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What is it?Latin Name: Hoodia gordonii
Other Names: , xhooba, !khoba, Ghaap, cactus, South African desert cactus
Hoodia (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is a cactus-like plant that grows in the deserts of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.
In the last few years, it has been heavily marketed for weight loss and has become very popular.
Much of its popularity comes from stories that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert relied on it 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, it is actually a succulent plant.
It takes about five years before its appear and the plant can be harvested.
There are over 16 types of the plant. The only active ingredient is a steroidal glycoside that has been called "p57".
What is the History?In the early 1900's, an anthropologist studying the San Bushmen found that they used the plant to suppress their appetite. Scientists from South Africa's national laboratory began studying the claims. They found that lab rats lost weight after they were given hoodia gordonii.
The scientists, working with a British company, found what they believed to be an active ingredient, a steroidal glycoside, which they named p57. After getting a patent, they licensed p57 to Phytopharm who has spent more than $25 million on research.
The drug company Pfizer learned of the efforts and showed an interest in developing a drug. In 1998, Phytopharm licensed the rights to develop p57 to Pfizer for $25 million dollars. Pfizer later returned the rights to Phytopharm who is now working with Unilever to develop varioes weight loss products.
Much of the excitement started after television journalist Leslie Stahl went to Africa to find more information and try the plant. Stahl consumed some of the cactus and reported that she lost the desire to eat or drink the entire day. She also said she didn't experience any side effects such as indigestion or heart palpitations.
Products are sold in capsule, powder, liquid, or tea form in health food stores. It is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.
How Does It Work?
One study published found that injections of p57 into the appetite center of rat brains resulted in altered levels of ATP, a molecule that affects hunger. The animals receiving injections also ate less than rats that received placebo injections.
The manufacturer claims a study involving human volunteers found that consumption reduced food intake by about 1000 calories per day compared to a placebo group.
Are the Side Effects?
People with diabetes should be cautious about using the supplements. One of the ways it works is by tricking the brain into thinking that it has enough blood sugar. Without proper attention, it is possible that blood sugar could drop dangerously low while taking the product.
As a precaution, pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with liver or kidney disease should exercise caution when using the supplement.
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