The first scientific study of hoodia was really sparked by chance,
as is often the case in scientific “discoveries”. What
started it all was not, in fact, an exclusive study into the hoodia
gordonii, a succulent that looks like a cactus. South Africa’s
national laboratory was conducting a much broader study. It was only
because the San tribesman were known to eat hoodia gordonii that it
was included in a study of indigenous foods.
It is not surprising that the interest of the national laboratory
was aroused, and they started to focus seriously on the hoodia gordonii’s
properties. It was tested on animals by including it in their food.
The animals ate it, and then lost weight. It was then a question
of isolating the ingredient that was behind this phenomenon. Or
were these animals going to secret weight watchers meetings every
week, without the knowledge of the laboratory? That may seem very
fanciful, but then so did the idea of losing weight through munching
a spiky succulent. This was, indeed, becoming extremely interesting.
This was no instant discovery with an instant explanation. The
originally research went back to the 1960’s, when it was not
obvious that hoodia gordonii had great potential as an appetite
suppressant. It was about 30 years later that the South African
national laboratory succeeded in isolating and identifying the ingredient
in hoodia gordonii that had the effect of suppressing appetite.
The ingredient was later to become known as P57.
When the laboratory found that ingredient, they applied for a patent,
and licensed it to Phytopharm, an English bio-technology company.
Phytopharm has spent more than $20 million already on research associated
with hoodia gordonii. This research, which included clinical trials
with obese volunteers, has yielded some promising results. Subjects
given hoodia gordonii ended up eating about 1,000 calories a day
less than those in the control group, who were fed a placebo. That
is an impressively high figure, when you consider that the average
American man consumes about 2,600 calories a day, and a woman about
According to Phytopharm, if you take this hoodia compound every
day, your desire to eat goes down. That was illustrated dramatically
in the research. So, all was looking very promising for the millions
of obese men and women around the world.
Large pharmaceutical company Pfizer partnered Phytopharm in expanding
the research, and a synthetic form of the critical ingredient was
possible. However, the costs involved and the possible volumes were
too low, to make it worthwhile, so Pfizer abandoned their plans.
Phytopharm decided the only way to produce enough of the product
was to grow the plants in massive volumes. So, that is what they
set out to do, establishing hoodia plantations in South Africa.
The hoodia being used in the plantations is not precisely the same
plant as that in the Kalahari, but is easier to cultivate. It is
an enormous task, but one that Phytofarm are confident will bring
success in meeting potential demand for genuine hoodia products.
However, Phytopharm says it hopes to have meal-replacement hoodia
products on supermarket shelves in a few years.Hoodia