Hoodia Gordonii for Weight Loss

Hoodia gordonii, appetite suppressing plant used by San bushmen, Damaraland, Palmwag Concession, Namibia.
Hoodia for Weight Loss. Robert J. Ross/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Hoodia (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is a cactus-like plant that grows primarily in the semi-deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.

In the last few years, hoodia has been heavily marketed for weight loss and has become immensely popular.

Although there has always been a demand for diet pills, after the ban on the herb ephedra, the market was particularly ripe for the next new diet pill.

Much of hoodia's popularity stems from claims that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert relied on hoodia for thousands of years to ward off hunger and thirst during long hunting trips. They were said to have cut off the stem and eat the bitter-tasting plant.

Hoodia gordonii grows in clumps of green upright stems. Although it is often called a cactus because it resembles one, hoodia is actually a succulent plant.

It takes about five years before hoodia gordonii's pale purple flowers appear and the plant can be harvested.

There are over 13 types of hoodia. The only active ingredient identified so far is a steroidal glycoside that has been called "p57". Currently, only hoodia gordonii is thought to contain p57.

Hoodia gordonii is sold in capsule, powder, liquid, or tea form in health food stores and on the Internet. Hoodia is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.

One study published in the September 2004 issue of Brain Research found that injections of p57 into the appetite center of rat brains resulted in altered levels of ATP, an energy molecule that may affect hunger. The animals receiving the P57 injections also ate less than rats that received placebo injections. However, this was an animal study and injections in the brain are different from oral consumption, so it cannot be used to show that oral hoodia can suppress appetite in humans.

The manufacturer Phytopharm cites a clinical trial involving 18 human volunteers that found hoodia consumption reduced food intake by about 1000 calories per day compared to a placebo group. Although intriguing, the study wasn't published or subjected to a peer-review process, so the quality of the study cannot be evaluated.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. If you're considering the use of hoodia, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

There are widespread reports of counterfeit hoodia products. Mike Adams of News Target, estimates that 80% of hoodia products are contaminated or counterfeit. It's impossible to know if a hoodia product contains pure hoodia and the active ingredient unless it has been tested by an independent laboratory.

People looking at hoodia buyer's guides, hoodia ratings, and hoodia comparisons on the Internet should be very cautious. Most of these sites have been secretly created by companies selling 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 also goes by the names xhooba, !khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus.

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  • MacLean DB, Luo LG. Increased ATP content/production in the hypothalamus may be a signal for energy-sensing of satiety: studies of the anorectic mechanism of a plant steroidal glycoside. Brain Res. (2004) 1020(1-2): 1-11.
  • "African Plant May Help Fight Fat." CBS News. 21 Nov 2004 <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/18/60minutes/main656458.shtml>.
  • "Hoodia: lose weight without feeling hungry?" Consumer Reports. (2006) 71(3): 49.
  • "Kalahari cactus boosts UK drug firm." BBC UK. 20 July 2002. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2161194.stm>
  • Adams, Mike. "Hoodia update: Counterfeit rate reaches 80 percent, but genuine hoodia is still available." News Target. 28 August 2006. <http://www.newstarget.com/020167.html>