact experience statistically significant changes in all of those measures – weight loss, lower BMI, lower hip circumference, and less body fat.
Plus, those taking the extract also enjoyed significantly lower hunger levels as well as waist circumference than the placebo group.
Or, to put it bluntly, less fat overall, smaller love handles, a lower number on the scale, and fewer hunger pangs…not bad.
Similarly, in 2004, researchers from the Western Geriatric Research Institute in Los Angeles presented their findings on Caralluma fimbriata and obesity at the 12th Annual World Congress of Anti-Aging Medicine2. They too implemented a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, this time with 26 people.
Researchers found that more than 60 percent of the participants who took Caralluma fimbriata extract every day for one month lost six pounds or more, contrary to the placebo group which showed little to no weight loss.
Additionally, 72 percent of the participants taking the extract also enjoyed a reduction in waist circumference. The researchers concluded that Caralluma fimbriata does indeed promote weight loss and fat reduction.
In other words, three out of four people pinched a few inches off their waist size and lost at least six pounds in a month. Pretty impressive.
However, the downside of both of these studies is that the study groups themselves were relatively small (50 and 26 respectively). While results were consistent with later studies, we would like to see independent follow-up studies performed with a larger subject pool.
Interestingly, Caralluma fimbriata did have some additional “side effects.” Aside from curbing hunger and promoting weight loss, it was also found to significantly decrease lower blood pressure levels. Plus, participants taking the extract also reported greater energy levels.
How Exactly Does It Work?
The research seems to indicate that Caralluma fimbriata helps you drop pounds, build muscle, burn fat, and increase energy…all the things that helped our Indian ancestors on their long hunting trips. But how exactly does this cactus work in your body to achieve these results?
Unlike most “wonder” drugs for weight loss, which really translate into “I wonder if it really works,” Caralluma fimbriata addresses three key underlying issues related to weight gain: an inability to burn fat, constant hunger, and poor muscle tone.
On the fat front, Caralluma fimbriata contains pregnane glycosides, a phytochemical that blocks the enzyme citrate lyase. When this enzyme’s activity is stopped, your body cannot produce fat.
Caralluma fimbriata also blocks Malonyl Coenzyme A, another enzyme involved in fat production. By impeding the activity of both of these enzymes, Caralluma fimbriata forces your body to start burning its own fat reserves, thereby promoting fat loss.
When it comes to suppressing appetite, Caralluma fimbriata is believed to act directly on the appetite control center of your brain, specifically the hypothalamus.
When you are hungry, your hypothalamus sends your brain a message that you need to eat. Once you do eat and your belly is full, the hypothalamus then tells your brain you’ve had enough and to stop eating.
While researchers are still unclear whether Caralluma fimbriata sends it own signal to the brain or blocks the hunger signal, what is clear is that Caralluma in some way interferes with the hypothalamus’ hunger messages to the brain.
It also appears that Caralluma fimbriata’s ability to promote lean muscle mass is actually connected to its fat-burning benefits. Thanks to pregnane glycosides, Caralluma fimbriata not only blocks fat production but, as stated above, it also helps to burn fat.
Here’s how that works: Your body uses glucose (sugar) to create a high-energy molecule known as adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), which is what gives you energy. When your body creates too much energy, the excess is stored as fat.
When you burn off the fat, the ATP (energy) is released from the cells, helping you feel more alert and active. Additionally, when this extra energy becomes available in your body, it triggers your muscles to burn energy faster.
The result? Your fat shrinks and your muscles gain strength.
Or, better stated, you lose the fat and gain the muscle. That’s why people taking Caralluma fimbriata show decreased waist circumference within a month or two.
But Is It Safe to Use?
Based on centuries of traditional use, there appears to be little to no adverse effects from Caralluma fimbriata when used responsibly. To this day, many people in India eat it daily with no issues. And of those taking the extract during the studies, few complained of any side effects.
The only concerns noted were mild gastrointestinal upset, which may have been caused by the gelatin capsules, rather than the extract itself as some subjects in the placebo group complained of identical symptoms.
Still, researchers at St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India were not satisfied with conjecture and decided to directly test the safety of Caralluma fimbriata.
They gave both male and female rats 5 g of Caralluma fimbriata extract for every kilogram of body weight—an extremely high dose, relatively speaking. After two weeks, all rats were alive and well, leading researchers to conclude that even at very high doses, Caralluma fimbriata was not toxic.
While this is a bit comforting, two weeks is not very long. Apparently we weren’t alone in this concern.
Another study, this one performed at Intox Pvt. Ltd. in India, looked at long-term usage of Caralluma fimbriata. The study found no observed effect for the product when taken orally for six months at a dosage of 1,000 mg per kilogram of body weight. This indicates a very high level of safety.
These are both very strong, promising studies advocating for the safety of Caralluma fimbriata. Both toxicity and long-term use are critical in terms of safety.
While these safety studies were well-designed and the results are promising, we would still like to see appropriately designed safety studies performed, where possible, in humans, just to be sure.
The RIGHT Form of Caralluma Fimbriata to Try…
While you could head to India and pull off a chunk of the Caralluma fimbriata plant to munch on, that wouldn’t be very efficient or realistic. Instead, you can use a Caralluma fimbriata extract.
When you search for the product online, you will likely find several sources. Be sure to choose a product that has documented research and contains at least 500 mg of Caralluma fimbriata extract. For example, the research noted above used the Slimaluma extract.
If the manufacturer is more interested in hype than research, move on to another product.
Make sure the manufacturer uses good manufacturing practices (GMP) for the product and be sure you can find all the ingredients contained in the product before purchasing. And, if the product contains a trademarked extract, research that extract. Is it safe? Has it been through clinical trials?
Finally, be sure the product you choose is free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally, you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.
And remember, while Caralluma fimbriata appears to be both safe and effective for weight loss, it’s no magic bullet.
To lose weight, the most important thing is to maintain a reasonable caloric intake full of nutrient-dense foods and to engage in moderate daily exercise. And, of course, consult with your doctor before experimenting with any new herbs or supplements.
Clearly, there are no shortcuts when it comes to weight loss. It takes dedication, hard work and fundamental changes to your lifestyle.
But if you use the proven tools of a healthy diet and regular exercise, paired with the fat-burning, weight-reducing benefits of Caralluma fimbriata, you could be on the road to healthy, lasting weight loss in no time. And without the trek through India!
1Kuriyan. R., et al. Effect of Caralluma Fimbriata Extract on appetite, food intake and anthropometry in adult Indian men and women. Appetite, (2007).
2 Lawrence, RM, and Choudhary, S. Caralluma Fimbriata in the Treatment of Obesity. 12th Annual World Congress of Anti-Aging Medicine, December 2004, Las Vegas, USA.
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