What is Hoodia Gordonii?
Hoodia (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is a cactus-like plant that grows primarily in the semi-deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.
In the last few years, hoodia has been heavily marketed for weight loss and has become immensely popular.
Although there has always been a demand for diet pills, after the ban on the herb ephedra, the market was particularly ripe for the next new diet pill.
Much of hoodia's popularity stems from claims that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert relied on hoodia for thousands of years to ward off hunger and thirst during long hunting trips. They were said to have cut off the stem and eat the bitter-tasting plant.
Hoodia gordonii grows in clumps of green upright stems. Although it is often called a cactus because it resembles one, hoodia is actually a succulent plant.
It takes about five years before hoodia gordonii's pale purple flowers appear and the plant can be harvested.
There are over 13 types of hoodia. The only active ingredient identified so far is a steroidal glycoside that has been called "p57". Currently, only hoodia gordonii is thought to contain p57.
What is the History of Hoodia Gordonii?
In 1937, a Dutch anthropologist studying the San Bushmen noted that they used hoodia gordonii to suppress appetite. In 1963, scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa's national laboratory, began studying hoodia. They claimed that lab animals lost weight after they were given hoodia gordonii.
The South African scientists, working with a British company named Phytopharm, isolated what they believed to be an active ingredient in hoodia gordonii, a steroidal glycoside, which they named p57. After obtaining a patent in 1995, they licensed p57 to Phytopharm. Phytopharm has spent more than $20 million on hoodia research.
Eventually pharmaceutical giant Pfizer learned about hoodia and expressed interest in developing a hoodia drug. In 1998, Phytopharm sub-licensed the rights to develop p57 to Pfizer for $21 million. Pfizer returned the rights to hoodia to Phytopharm, who is now working with Unilever.
Much of the hype about hoodia started after 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl and crew traveled to Africa to try hoodia. They hired a local Bushman to go with them into the desert and track down some hoodia. Stahl ate it, describing it as "cucumbery in texture, but not bad." She reported that she lost the desire to eat or drink the entire day. She also said she didn't experience any immediate side effects, such as indigestion or heart palpitations.
Where is Hoodia Gordonii Found?
Hoodia gordonii is sold in capsule, powder, liquid, or tea form in health food stores and on the Internet. Hoodia is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.
How Does Hoodia Gordonii Work?
Despite its popularity, there are no published randomized controlled trials in humans to show hoodia is safe or effective in pill form.
One study published in the September 2004 issue of Brain Research found that injections of p57 into the appetite center of rat brains resulted in altered levels of ATP, an energy molecule that may affect hunger. The animals receiving the P57 injections also ate less than rats that received placebo injections. However, this was an animal study and injections in the brain are different from oral consumption, so it cannot be used to show that oral hoodia can suppress appetite in humans.
The manufacturer Phytopharm cites a clinical trial involving 18 human volunteers that found hoodia consumption reduced food intake by about 1000 calories per day compared to a placebo group. Although intriguing, the study wasn't published or subjected to a peer-review process, so the quality of the study cannot be evaluated.
What are the Side Effects of Hoodia?
There are some potential side effects of hoodia that you should be aware of. What are Hoodia's Side Effects and Safety Concerns?
How do I Know if it's Pure Hoodia?
There are widespread reports of counterfeit hoodia products. Mike Adams of News Target, estimates that 80% of hoodia products are contaminated or counterfeit. It's impossible to know if a hoodia product contains pure hoodia and the active ingredient, unless it has been tested by an independent laboratory.
People looking at hoodia buyer's guides, hoodia ratings, and hoodia comparisons on the Internet should be very cautious. Most of these sites have been secretly created by companies selling hoodia. They explain why the hoodia in other products is inferior, even though there are no published reports showing that one is more effective. Q&A: How Do I Know if it's Pure Hoodia or a Fake?
Hoodia also goes by the names xhooba, !khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus.More:
- For more articles like this one, sign up for my free, weekly Alternative Medicine newsletter.
- Hoodia Side Effects and Safety Concerns
- Is it Pure Hoodia or a Fake?
MacLean DB, Luo LG. Increased ATP content/production in the hypothalamus may be a signal for energy-sensing of satiety: studies of the anorectic mechanism of a plant steroidal glycoside. Brain Res. (2004) 1020(1-2): 1-11.
"African Plant May Help Fight Fat." CBS News. 21 Nov 2004 <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/18/60minutes/main656458.shtml>.
"Hoodia: lose weight without feeling hungry?" Consumer Reports. (2006) 71(3): 49.
"Kalahari cactus boosts UK drug firm." BBC UK. 20 July 2002. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2161194.stm>
Adams, Mike. "Hoodia update: Counterfeit rate reaches 80 percent, but genuine hoodia is still available." News Target. 28 August 2006. <http://www.newstarget.com/020167.html>