April 15, 2006
Q: What is Hoodiia and what is it used for? - Layperson
A: Hoodia gordonii (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is also called hoodia, xhooba, khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus. Hoodia is a genus in the plant family Apocynaceae, in the part of the family previously treated as a separate family Asclepiadaceae. They are stem succulents, described as "Cactiform" because of their remarkable similarity to the unrelated Cactus family. They can reach up to 1 m high and present exuberant flowers, often with flesh colour and strong smell.
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 is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.
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(so named because it was the 57th compound that Phytopharm spent money to develop). 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.
How does hoodia work?
There isn't much published research on hoodia. Researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island recently found that the steroidal glycosides in hoodia affects nerve cells in the hypothalamus that monitor blood glucose. Simply put, the brain is tricked into thinking there is enough energy (blood sugar) and doesn't need to eat, so it shuts down the hunger mechanism.
The hypothalamus is the organ affected by the P57 molecule because it's the location of the "nerve cells that sense glucose sugar. . . .When you eat, blood sugar goes up because of the food, [and] these cells start firing [so you feel full]. What the Hoodia seems to contain is a molecule that is about 10,000 times as active as glucose. It goes to the [hypothalamus] and actually makes those nerve cells fire as if you were full. But you have not eaten. Nor do you want to."
Phytopharm performed the first animal trials, choosing rats because they are "creatures who will eat literally anything." When fed the cactus, they stopped eating completely.
When the first human clinical trial was conducted, a morbidly obese group of volunteers were placed in a Phase 1 Unit. In this controlled environment, where subjects were literally incarcerated, all they did was read, watch television, and eat. Half were given Hoodia and the other half, a placebo. Fifteen days later the Hoodia group had reduced their caloric intake by 1000 a day and suffered no ill effects. The stuff clearly seemed to work as shown by the following graph.
Of course that is just one study, but if P57 works in Phase II Clinical trials, now underway at Pfizer, it may be the answer to a great many problems although it could also cause as many as it cures.
It's one thing to REDUCE someone's appetite but eliminating it altogether is dangerous. There is the distinct possibility that people with eating disorders will somehow con their physicians out of it or possibly it will become available on the black market.
On the other hand, there is no doubt it would be preferable to current thermogenics and diuretics for athletes who need to make weight but who understand nutrition well enough to return to their normal, and usually healthy, eating habits once their competition or event is over.
The one thing it will not do is correct the choice of foods. All those fat folks who eat fast food will still eat it. Granted, they will eat much less of it, but unless they are also given vitamins and anti-oxidants and counseled in good nutritional practices, they could very well continue to compromise their health.
Thus P57 is not a compound to be taken lightly and the reason why even those who can abide the stench of the Hoodia cactus flowers should not indiscriminately partake of the cactus. Remember, the San only ate Xhoba for specific survival purposes, not because they had eating disorders or some body image problem. In fact, they find the idea that anyone would not eat on purpose ludicrous.
At present, one can find various over the counter products that purport to contain Hoodia. Interestingly enough, they also contain ephedrine and caffeine (ThinPhetamine) and ephedrine/yohimbine combinations (Lipodrene).
According to a January 4, 2003 article in The Guardian (UK), "Some [San] elders attribute aphrodisiac qualities to the plant, though Pfizer, which also makes Viagra, has not marketed that angle."
This produces an interesting conundrum for Pfizer since the FDA now grants only single-use patents. It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the U.S. male population uses Viagra which is contraindicated for those with heart and circulatory problems. This is purportedly not true of Hoodia. With time running out on Viagra's patent (the drug giant can apply for an extension), which will be more lucrative: a fat-loss pill or a male potency enhancer?
What you need to know about hoodia
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.
Most hoodia information on the Internet is unreliable
After looking at hoodia buyer's guides, hoodia ratings, and hoodia comparisons on the Internet, my advice is that you be very cautious. Most of these sites have been secretly created by companies trying to sell you hoodia. They explain why the hoodia in other products is inferior, even though there are no published reports showing that one is more effective.
Hoodia is expensive
There has always been a demand for quick-fix, no-pain weight loss pills. After the ban on the herb ephedra, the market was particularly ripe for the next new weight loss solution, preferably one that didn't have the same stimulating side effects as ephedra. The demand for hoodia is great, but the supply isn't. Until very recently, hoodia gordonii was only found in the wild in South Africa. Hoodia is difficult to grow. It requires 4-5 years to mature and temperatures in the range of 122F. The supply is scarce, which keeps costs high.
The correct dose of hoodia is individual
Supplement companies put a standard recommended dose on the bottle, but people often need far less or more than that amount. Some people who've used hoodia say they need at least 1,200 milligrams per day to notice a difference. But it depends on a person's weight, diet, lifestyle, and metabolism.
Hoodia gordonii, a plant that, while it looks like a cactus, is actually a "succulent" that grows in the high deserts of the Kalahari Desert region of South Africa. The San people of the Kalahari -- a tribe of hunter-gatherers with a 27,000-year-old culture and history in using native plants for medicinal purposes -- have been using the hoodia plant for centuries to help ward off pain, hunger and thirst when the Bushmen made long trips in the desert.
Hoodia gordonii is entirely natural -- it is not a drug, and has no stimulant properties. There is interest, however, from various pharmaceutical companies, including the company Phytopharm, who are trying to synthesize the appetite-suppressing component, P57, in order to create a patentable drug in the future.
How Does Hoodia Work?
There are various species of hoodia, but the Gordonii variation is the only one that contains the all-natural appetite suppressant. Tbis type of hoodia contains a molecule that has similar effects on nerve cells as glucose, and tricks the brain into the sensation of fullness. Results of human clinical trials in Britain suggest that hoodia may reduce the appetite by hundreds of calories a day or more.
In a BBC interview, Phytopharm's Dr. Richard Dixey explained how P57 works:
There is a part of your brain, the hypothalamus. Within that mid-brain there are nerve cells that sense glucose sugar. When you eat, blood sugar goes up because of the food, these cells start firing and now you are full. What the Hoodia seems to contain is a molecule that is about 10,000 times as active as glucose. It goes to the mid-brain and actually makes those nerve cells fire as if you were full. But you have not eaten. Nor do you want to.
How Quickly Will Hoodia Work?
Some people report that hoodia works for them immediately, suppressing appetite within 20 to 30 minutes after taking the capsules. Generally, though, people typically need up to two weeks of regularly taking hoodia before they begin to notice the effects of hoodia, which include:
Does Hoodia Have Side Effects?
Hoodia gordonii is not a stimulant, and has no known side effects. Of course, there is always someone who has a reaction to even the safest supplement, so your own experience -- in conjunction with the advice of your practitioner -- should guide you.
How to Take Hoodia?
Prescription drugs containing hoodia or its synthetic P57 derivative are years away from being on the market. But natural hoodia supplements are currently available.
You need to be particularly careful that you take a hoodia that contains the actual plant -- some brands out there claim to contain hoodia, and have been tested to show they have no hoodia whatsoever. My favorite brand is Hoodia Slim from Paradise Herbs. Another quality brand is the Canadian-based MHSCI Hoodia.
Some people start by using 1-2 capsules an hour before lunch and 1-2 capsules an hour before dinner daily for the first two weeks. As the appetite suppressant effect kicks in, some people drop back to 1 or 2 capsules per day. Always follow the directions of your qualified healthcare professional.
Here are some key points about hoodia that you need to know:
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. There are 166 Parties (States bound by the Convention). Species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival. Following a review at the Conference of Parties in Bangkok (October 2004) it was decided to include Hoodia onto Appendix II of CITES. This will help ensure that all harvest operations and trade of Hoodia plant material are controlled at an international level in order to conserve indigenous plant populations within the range states (South Africa, Namibia and Botswana).
Hoodia gordonii is very rare and is protected by national conservation laws in South Africa and Namibia. It can only be collected or grown with a permit. Wild stocks are also extremely limited so Phytopharm has established plantations over the past 5 years to grow sustainable quantities of Hoodia gordonii exclusively for Phytopharm's product. There is a continuing development programme by Phytopharm to ensure sustainable supplies for Phytopharm's product in the future.
Much controversy exists as to who is selling authentic Hoodia and who is marketing fake or adulterated material. The litmus test for authenticating a product to be Hoodia gordonii or not is to demand a copy of the C.I.T.E.S certificate and ask for a copy of a HPLC/HPTLC/MICRO-MACRO w/P57 Test.
Currently only two labs are able to authenticate Hoodia gordonii in a sealed product sample and those are: Alkemists Pharmaceuticals and Chromadex Labs.
Those with any kind of medical condition, but especially of the thyroid and diabetes, and the pregnant, should consult a healthcare professional familiar with the use of Hoodia.
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DISCLAIMER: The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.