Fat Loss Biology
Hoodia - Weight Loss Myth

Hoodia scientific research fails to show that supplementing with this herb leads weight loss. Celebrity and other testimonials to the contrary, it simply does not work. African hunters never used it for weight loss, and you shouldn’t either.

Hoodia is an interesting succulent (non-cactus!) plant of South Africa that seems to have been used by African tribesmen to stave off hunger while out hunting. In that respect it is a great herb if you plan to go hunting for several days without bringing any food.

On the other hand, if you are well-fed and overweight or obese, the logic of using Hoodia supplements to suppress your appetite and lose weight is simple-minded and weak. Here is what the most recent scientific research has to say about this topic.

Recent Hoodia Research

The body of published scientific research on Hoodia is anything but voluminous. Indeed, only 39 articles, some of which are not about scientific studies at all, currently appear in a search of the PubMed database. The entire list, plus some commentary about the research, is posted here: Hoodia – Actual Scientific Research.

Based on that search, only 3 articles address the topic of Hoodia vs. weight loss. Of these, only one entailed an experimental study of human subjects. Here is the published abstract from that article:

Blom WA, Abrahamse SL, Bradford R, Duchateau GS, Theis W, Orsi A, Ward CL, Mela DJ. 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. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Nov;94(5):1171-81. Epub 2011 Oct 12. PubMed PMID: 21993434.

BACKGROUND: Extracts from Hoodia gordonii have been shown to decrease food intakes and body weights in animals and were proposed as a food supplement or ingredient for weight management.
OBJECTIVE: We assessed the safety and efficacy of a 15-d repeated consumption of H. gordonii purified extract (HgPE) relative to a placebo in humans.
DESIGN: Healthy, overweight women, who were stratified by percentage body fat, received either HgPE (n = 25) or a placebo (n = 24) for 15 d. Subjects were resident in a clinic for a 4-d run-in period and a 15-d treatment period in which they received 2 servings/d of 1110 mg HgPE or a placebo formulated in a yogurt drink 1 h before breakfast and dinner. Subjects were otherwise allowed to eat ad libitum from standardized menus.
RESULTS: There were no serious adverse events, but HgPE was less well tolerated than was the placebo because of episodes of nausea, emesis, and disturbances of skin sensation. Blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, bilirubin, and alkaline phosphatase showed significant (P < 0.05) increases in the HgPE group. Mean effects on ad libitum energy intakes and body weights did not differ significantly between the HgPE- and placebo-treatment groups (P > 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: In comparison with a matched placebo, the consumption of HgPE for 15 d appeared to be associated with significant adverse changes in some vital signs and laboratory parameters. HgPE was less well tolerated than was the placebo and did not show any significant effects on energy intakes or body weights relative to the placebo. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01306422.

Isn’t it interesting that, not only did Hoodia fail to lead to weight loss, it was instead associated with significant side effects. Who in the world would want to take a diet pills supplement that leads to nausea, emesis (vomiting), odd skin sensations, and an increase in blood pressure and heart rate – then not work?

The Other Two Articles

Out of the 3 articles on weight loss, two were summaries or reviews – i.e., without original experimental data. Nevertheless, it is instructive to see what they had to say:

Vermaak I, Hamman JH, Viljoen AM. Hoodia gordonii: an up-to-date review of a commercially important anti-obesity plant. Planta Med. 2011 Jul;77(11):1149-60. Epub 2011 Jan 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 21259185.

Hoodia gordonii is a spiny succulent plant popularly consumed for its purported anti-obesity effect. Traditionally used by the Khoi-San of South Africa and Namibia as a hunger and thirst suppressant while on long hunting trips, the commercialisation of this plant has been highly controversial due to intellectual property rights and benefit sharing issues, as well as the fact that several prominent pharmaceutical companies involved in its development have withdrawn their interest. Quality control has been the main focus of scientific studies as the supply of H. gordonii plant material is limited due to its sparse geographical distribution, slow maturation rate, need for a permit to cultivate or export material as well as high public demand, contributing to adulteration of a large amount of products. Despite the isolation of numerous steroidal glycosides from H. gordonii, the main focus has been on the pregnane glycoside P57, considered to be the active ingredient and marker molecule to determine quality of raw material and products. Publications based on scientific studies of key aspects such as in vivo biopharmaceutics, the biological activity of all chemical constituents, clinical efficacy, and especially safety are insufficient or completely absent causing great concern as H. gordonii is one of the most widely consumed anti-obesity products of natural origin. This review offers an up-to-date overview of all the current available knowledge pertaining to H. gordonii achieved by systematic analysis of the available literature.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Whelan AM, Jurgens TM, Szeto V. Case report. Efficacy of Hoodia for weight loss: is there evidence to support the efficacy claims? J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010 Oct;35(5):609-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2710.2009.01116.x. PubMed PMID: 20831685.

Increasing rates of adult obesity and its negative health consequences are likely to become an increasing burden to the Canadian health care system. Consumers are looking for treatment options and often try the natural health products that are heavily promoted as safe, fast and effective. In this case report, MH, a 57-year-old overweight female wanted advice regarding whether she should use the natural product Hoodia to help her attain her weight loss goals. A literature search was conducted using Medline, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database and IPA from inception to March 2009. The internet, files of the authors and bibliographies of articles were searched for additional references. No published, peer-reviewed randomized controlled trials examining efficacy of Hoodia were found. Unpublished data from two small trials reported promising results with no adverse events. However, this leaves many unanswered questions regarding the use of Hoodia for weight loss such as the appropriate dose and duration, short and long term safety and use in patients with concomitant diseases. Literature suggests that some commercial products may not actually contain Hoodia at all. Additionally, Hoodia is not yet listed in the Canadian Licensed Natural Health Products Database meaning products sold in Canada may not meet Canadian regulatory standards. Upon discussing this information, MH decided not to use Hoodia, and other evidence-based recommendations were discussed.

The most telling quotes from these abstracts are:

From Blom et al (2011):

Publications based on scientific studies of key aspects such as in vivo biopharmaceutics, the biological activity of all chemical constituents, clinical efficacy, and especially safety are insufficient or completely absent causing great concern as H. gordonii is one of the most widely consumed anti-obesity products of natural origin.

From Whelan et al. (2010):

No published, peer-reviewed randomized controlled trials examining efficacy of Hoodia were found. Unpublished data from two small trials reported promising results with no adverse events. However, this leaves many unanswered questions regarding the use of Hoodia for weight loss such as the appropriate dose and duration, short and long term safety and use in patients with concomitant diseases.

The biggest surprise to me is that these reviews, and the 2011 study with human subjects, were all published since 2010. The industry built on Hoodia started long before that. In fact, the first patent leading to this premature marketing frenzy was granted in 2002! It sure says something about the patent process, doesn’t it? I’ll have to write a post about the (now 3) patents on Hoodia and why they really don’t mean anything. Stay tuned!

Updating Hoodia research

Dr. D

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