The Truth about Hoodia
Hoodia extract is derived from the Hoodia gordonii plant, native to the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. Hoodia plants have been eaten as food for millennia by the aboriginal San Bushmen. Now research reports that Hoodia (in its pure form) has significant appetite-suppressing effects and weight loss benefits.
Hoodia plants are succulents that look like cactus and have the texture of a cucumber but with a bitter taste. The San Bushmen would traditionally eat Hoodia when away on hunting expeditions to help ward off hunger and thirst. It wasn't until the 1960s that the indigenous foods of the Bushmen were first tested. Scientific investigation of Hoodia was conducted by the South African statutory council known as CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research). They found that Hoodia extracts caused a decrease in appetite and body weight in animals, with no apparent toxic effects. It took the CSIR about 30 years to isolate the specific appetite-suppressing compound in Hoodia. The CSIR then patented and licensed it to Phytopharm, a U.K. pharmaceutical company.
Phytopharm has spent millions of dollars in research to develop weight-loss products based on Hoodia. Their research has revealed an active, appetite-suppressing compound called P57. A 2004 study, published in Brain Research, found that Hoodia P57 has a central nervous system mechanism of action. Findings also revealed that administration of P57 to animals reduced their 24 hour food intake by 40 to 60 percent.
Hoodia isn't a diet stimulant, like Ephedra or Phenfen, which has dangerous side effects. Instead, Hoodia P57 sends a signal to the satiety center of the brain that the body is not hungry. The brain is tricked into thinking you're full and don't want to eat. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study conducted by Phytopharm, overweight but healthy volunteers were administered Hoodia extract. After two weeks, the researchers found the Hoodia group had a statistically significant reduction in average daily calorie intake and body fat content, compared to the placebo group.
Another study conducted by Phytopharm found that repeated large doses of Hoodia caused a significant decrease in daily calorie intake. After 15 days, the participants given Hoodia ate 1,000 calories a day less than those in the control group.
There have been very few side effects reported with Hoodia use. Phytopharm is still conducting studies to determine the long-term safety and efficacy of Hoodia extract. As a result, they anticipate that their weight loss products will not be available for several years.
In addition to Phytopharm, other weight management products claim to contain Hoodia. However, since Phytopharm has the exclusive license for the CSIR Hoodia patents, they have sole use of the active ingredients. Although other suppliers may claim to contain Hoodia in their products, only Phytopharm assays the materials to contain 0.1 and 0.01 percent of the active ingredient. This is important since the dosage and ingredients are crucial for successful weight loss.
Phytopharm has established an agreement with the San people to share a percentage of Hoodia future profits. Phytopharm has also collaborated with the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, to research the possibility of synthesizing a pill of Hoodia P57. However, they found that the cost was prohibitively expensive to process P57 synthetically.
In 2004, Phytopharm reached an agreement with SlimFast, owned by Unilever, to market Hoodia in its natural form, in diet shakes and bars. They anticipate that the first new Hoodia weight-control products will reach the market by 2008. "But there is significant work to be done before new foods containing the product reach the market," reports NutraIngredients.com. "The two companies will collaborate on the necessary research and development to include evaluating safe dosage levels of the extract and gaining regulatory approval for the ingredient, as well as testing its efficacy in food applications."
Since Hoodia is rare and only native to South Africa, the wild supply is extremely limited and the cost is significant. Phytopharm has established Hoodia plantations to grow sustainable quantities of Hoodia for future products. Growing a billion portions of Hoodia a year has been a challenge. "The problem is we're dealing with a novel crop. It's a plant we've taken out of the wild and we're starting to grow it," says Simon MacWilliam, Phytopharm Agronomist, in a CBS 60 Minutes program. "So we have no experience. So it's different- diseases and pests which we have to deal with."
Given the obesity epidemic, Phytopharm anticipates that the demand for their Hoodia weight loss products will be huge, which they fully expect to meet. Until the REAL extracts of hoodia are available to the general population, other appetite suppressants should be considered.
- "Hoodia Gordonii Fact File FAQs". Phytopharm.com, online:
MacLean DB and 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 Sep 10;1020(1-2):1-11.
"Unilever gains exclusive rights to Phytopharm's Hoodia extract". NutraIngredients.com, December 15, 2004, online:
"African Plant May Help Fight Fat." CBS News.com, November 21, 2004, online: