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Hoodia Gordonii: Hype or Miracle?

Out in the deserts of the Kalahari, the San bushmen consume a succulent plant called hoodia gordonii.  For hundreds of years, they have used hoodia to block hunger while they go on long hunting treks.  In an area like the Kalahari where food is scare, the benefits of an appetite-blocking plant are indispensible. Even though hoodia gordonii has been used as an appetite suppressant for so long, it wasn’t until 1977 that scientists caught on to the potential benefits of this natural plant for weight loss.  South African researchers isolated a unique compound from hoodia gordonii which they called P57.  The compound is what makes hoodia such a potent natural appetite suppressant.  In the years that followed, the pharmaceutical rights to hoodia exchanged hands several times, including to the mega company Pfizer.  Even though Pfizer has since lost interest in developing hoodia, the excitement around hoodia for weight loss has yet to diminish.  Drug companies are scrambling to find a way to effectively include hoodia gordonii in supplements and food to capitalize on this weight-loss miracle food.

How Hoodia Gordonii Helps Weight Loss

Hoodia gordonii helps weight loss by acting as an appetite suppressant (still hungry? Appetite suppressants and how they can help weight loss). When you eat food, your body breaks down the food into glucose (sugar) which gets into your bloodstream.  Once your blood sugar reaches certain levels, your nerve cells will essentially tell your brain that you are full and turn off your sense of hunger.  One proposed mechanism that hoodia gordonii works is by tricking your brain into thinking that your blood sugar levels are high.

To date, there have only been limited human studies on the benefits of hoodia gordonii for weight loss.  In one of the first studies performed with hoodia on rats, the rats entirely stopped eating food after being given hoodia gordonii.  In one more recent human trial with hoodia gordonii, study subjects were put into a state of confinement where they were only able to read, watch TV and eat food.  The subjects who took hoodia gordonii had an incredible drop in their food consumption by 1000 calories daily whereas the placebo subjects did not. Other studies support these results that hoodia gordonii significantly reduces appetite, thus helping weight loss.

Even though hoodia gordonii has been proven effective as an appetite suppressant, you will be hard pressed to find doctors or nutritionists who recommend it for weight loss.  There are no studies showing whether hoodia gordonii is safe for long-term use.  Even though the plant has been consumed for centuries by the San bushmen, they live very different lifestyles than westerners who may take it for weight loss. There are also no studies which support how often hoodia gordonii should be taken, how long the appetite suppressing effects last, or how much of the plant is needed to get optimal results.

Be Wary When Buying Hoodia Supplements

Hoodia gordonii has become so popular for weight loss that the demand for the plant has suddenly increased.  This led to hoodia being put on the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  Under this list, hoodia is not yet considered endangered but could become endangered if regulations are not put in place to control its trade. There are now hoodia farms in development for growing the cactus but the supply of hoodia still remains very limited.

Since the supply of hoodia is so very low and the “weight loss miracle” plant is in such high demand, the price of hoodia supplements is incredibly expensive.  Many makers of hoodia supplements have found ways to cut back on these costs.  When the company Unilever did a review of 10 of the leading hoodia supplement brands, it found that only 4 of them had significant amounts of the P57 compound in hoodia which gives it its benefits.  To compensate for the lack of P57 in the products, many hoodia supplements also contain other natural weight loss supplements, like green tea extracts.  When you buy these hoodia supplements, you may not really be getting any of the benefits of hoodia and instead just paying a small fortune for the other ingredients.

Is it Worth It?

After reviewing the studies on hoodia gordonii and appetite suppression, this African desert plant really does seem like a miracle cure for the obesity epidemic afflicting the west.  However, it is important to keep in mind that there are no simple solutions for weight loss.  If you want to lose weight, you must make lifestyle changes like eating healthy and exercising.  Until we know more about the long-term safety and efficacy of hoodia, dieters should not rely too heavily on this weight loss supplement.  Since hoodia is in such low supply, be prepared to pay dearly for this appetite suppressant.

References:

“Hoodia.” Drugs.com. Drugs.com. n.d. Web.

Van Heerden, Fanie R., R. Marthinus Horak, Vinesh J. Majaraj, Robert Vleggaar, Jeremiah V Senabe, and Philip J. Gunning. “An appetite suppressant from Hoodia species.” Phytochemistry, 68;20 (2007): 2545-2553.

Duenwald, Mary. “An Appetite Killer for Killer Appetite? Not Yet.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times. 19 April 2005. Web.

Mangold, Tom. “Sampling the Kalahari Hoodia diet.” News.bbc.co.uk. BBC. 30 May 2003. Web

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