11 September 2006

Hoodia diet craze analysed

The latest craze in diet pills is undoubtedly Hoodia gordonii. But is it safe to jump on this bandwagon? Not yet, cautions Health24's DietDoc.

The latest craze in diet pills is undoubtedly Hoodia gordonii. More and more Health24 forum users are sending in questions about this slimming product and where it can be obtained.

A quick search on the internet revealed that there are many sites both overseas and in SA that promise you 100% pure South African Hoodia products that will banish your appetite and make you lose weight in a trice.

I am, however, sceptical about all this hype. Therefore, I decided to do a bit of my own research.

Hoodia history
The San people of the Kalahari used Hoodia gordonii for centuries to stave off hunger on long hunts in this barren land. Hoodia is a succulent plant that grows in arid areas like the Kalahari.

More than 15 years ago, when I was still working at the then Food Research Institute of the CSIR, some of my colleagues were doing research on Hoodia and its appetite-depressing properties. The CSIR then sold the patent to Phytopharm for further development. Phytopharm, in turn, sold the rights to Unilever.

The reason why the development of pure Hoodia tablets has been entrusted to one of the biggest companies in the world is that it takes millions of dollars and extensive testing to produce a pharmaceutical product of high quality.

It can take many years before the exhaustive tests demanded by regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration in America are completed. This takes millions of dollars to accomplish.

Most pharmaceutical products are first tested on animals and then with human volunteers of different ages and states of health.

In the case of an appetite-suppressant, the tests would have to be carried out on overweight and obese subjects, including additional tests with overweight persons who suffer from various diseases such as diabetes, heart, liver and kidney disease, to check if the product has a negative influence when given to people who are not in good health.

Then there are the tests to ascertain if the new pharmaceutical product interacts with a wide variety of other medicines.

Only when, and if, a new pharmacological product has been tested exhaustively and all pertinent questions about its safety have been answered, can it be submitted to the regulatory bodies. Once it has been approved, it can be released on the world market.

This long process has not yet been completed for Hoodia. Keep this in mind when you order Hoodia products over the internet or buy it from local distributors. They will assure you that the Hoodia you are buying is 100% safe and 100% effective, but you have no guarantee that this is true, because their products have not been tested as described above.

Until the FDA and our own Medicines Control Council approve the sale of Hoodia gordonii tablets, you may be spending your money in vain.

Surrogate products
If you buy the surrogate Hoodia products available at present, you may be purchasing a product that is so watered-down that it won't have an effects. It could also be contaminated with compounds that can cause negative side-effects.

In fact, until the tests on the patented Hoodia products have been completed, we don't know if Hoodia can have negative side-effects or not, we don't know if it will work in all overweight persons, if it will have harmful effects if the user suffers from diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver problems, or if Hoodia interacts with other medications you may be using.

In addition, the surrogate Hoodia products you may buy often contain compounds such as caffeine and epinephrine (which also suppress appetite) because their Hoodia content is so low. Caffeine (in excess) and epinephrine have many negative side-effects, of which dependence and addiction are probably the most serious.

What does this tell you? Don't spend your money and risk your health with surrogate Hoodia products. Be sensible and wait until the real Hoodia products have been tested and approved. Then you will know what you are getting and what to expect from this product.

Hoodia's potential
To date there are some results of some of the trials conducted with the patented Hoodia product that show great promise.

Phytopharm conducted a study in 2001 with overweight subjects and found that there was a statistically significant decrease in the amount of food the subjects ate. At the same time, these experimental subjects experienced a significant decrease in body fat content, when compared to subjects who were not receiving Hoodia.

These findings are encouraging and the world is waiting for the final results on the efficacy and safety of Hoodia to be completed.

How long?
No one can say at this stage how long it will still take for the thorough and complex testing of Hoodia to be completed.

Rest assured that the public will be informed the moment that patented Hoodia gordonii tablets are approved by regulatory bodies and launched on the market. That will be the time when overweight individuals should buy Hoodia – not now when you have no idea what you are getting yourself into.

Rare and vulnerable
Hoodia gordonii is a rare and vulnerable plant that is classified by CITES (Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Appendix II, which means that it could face extinction if used indiscriminately.

The CITES classification means that Hoodia harvesting is controlled at an international level to conserve the plant populations found in their natural environments in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

Phytopharm has started plantations of Hoodia, where this plant will be grown for future production of the tablets once the product has been approved. Pure, approved Hoodia products will have to display their CITES stamp on the packaging.

Readers who are eager to purchase Hoodia gordonii to help them lose weight must keep in mind that, at this moment, none of the products on sale have passed any of the stringent quality and safety tests required for release as a pharmaceutical product.

You may be buying a product that contains no Hoodia, or one that contains so little that it won't work, or a product that is spiked with other appetite suppressants such as caffeine and epinephrine, because the actual Hoodia content is so low.

Please be sensible and wait for the stringent purity and safety tests on Hoodia gordonii to be completed. Once the real Hoodia tablets have been proved to be safe and are available, you will be able to use them with confidence. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc, September 2006)

(Phytopharm (2006). Hoodia gordonii Fact File,; )

Read more:
Hunger management foods on the way
A-Z of diet pills/shakes


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