Thursday, October 13, 2011

Will Hoodia help you lose excess body fat? By Jerry Brainum

   Hoodia is a cactuslike plant found in South Africa and Namibia. The plant went from relative obscurity to wild popularity after it was revealed that indigenous tribes in Africa used to plant as a potent appetite suppressant. The native Sans people would chew on Hoodia before making long treks across the Kalahari Desert. A South African government group isolated the active ingredient in Hoodia in 1977, known as "P57." It was patented in 1996, when the popularity of Hoodia skyrocketed. The South African government granted a British company called Phytopharm an exclusive license to develop Hoodia for commercial purposes, and Phytopharm collaborated  with the giant drug company, Pifzer to develop synthetic versions of P57, so that they could patent and market it for weight-loss purposes. Pfizer, however, gave up the rights to Hoodia in 2002, citing a difficulty in the ability to produce a synthetic version, and also because testing had suggested possible liver toxicity with Hoodia usage.
     Despite the many hyperbolic claims about Hoodia, there is no evidence of its effectiveness in humans, although some animal studies have shown potent appetite-suppressant effects. But the one study that showed this involved injecting Hoodia directly into the brain. This was done because of the mistaken notion that Hoodia is rapidly broken down in the liver, which it is not. Hoodia is thought to work through the P57 component, which tricks the brain into thinking that it's glucose. In doing so, P57 turns off the brain's appetite mechanism. Again, however, this mechanism has never been shown to occur in humans. It is, at best, a hypothetical mechanism.
     The popularity of Hoodia began to rise following a BBC report in 2003. A year later, a segment on 60 Minutes increased the demand for the esoteric African herb. Today, there are dozens of companies selling Hoodia products, particularly over the Internet. I once ordered an online food supplement (not Hoodia) only to find that my credit card was being charged $100 a month for a continuous supply of Hoodia pills, which I had never inquired about, nor ordered. It was a case of credit card fraud, and it was widespread according to the bank security officials that I spoke with. Even worse, however, is the fact the most of the Hoodia sold is fake; it doesn't contain Hoodia or the active ingredient, P57. One review of available Hoodia supplements found that over half contained zero amounts of Hoodia. Sadly, shortly before her death, former Playboy model, Anna Nicole Smith, served as a spokesperson for one of these rip-off companies. Smith lost her body fat not from Hoodia, but from a regime of Growth hormone and speed drugs that eventually killed her.
    In relation to the side effects of Hoodia, one study found that P57 reduced stomach acid by 40-60%. This could be problematic because you need a certain amount of gastric acid to absorb various nutrients and protein. A just released study from Unilever, the company that gave up on Hoodia, suggests why this decision was made.The study involved providing healthy, overweight women either a placebo or real Hoodia for 15 days. The women in the Hoodia group consumed 1,110 milligrams  of Hoodia twice daily, served in a yogurt drink an hour prior to breakfast and dinner. The women were alllowed to eat whatever they wanted from a standardized menu.
     The results after 15 days showed that while none of the women in the Hoodia group suffered any serious side effects, they did show episodes of nausea, vomiting, and skin disturbances not seen in those in the placebo group. The Hoodia group also showed significant rises in blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase (indicative of liver problems). Yet, they also didn't show any significant difference in measures of weight loss, energy intake, and bodyweight. It's important to note that the Hoodia used in this study was tested and certified to be genuine. It appears that the weight-loss effects of Hoodia are more in the realm of folklore than reality.

Blom W, et al. Effects of 15-day 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: in press.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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