Hoodia diet pills have been in the market for over a decade, but it wasn’t until 60 Minutes aired a special on its appetite-suppressing properties in 2004 that sales really took off.
If you’ve been wondering whether hoodia is the right weight-loss supplement for you, keep reading to find out what the experts have to say about it.
Where Does Hoodia Come From?
Hoodia gordonii hails from South Africa and Namibia, where it has been used for centuries by tribes on long hunting trips through the desert. When food was scarce during those trips, tribesmen would chew on hoodia leaves to help ease cravings and thirst.
The Science Behind It
The active ingredient in hoodia gordonii is P57, which can be extracted from the plant and then synthesized for use in the production of diet pills. This extract is what fools the brain into believing you’re not hungry, which in turn reduces appetite, causes you to eat less and leads to weight loss.
The P57 ingredient in hoodia is actually quite hard to extract. This explains why the pills are expensive (a one-month supply can cost $40 or more).
One thing to keep in mind is that hoodia diet pills are considered a nutritional supplement, not a drug or food product. Because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not perform quality checks on nutritional products, there’s no guarantee that the pills you buy will contain the promised amount of hoodia.
Why is that relevant? Well, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), many hoodia products in the market actually contain little to no hoodia, so you might see no results even if you follow the label instructions correctly.
There is currently no scientific evidence that hoodia diet pills are effective to help suppress appetite. The few studies conducted have been either very small, done on animals, or had no proper supervision.
For example, the British company Phytopharm (which holds the original license to extract P57) conducted an unpublished study on the benefits of hoodia. According to their researchers, participants taking hoodia ate fewer calories and lost more weight than those taking a placebo. However, the results could easily be disputed, since the company has a vested financial interest in the product.
No reliable scientific evidence about the properties of hoodia also means something else: researchers don’t know the potential side effects or risks of taking hoodia. A small study published in The Journal of Clinical Nutrition did show that overweight women taking hoodia twice a day experienced an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as nausea and strange skin sensations.
So Should You Take It?
Like with all supplements, a talk with your doctor might be in order before you start taking hoodia, especially if you’re taking prescription medications or have a medical condition. While there’s no proof so far that hoodia is dangerous, the supplement is broken down in the liver – and this could be a cause for concern for some people.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Hoodia
The Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of 15-d repeated consumption of Hoodia gordonii purified extract on safety, ad libitum energy intake, and body weight in healthy, overweight women: a randomized controlled trial
NY Times:An Appetite Killer for a Killer Appetite? Not Yet