by Junaid Ashraf Mianoor
Posted on Friday 24th of October 2008
Hoodia Gordonii is a succulent desert plant that has long been used by the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert to ward off hunger and thirst during long walking trips, as well as for treating minor ailments like indigestion and infections.
The plant closely resembles cacti, which is the reason why Hoodia Gordonii is often described as 'cacti form'. The leaves of this desert plant have a characteristic smell of rotten meat, which is one of the reasons why it is mainly pollinated by flies.
Popular interest began to surround the plant upon the discovery of its appetite suppressing properties by a Dutch anthropologist who was studying the San Bushmen. Clinical studies on the plant revealed its appetite-suppressing component which was termed p57 which was licensed to the chemical company Phytopharm in 1995.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer heard of the substance and by 1998 obtained a sub-license from Phytopharm worth 21 million to develop p57. It returned the rights to Phytopharm soon after, and the drug company started to collaborate with Unilever. In 2004 the company entered into an agreement with Phytopharm to market the plant in its shakes and diet bars.
Media attention further increased popular curiosity about the plant, especially when a 60 Minutes correspondent tried the plant out for herself on a trip to the desert with the San Bushmen. A BBC coverage in 2003 about the plant's appetite suppressing properties lead to an increase in Hoodia Gordonii product sales in the United States. The demand was so great that a ban was imposed on the transport of the plant from Namibia. It was also found out that most products that boasted of appetite suppressing qualities did not actually have Hoodia Gordonii in them. In March 2006, after a Consumer Reports investigation was done they conclude that the drug lacked clinical evidence of effectiveness and therefore could not be supported.
How exactly is Hoodia Gordonii thought to work?
Despite many studies nothing has even been found conclusively prove or disprove the effectiveness of this plant. A particular study done with rats revealed that when p57 was injected into rat brains this resulted to altered levels in a substance that had something to do with the animals' appetite. The animals which were injected with the substance began to eat less than their counterparts who didn't.
Clinical trials conducted by Phytopharm using 18 human volunteers revealed that the substance resulted to a decreased intake of calories per day. However the credibility of the study went under question when it was not subjected to any form of peer review.
Although the plant is now being marketed as the next big thing in weight loss, there are still a few side effects that users need to be aware of. Hoodia Gordonii has been used by the San Bushmen for hundreds of years, and this fact may give modern users the wrong impression that taking this plant will result to no side effects. However, scientists warn that the plant may cause a few unwanted side effects on body, especially on the liver, as a result of other components other than p57. Because it still lacks FDA approval, users need to use a lot of sense and caution when taking Hoodia Gordonii.
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