What you need to know about 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. 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) 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.
What you need to know about Hoodia appears to suppress appetite 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.”
In animal studies, hoodia is believed to reduce caloric intake by 30 to 50 percent. There is one human study showing a reduced intake of about 1000 calories per day. However, I haven’t been able to find either study to actually read for myself and am going on secondhand reports.