For a couple of years now, weight loss with the aid of hoodia has been all the rage on the Internet, and on television. Originally coming only from South Africa, the plant hoodia gordonii is now grown in Mexico, the U.S., and China. These plants have not been scientifically studied for their effectiveness, but they are the same plants grown in the southern Kalahari Desert in South Africa. Hoodia is the name of a genus of 13 species of succulent plants, which are similar, but not related to cacti. Hoodia can reach heights of 3 feet, and have large flowers.
Common names for hoodia are "Bushman's Hat" and "Queen of the Namib." The species hoodia gordonii is the species being marketed for weight loss. In the wild it smells like rotten meat, and is pollinated by flies. It has been used for hundreds of years as an appetite suppressant for Kalahari Desert hunters embarking on long hunting trips. One theory of how hoodia works is that its active ingredient, known as P57, works on the brain, specifically regulating the availability of ATP in the hypothalamus, where appetite is regulated. Scientists believe that P57 acts on the brain in a manner like glucose, sending a message that you are full, even though you have not eaten. It has no known side effects, but the taste is considered very unpleasant and bitter.
Hoodia gordonii is marketed in a variety of forms, such as capsules, tablets, shakes, infusions, and "energy bars."
News reports from CBS and the BBC cited research by Phytopharm on obese patients saying that obese people who took hoodia ate approximately 1,000 fewer calories per day than those that did not take it.
Hoodia alone is not the answer to weight problems. While it does suppress appetite, it will not make up for an unhealthy diet or curb "emotional" eating. Hoodia is said to work best when used with a healthy diet and exercise. It will not burn fat or build muscle. You still have to do that the old fashioned way, with cardiovascular exercise and weight training.
There are some populations that should not take hoodia. They include people with diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, people with clotting disorders, people with anorexia or bulimia, pregnant or nursing mothers, and children.
Because the plant grows in extremely hot conditions and takes years to reach maturity, the active ingredient has a very limited supply. Phytopharm has a hoodia plantation in South Africa and is investigating farming methods to be able to cultivate the plant. The pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, which funded much of the hoodia research, determined that P57 would be too difficult to synthesize.
There is speculation that many of the so-called hoodia plants on the market today do not actually have any active hoodia, because of the rarity of the active compound and the difficulty of synthesizing it artificially. A study by Phytopharm reported that hoodia supplements from non South African purveyors of hoodia supplements only contained between 0.1 and 0.01 percent of the active ingredient claimed.
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