The promise was amazing. Take this product, the ads claim, and you'll magically lose weight.
Your appetite will just disappear, at least for six hours. Food will still taste and look the
same — you just won't want any. What could be better? After all, the number one reason people
go off diets is hunger. If we could magically take eliminate hunger, how cool would that be?
It would be like buying discipline in a pill. And besides — it's worked for the Bushmen of the
Kalahari desert in South Africa. We saw it ourselves on 60 Minutes.
Not so fast.
First, the facts. Hoodia first came to national attention when the aforementioned 60 Minutes
did a piece on the San tribe of South Africa, who have been living off the land for more than
100,000 years. The Bushmen chew on the plant stem and eat it to ward off hunger and thirst
during long hunting trips. It's rumored to taste horrible. The fact that the Bushmen had
been using hoodia to suppress appetite was first noticed back in 1937, but it wasn't till
1963 that scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research — South Africa's
national laboratory — began studying it. Lab animals given hoodia lost weight. Things looked
Fast forward. A company called Phytopharm isolated the active ingredient in hoodia — it's
called p57. They got a patent and spent millions on research. Pfizer — the pharmaceutical
giant — got into the game, though they've since dropped out. Phytopharm is now working with
food giant Unilever.
Enter 60 Minutes. Followed by every scam artist with access to a computer.
Put "authentic hoodia" into Google and you'll be there all day, sorting out ridiculous claim
after ridiculous claim, each from a company claiming to have the only "real" and "true"
hoodia, and each claiming that all those other companies are fake.
So here's the real deal. Hoodia might work as an appetite suppressant, but good luck finding
it. It's extremely temperamental to grow. It takes six years to grow to harvesting height,
it's ridiculously difficult to cultivate in captivity, and the demand is already outstripping
the supply. Although there are 20 types of hoodia, only the hoodia gordonii variety is believed
to contain the natural appetite suppressant, but you can be sure that plenty of people will be
marketing stuff that comes from the other 19 varieties. Already every unscrupulous fly-by-night
quick-buck artist is hyping their own special "hoodia." And even if the product does come from
hoodia gordoni how much of the active ingredient — P57 — is in any of these formulas is anyone's
Hoodia seems to work by tricking the hypothalamus — a part of the brain that controls
appetite — into thinking you're full. There are nerve cells in the hypothalamus that monitor
blood glucose, and if you can trick those cells into thinking that blood glucose is high, it
will think you've just eaten and turn off your appetite. In one much-touted study — which I've
been unable to find and read for myself — Phytopharm scientists claim that subjects given hoodia
with the active ingredient P57 ended up eating about 1,000 calories a day less than those in
the control group. That's pretty impressive.
So why am I not that impressed?
For one thing, because there's been almost no published research on human subjects, and the
one study that everyone talks about used obese subjects. Remember, it's a lot easier to lose
ten pounds when you're 400 pounds than it is to go from a size 12 to a size 10. For another,
no one really knows what the dosage is that will get results, and previous experience with
supplements tells me that it will vary widely from person to person. That won't stop
supplement companies from suggesting a "standard dose" or from making claims based on research
using much more potent stuff. For example, there's 75 mg in Trimspa, yet many users have
claimed that they need up to 1200 mg a day to get a real effect. Finally, there's my
just-call-it-intuition feeling that weight loss never happens without a serious commitment
to different food choices and a different lifestyle. While a supplement like this — even if
it worked — might give you an edge, it won't work by itself.
Any problems with taking hoodia? No problems — yet. But this isn't a traditional herb with a noble
pedigree of thousands of years of use in Chinese medicine — and even the San tribe only used it
occasionally. Give this to Americans in a supplement form, and they'll be downing mega-dosages
on a daily basis. Kiosks at the mall will be carrying the stuff, like they did with ephedra.
Long term use at that rate? Who knows? Not me. Not anyone.
If you want to try Hoodia:
Mike Adams, who does some of the best nutrition investigative reporting I've ever seen, has
tested 17 popular hoodia products for purity and published the results on his non-profit website.
He claims that 2/3 of the hoodia products tested are fakes, but found that some passed the lab
tests. I'd trust his recommendations. The brands Mike gives an OK to:
Till next time...
- Desert Burn
- Hoodoba Pure
- Dr. Wheeler's Afrigetics
- Now Foods' Mega Hoodia
- King Hoodia
- Hoodia Max
- Ethno Africa
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Copyright © August 2006 Jonny Bowden and Low Carb Luxury