What is Hoodia?

Hoodia is the latest appetite suppressant rage! It comes from a cactus-like plant in South Africa. It was used by tribesman as an appetite suppressant so they could go on long hunting and gathering trips. That appetite suppressant effect is what everyone is clamoring about, and is why it is now a key ingredient in weight loss products. The belief is that it works on a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which holds our appetite center. Hoodia is believed to contain a molecule called P-57, which tells glucose sensors in the hypothalamus that enough calories have come in, and that one is full. Steve Siegel is Vice-President of Ecuadorian Rainforest L.L.C., a distributor of hoodia in the U.S. He says the hoodia must come from South Africa. His argument: any other hoodia won’t give you the appetite suppressing effects.

“Not all hoodia is the same. Ecuadorian rainforest is a supplier of genuine South African hoodia, there are a lot of companies out there that will try to sell you hoodia from china or hoodia from Mexico, hoodia as of right now only comes from south Africa,” says Siegel. But does hoodia really provide the appetite suppressant benefits? “The big question really in my mind is really what is the evidence behind hoodia and what is the driving force behind it,” says Dr. Dennis gage, an endocrinologist and obesity expert at lenox hill hospital.

“The science of it is very weak. There really haven’t been any, what I’ve seen, as big human trials,” Dr. Gage believes. Dr. Gage proposes two theories as to how hoodia might work. One, it might take the entire plant, not just parts of it or an extract for the appetite suppression to work. Here’s the other: “Now let me tell you an interesting thing: you can eat fiber and it’s going to suppress your appetite, almost any fiber. It doesn’t necessarily mean that hoodia has a magical component, it’s a plant, it had fiber, it’s going to fill you,” states Dr. Gage.

So maybe it does work! Whether it’s fiber or the P-57 molecule in the brain, or anything at all must be proven in clinical research. And at very least, even Mr. Siegel says it needs to be kept in perspective. “It is really not a quick fix or something that you just take, it is really to promote a healthier lifestyle so with taking hoodia you are going to lower the amount you eat, make better choices in what you eat.”

 To obtain all the clinical evidence showing hoodia is effective as an appetite suppressant, we contacted Phytopharm, the British company that has the rights to hoodia in south africa. They said they could not send out any information to us, and that we would have to contact the company Unilever which holds exclusive global rights to hoodia from Phytopharm. When we called Unilever for the data, they said they would have to get back to us. Now, the Phytopharm website cites a 2001 study, and another, or perhaps the same study of 18 obese men who apparently had reduced caloric intake.

 But we haven’t been able to get the details of what many experts, including Dr. Gage, would consider a small study (18 patients). Dr. Gage also expresses concerns about safety, that it has not yet been proven, although there is no evidence of any danger to this point. Phytopharm says on it’s website that “further scientific studies are required to establish the safety profile of hoodia gordonii extract. These are currently ongoing at phytopharm.”


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