Hoodia gordonii (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is also called hoodia, xhooba, khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus.
Hoodia is a cactus that’s causing a stir for its ability to suppress appetite and promote weight loss. 60 Minutes, ABC, and the BBC have all done stories on hoodia. Hoodia is sold in capsule, liquid, or tea form in health food stores and on the Internet. Hoodia gordonii can be found in the semi-deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.
Hoodia grows in clumps of green upright stems and is actually a succulent, not a cactus. It takes about 5 years before hoodia’s pale purple flowers appear and the cactus can be harvested. Although there are 20 types of hoodia, only the hoodia gordonii variety is believed to contain the natural appetite suppressant.
Although hoodia was “discovered” relatively recently, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert have been eating it for a very long time.
The Bushmen, who live off the land, would cut off part of the hoodia stem and eat it to ward off hunger and thirst during nomadic hunting trips. They also used hoodia for severe abdominal cramps, haemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion, hypertension and diabetes.
In 1937, a Dutch anthropologist studying the San Bushmen noted that they used hoodia to suppress appetite. But it wasn’t until 1963 when scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s national laboratory, began studying hoodia weight loss.
Initial results were promising — lab animals lost weight after taking hoodia.
The South African scientists, working with a British company named Phytopharm, isolated the active ingredient in hoodia, a steroidal glycoside, which they named p57. After getting a patent in 1995, they licensed p57 to Phytopharm. Phytopharm has spent more than $20 million on hoodia research.
Eventually pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (makers of viagra online) caught wind of hoodia and became interested in developing a hoodia drug. In 1998, Phytopharm sub-licensed the rights to develop p57 to Pfizer for $21 million. Pfizer recently returned the rights to hoodia to Phytopharm, who is now working with Unilever.
Much of the buzz 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 lost the desire to eat or drink the entire day. She also didn’t experience any immediate side effects, such as indigestion or heart palpitations. Stahl concluded, “I’d have to say it did work.”
One of the first studies of Hoodia Gordonii was done in the UK on obese patients. Half of the volunteers were given Hoodia Gordonii, the other half were given a placebo. The subjects were allowed to read, watch television and eat. After 15 days it was found that those taking Hoodia had reduced their calorie intake by 1000 calories a day. Despite having unlimited access to food, the Hoodia subjects lost weight.
Is Hoodia Safe?
Since Natural Hoodia is a plant (versus a man-made chemical), it is completely natural and experts say it is safe to eat. Scientists have been studying Hoodia for almost 10 years and have not found any side effects. (Not to mention the San Tribesman who have been eating Hoodia for years with seemingly no ill effects).
What Can You Do?
One way to tell if a Hoodia pill is real is to look for a document called the C.I.T.E.S. Certificate (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Since the Hoodia plant is a protected plant species it can only be sold to an exporter who has this certificate.
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