The Story of Hoodia Gordonii

Hoodia gordonii is also called hoodia, xhooba, khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus. It’s actually not a true cactus at all, but rather is a succulent with sharp spines, that resembles a cactus. Hoodia Gordonii is causing quite a stir for its ability to suppress appetite, thereby promoting weight loss. The CBS television news program, 60 Minutes, and the British network, BBC have already featured stories about Hoodia Gordonii. The plant can only be found in the semi-arid deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. It grows in clumps of green upright stalks. It takes about five years, or more, before Hoodia Gordonii’s pale purple flowers appear. After that time the plant can be eaten.

Although there are at least 40 known varieties of Hoodia, only the Gordonii species is believed to contain the natural appetite suppressant. Modern scientists only recently discovered Hoodia Gordonii, however the San peoples, or Bushmen, have been eating it for centuries. These indigenous people, who live off the land, traditionally cut off part of the stem and eat it to stave off hunger and thirst during their arduous hunting trips across the desert. They also eat it for various medical issues, but, to date, no modern research has been done on those uses.

In 1937, a Dutch anthropologist studying the San people noted that they used Hoodia Gordonii to suppress appetite. But it wasn’t until 1963, when scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s national laboratory, began studying Hoodia Gordonii. Initial results were promising – lab animals lost weight after eating Hoodia Gordonii.

After 30 years of research, the South African scientists at CSIR isolated the active ingredient in Hoodia Gordonii, and obtained a patent on the molecule in 1995. It is a steroidal glycoside, which they named P57. The South African government then licensed the patent to a British firm named Phytopharm.

Then, Phytopharm licensed the patent to American drug giant, Pfizer. The intent was to use the molecule, P57, as a base, to mass-create an artificial drug to meet the demands of millions of people.