Hoodia gordonii is one of a group of succulent plants native to the semi-desert areas of southern Africa. Resembling a cactus, the flowers apparently smell like rotten meat to attract flies for pollination! This particular variety of hoodia was traditionally used for thousands of years by San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. They ate the bitter tasting fleshy part of the stem to suppress their appetite and thirst through the long hunting trips that were part of their nomadic lifestyle.
Following media publicity in a 2003 BBC report and a 2004 60 Minutes television programme, hoodia gained huge popularity in the western world as a natural appetite suppressant and weight loss supplement. Subsequent health industry marketing has created such a demand that hoodia has become an endangered species in several countries, requiring protective status. The street price for raw material skyrocketed and an estimated 80% of hoodia supplements on the worldwide market today are contaminated with other substances and may contain none of the appetite suppressing active ingredient at all.
How does hoodia work?
Studies confirm hoodia gordonii’s appetite suppressing effect, reducing hunger and food cravings and thus dietary intake. With less calories being consumed the body naturally starts using up its fat stores for energy.
Hoodia contains a molecule called P57, the active ingredient that appears to work directly on the hypothalamus gland, which signals a state of fullness so that gastric acid production and appetite are inhibited. Scientists have yet to identify any other active ingredients or specific actions of hoodia, however its thirst suppressing action is well known and sometimes documented as a ‘side effect’.
Traditionally hoodia was used infrequently by the people of the Kalahari to treat indigestion and abdominal cramping, lift energy and improve mood.
What are the health indicators for supplementation?
For people who crave carbohydrates, need to lose weight, or tend to overeat or binge eat, hoodia may be indicated as an adjunct to dietary changes with professional nutritional guidance and/or counselling. A nutritious diet, regular exercise and fluid intake are important aspects of any weight management programme.
When is hoodia contraindicated?
Don’t take hoodia if you’re trying to conceive a baby, during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. It’s contraindicated because suppressing your appetite can lead to potentially unhealthy nutritional deficiencies for both mother and baby.
People with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulemia are advised to avoid hoodia for the same reason, and because using it may reinforce dysfunctional eating behaviours.
As yet there are no scientific human studies on hoodia’s safety. Hoodia is contraindicated for people with liver or kidney disease because metabolising the active ingredient P57 can cause extra stress on the liver. Other components of hoodia that may affect liver function are still unresearched.
If you have diabetes or you are hypoglycaemic hoodia is contraindicated. The normal regulation of blood sugar relies on biofeedback mechanisms which are suppressed by hoodia. This could lead to abnormally low blood sugar levels, which can be life threatening for diabetics.
Because of hoodia’s thirst-suppressing effect, there is the potential to dehydrate. Always monitor your fluid intake while taking hoodia.
Any potential interactions of hoodia with medical drugs have not been researched, so caution is advised if you take any medications.
What is a safe and effective dosage?
No dosage guidelines have been established for hoodia. It is considered a safe supplement with no adverse effects if the manufacturer’s directions are followed and the product is verified authentic hoodia gordonii.
Effectiveness will depend on the individual health picture and weight loss goal. Hoodia is best used to help reduce excess food consumption while still eating regular balanced meals to ensure your nutrient intake is maintained or improved.
Importance of sustainable harvesting and pollution free sources
These are both big considerations when choosing a hoodia supplement. With the huge demand worldwide for weight loss supplements, hoodia has quickly gained popularity and in 2008 was one of 400 medicinal plants named by Botanic Gardens Conservation International as being at risk of extinction from over-collection.
Because it is now a protected plant, genuine hoodia gordonii supplements sourced from a certified exporter must carry the C.I.T.E.S. Certificate (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which should be displayed on the manufacturer’s website.
Hoodia’s protected status means it attracts a high price, and continuing demand has resulted in bogus hoodia supplements flooding the world market. These may contain fillers with very little or even no true hoodia gordonii plant ingredient. Reputable manufacturers can supply verification that their product contains only authentic CITES certified South African Hoodia gordonii.
By Carolyn Simon
Natural News – Counterfeit Hoodia
About Alternative Medicine – Liver Action
Botanic Gardens Conservation International – Threatened Extinction