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,
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.