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(Hoodia gordonii, xhoba, Kalahari cactus)

What is it?

It's a flowering, succulent plant that's only found in the wild in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. (Contrary to what many websites claim, it is not a cacti, although it has a spiny appearance that looks similar to cacti.)

Does it occur naturally in the body?


What are the claims?

In 2004 the CBS news program 60 Minutes did a segment on it. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reported that, "It's very different from diet stimulants like Ephedra and Phenfen that are now banned because of dangerous side effects. Hoodia doesn't stimulate at all. Scientists say it fools the brain by making you think you're full, even if you've eaten just a morsel."

Then an aboriginal Bushman named Toppies Kruiper took the 60 Minutes news crew out in the desert to find the amazing plant. Once they located it, Kruiper cut off a stalk, gave it to Lesley Stahl, and she ate it. Stahl reported no ill effects, no funny aftertaste, no racing heart or upset stomach. She simply wasn't hungry all day.

A new diet scam was born.

With little more information than that, people began to clamor for hoodia to help them lose weight. Supplement companies responded, and within months hoodia capsules, powders and chewable tablets had become a mult-million dollar business. Today the name hoodia is even used to market liquid extracts and teas.

Does it work?

Yes, but NONE of the "hoodia supplements" on the market as of September 2007 have been shown to work. Every single one of them is engaged in deceptive or illegal marketing. Here's why I'm confident enough to make that statement.

South Africa's national laboratory first investigated hoodia in their study of indigenous foods in the 1960s. They discovered that when hoodia was fed to animals, the animals lost weight. It took another 30 years for them to isolate, identify and patent the appetite-suppressing ingredient. They then licensed the worldwide rights of that patent to a company by the name of Phytopharm.

Phytopharm has since gone on to spend millions of dollars researching hoodia, including conducting clinical studies on humans. They claim that subjects who ate hoodia wound up eating around 1,000 calories a day LESS than people who didn't take the supplement. But those studies still aren't public, and there are significant problems.

Phytopharm had been in a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which funded much of the research. In 2003 Pfizer dropped out of the project because they believed it wouldn't be commercially viable to make pills using the active ingredient in the hoodia plant.

There are also concerns about the availability of raw ingredients. Hoodia can take years before it reaches maturity, and it only grows in extremely hot conditions. Before Phytopharm licensed it, Hoodia had never been cultivated and was found only in the wild.

With many of those challenges unresolved, Phytopharm has this question and answer on their website.

"Q. When will the product containing the Hoodia extract be available?

The necessary clinical trials and other studies to ensure the safety of the extract will take a few years before a product will be available."

In 2003, when the British Broadcasting Corporation tested the "leading brand of Hoodia pills" sold in America, they said there was NO discernible evidence that the pills contained any active hoodia.

If it was easy, Phytopharm would have released a product and started to recoup some of their investment already. But it's not easy. In fact, it's so difficult, even the huge pharmaceutical company Pfizer chose to abandon the project. After spending millions of dollars, and with decades of work behind it, Phytopharm still believes a viable product may be years away.

With those kinds of obstacles, I don't believe any company currently selling hoodia is telling the whole truth.

What are the dangers?

Nobody currently knows. There are no published studies of hoodia's risks or side effects. Nobody knows what interactions may occur if hoodia is taken with medicines or other supplements. Nobody knows if certain levels make it toxic. Nobody knows what sort of cumulative effect it might have. There is no safety information available to the public AT ALL.

Because of the cost and scarcity of actual hoodia, many products that claim to be hoodia have little or no hoodia in them at all. Unfortunately, that means they substitute other ingredients, which may or may not be listed on the bottle to make up the shortfall.

Here's why that's so dangerous. To boost the value of raw materials, a Chinese company put the cheap and toxic diethylene glycol in toothpaste instead of the more expensive and safe glycerin. That little profit-boosting measure cost dozens of people their lives when all they wanted to do was brush their teeth. With Hoodia supplements, you've got companies making millions by putting bald-faced lies right on the packaging; who knows what they're going to put inside the bottles.

The Bottom Line

Do not buy any products that claim to contain Hoodia. If you have products that claim to contain Hoodia, dispose of them.

Until a medically sound, double-blind study is conducted and published about the effects and/or side effects of Hoodia, we cannot recommend any supplement that claims to have any levels of Hoodia in them.

Links for More Info

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Logo and Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products - Extensive Information from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health - Overviews on Herbal Treatments and Supplements

National Institutes of Health

National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements

Operation Supplement Safety
Operation Supplement Safety

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Logo and Link
United States Department of Agriculture

WebMD Logo and Link
WebMD - Helping you make better decisions for life.

We at WeBeFit DO NOT recommend ANY supplements to ANY of our clients. ONLY a licensed Nutritionist or Medical Doctor can make those recommendations based on your individual needs.

This is being provided for INFORMATIONAL and EDUCATIONAL purposes only.

CAUTION: These supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety, effectiveness or purity. There may be unknown risks associated with taking any supplements. There are no regulated manufacturing standards for companies that make supplements. There have been instances where herbal or health supplements have been sold that were contaminated with toxic substances. If you should choose to purchase herbal or health supplements, please only purchase them from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

If you should decide to use ANY supplement, ALWAYS consult your doctor or Nutritionist first.

Updated 4/3/2009