What is Hoodia?

R. Kayne

Hoodia is a succulent native to South Africa that resembles a flowering cactus, though it is actually of the genus Apocynaceae. The plant grows about three feet (1 meter) in height and has large colorful flowers that emit a pungent odor. The species hoodia gordinii has purportedly been used by African bushmen for nearly 20,000 years as an appetite suppressant while on long hunts. Chewing on the meat and rind of this plant is said to quench the thirst, create feelings of satiation, and provide energy.

Hoodiea is a plant native to South Africa.
Hoodiea is a plant native to South Africa.

Due to its apparent appetite suppressing qualities, hoodia it became popular in the West as an herbal weight loss aid. The demand this created resulted in the plants being placed under protective status in many South African countries. Exportation of hoodia gordonii is largely forbidden, though some channels remain.

Hoodia may help some people lose weight by suppressing their appetite.
Hoodia may help some people lose weight by suppressing their appetite.

The active ingredients in hoodia were isolated by United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer and dubbed “P57.” Pfizer reportedly had plans to synthesize P57 and market the product as a treatment for obesity. In 2002, Pfizer abandoned the plan and released the rights to the ingredients. This caused some to speculate about the viability of the plant's alleged benefits. As recently as 9 March 2006, the Seattle Times reported that Pfizer claimed P57 was too difficult to synthesize.

It is interesting to note that, as of mid-2006, there is no scientific research on this plant involving human trials. Sources quote a single animal study as the only known research to date. Even so, it was popular enough that, by 2004, it had attracted the attention of 60 Minutes. Correspondent Lesley Stahl made the trek to South Africa to try hoodia gordinii herself. When mealtime came and went without the usual “pang,” she said of her experience, “I’d have to say it worked.”

Despite the historical and more anecdotal indications of hoodia’s effectiveness in suppressing appetite, the medical profession is quick to point out that without proper studies, no one knows if prolonged use might have adverse effects. Consumer Reports evaluated it in early 2006, but without medical research, would not endorse it.

The potency and purity of hoodia gordinii extract varies from brand to brand, but is supplied in a capsule or liquid. Quality meat and rind usually comes from South Africa and should have at least a 20:1 potency factor. At this potency, common doses range from 500mg to 3000mg per day, broken up into three doses taken 30 to 60 minutes before a meal. Even with the lack of clinical research, many consumers are deciding to try these supplements along with a reasonable diet and exercise plan. Before engaging in any new diet regimen, it is generally wisest to consult your doctor.

The active ingredients in hoodia may be used as a treatment for obesity.
The active ingredients in hoodia may be used as a treatment for obesity.

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