Obesity is now reached epidemic proportions in our country. Millions of people are overweight, and millions are on diets right this very minute. While putting on weight seems to be relatively easy for many people, taking it back off again can be challenging. While most of us realize that losing weight takes the old fashioned combination of “eat a little less, move a little more,” it’s still not easy to shed extra pounds.
As a result, many people look to a boost of some sort to their weight loss program. Weight loss aids are pretty common these days, from ads to Alli (and its well-known rather unfortunate side effects) to other diet pills. But as tempting as it might be to take a pill and watch the pounds begin to slide off, many people are hesitant to try them because of these very real and potentially embarrassing side effects, not to mention other potentially serious ones like rapid heartbeat and other unpleasant symptoms.
So, many people are turning to herbal remedies to give them the added help they need to lose weight. One such supplement is called hoodia gordonii, or just plain hoodia for short. Pronounced HOO-dee-ah, this comes from a succulent plant that resembles a cactus and that grows mainly in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. In the past few years, hoodia has gained in popularity as a weight loss aid. Although there are over 13 kinds of hoodia, the key active ingredient that seems to be responsible for any help with weight loss is technically known as a “steroidal glycoside” with the rather mysterious-sounding name of p57. And of the baker’s dozen of hoodia varieties, only hoodia gordonii contains the p57.
To understand why some people are getting excited about hoodia and its potential ability to help us lose weight, let’s go back in time to 1937, when a Dutch anthropologist was hanging out studying the San Bushmen of the Kalahari dessert. He noticed that they took hoodia gordonii in order to help suppress their appetites. Fast forward to 1963, and scientists in South Africa studied hoodia and found that lab animals lost weight after taking the herb. These scientists are the ones who first figured out that p57 was the magical ingredient of hoodia gordonii. They applied for a patent for the herb and licensed it to a British pharmaceutical company called Phytopharm.
Over time, Pfizer caught wind about the whole p57/hoodia/weight loss thing and thought for awhile about making a hoodia drug, so Phytopharm sub-licensed the rights to hoodia to them. Now Unilever is apparently working on the idea with Phytopharm.
So, that is the history of hoodia, in a nutshell. In the second part of this article, we’ll look at how this p57 works in our bodies and potentially leads to weight loss. Researchers have looked at hoodia in animal-based studies but despite how many people have tried it, there are precious few, if any, studies that involve honest-to-goodness overweight people.