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Side Effects of Hoodia

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Updated June 26, 2014

Side Effects of Hoodia
Seth Mazow/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Q: What are the side effects of hoodia, if any? Most articles I've read about hoodia say it's a gentle and safe and I can't seem to find any information about side effects anywhere.

A:

Hoodia gordonii is often touted as a herbal diet pill without side effects, although there's a lack of published studies on the safety of hoodia in humans.

Hoodia marketers often claim that hoodia has no side effects because the San Bushmen in the Kalahari desert of Africa have been using hoodia for thousands of years. But hoodia simply hasn't been around for long enough in North America and it hasn't been subjected to safety testing to uncover any possible side effects, drug interactions, and safety concerns.

Jasjit S. Bindra, PhD, former researcher for hoodia at Pfizer (the pharmaceutical giant that licensed the rights to develop hoodia for $21 million but later returned the rights), stated in a letter to The New York Times that although hoodia did appear to suppress appetite, there were indications of unwanted effects on the liver caused by components other than the active ingredient p57 that could not easily be removed during processing.

Bindra added, "Clearly, hoodia has a long way to go before it can earn approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Until safer formulations are developed, dieters should be wary of using it".

If hoodia does affect liver function, it may also interact with other medications a person is taking. The San Bushmen are a tribe of hunter-gatherers, and probably did not take same pills for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, depression, and other diseases, that we do, another reason why unconfirmed reports of safe use by the San should not be relied on.

People with diabetes should be cautious about using hoodia. One of the theories about how hoodia works is that it tricks the brain into thinking that it has enough blood sugar. Without proper feedback regulation, it's possible that a person's blood sugar could drop dangerously low while taking hoodia. And with the regular hunger mechanism turned off, the normal warning signs may be suppressed, until it's too late.

Hoodia is believed to suppress not only appetite but thirst. There have been unconfirmed reports of shepherds in Africa who took hoodia to take the edge off hunger pains, but died of dehydration because they didn't feel thirsty.

And as a general precaution, because the safety in pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with liver or kidney disease hasn’t been established, these people in particular should avoid hoodia.

More: Sources
Bindra, Jasjit. "A Popular Pill's Hidden Danger". New York Times. 26 Apr 2005. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9505E3D71231F935A15757C0A9639C8B63>

Morris, Joan. "Little research behind claims that hoodia is safe, effective for losing weight". Seattle Times. 9 Mar 2006. <http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2002850423_healthhoodia08.html>
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