Hoodia is a succulent plant that looks like a cactus. A member of the milkweed family, hoodia is native to the Kalahari desert in the southern tip of Africa, principally in the nations of South Africa and Namibia. The plant's latex and inner parts are used, with the spines removed.
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One study found hoodia to be effective at curbing appetite.
One small, double-blind study in humans found that hoodia latex and inner plant can significantly reduce food intake. However, in another double-blind study, hoodia extract taken twice a day for 15 days had no effect on caloric intake or body weight compared with a placebo Adverse effects of hoodia included nausea, vomiting, and increases in blood pressure and bilirubin levels (a possible indicator of liver stress).2 Available products are of unknown quality and much more work remains to be done to determine if hoodia has a role in the treatment of obesity.3
The San people, native to the Kalahari desert, have used hoodia for millennia to suppress appetite for food and water and to increase energy.1 They cut the spines off the plant and eat the inner portion and drink the white latex.
A South African government agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), found that a compound found only in hoodia’s latex and inner flesh, steroidal glycoside (called P57), was able to suppress appetite in animals. This effect was clearly related to effects in the brain as opposed to the stomach.4 One small clinical study has been completed by Phytopharm, a company that bought the exclusive licenses to develop and market P57 from CSIR. This study involved 19 overweight men using P57 and found that P57 did reduce their food intake significantly compared with a placebo. The details of this study have not yet been published in any medical journal, so its conclusions cannot yet be evaluated for accuracy.
There is no clear information on how much hoodia is necessary to reduce appetite. Anecdotal reports suggest that 2 ounces (60 grams) or more per day of the crude plant may be necessary.
Hoodia is a slow-growing plant that thrives in a relatively limited geographical area. Given the potential for becoming endangered due to high demand, there are strong regulations in place (based on the international treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) blocking its export. It is presently unclear if any supplements available in the US reliably contain Hoodia gordonii and how much would have to be taken of them to be useful. The Phytopharm company says they have a plantation to sustainably grow hoodia for the product they intend to release someday, but this product is not yet available.
1. Thompson G. Bushmen squeeze money from a humble cactus. New York Times 2003 Apr 1;Sect. A:4 (col 3).
2. Blom WA, Abrahamse SL, Bradford R, et al. Effects of 15-d repeated consumption of Hoodia gordonii purified extract on safety, ad libitum energy intake, and body weight in healthy, overweight women: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:1171–81.
3. Phytopharm. Successful completion of proof of principle clinical study of P57 for obesity [press release] 2001 Dec 5 [cited 2005 Sep 20]. Available from URL: http://www.phytopharm.co.uk/press/P57%20Third%20Stage%20final.htm.
4. 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;1020:1–11.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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