Hoodia Gordonii - The Big Picture
Maybe you saw the piece on 60 Minutes, The Today Show or read an article on Hoodia - one way or the other you found this website - so you must be interested in Hoodia. There is so much information and misinformation floating around about hoodia, we want to start with a general overview of hoodia. We will try not to put you to sleep, but you may want to have some coffee in hand in case you feel your eyes getting very heavy...
What is Hoodia and why should I care about it?
Our story starts about 100,000 years ago. We know that sounds amazing, but the Bushmen of Southern Africa (also called "the San") have hunted, lived off the land and traveled across the Kalahari Desert for over 100,000 years. The Bushmen frequently go out on long hunting trips and chew on a local plant to reduce hunger and increase energy. The plant of course is Hoodia. Incredibly, by chewing on Hoodia, the San have been able to go days without eating and still remain strong and energetic.
Hoodia is a bitter-tasting cactus-like plant. The full name is Hoodia Gordonii. Hoodia is a Succulent botanical which resembles a "cactus". For this reason, hoodia is often mistaken called the "african hoodia cactus". If you must know all the technical data it is Genus: Trichocaulon and Family Name: Asclepiadaceae. Full grown Hoodia plants can grow over 6 feet tall.
So, for thousands of years the Bushmen have been eating Hoodia Gordonii to decrease appetite and increase energy. While the Bushmen knew all about the powers of Hoodia, it was not until the mid 60's that the first research was done on Hoodia as an appetite suppressant. Even then, it took another 30 years for South African laboratories to isolate the specific appetite suppressing ingredient in Hoodia. This ingredient was called P57 (or p-57) and licensed to the British pharmaceutical company - Phytopharm.
By December of 2001, and $20 million later, Phytopharm had the first clinical study that showed obese people who took P57 (extracted from Hoodia Gordonii) ate 1,000 calories fewer per day with no adverse side effects! Simply put, if you took P57, your desire to eat was extremely reduced. Things looked so promising with P-57 as a diet drug, that Pfizer purchased the worldwide marketing rights from Phytopharm for a reported $32 million to develop and market P-57 based diet pills.
So I can just buy P57 (hoodia) from Pfizer and lose weight?
If only things were that simple. The twists and turns of the Hoodia saga are the things movies are made of. While, we will get into all the details throughout this site, let's continue with the brief overview…
No, P57 is not available in pill form and probably never will be. Pfizer's goal was never to harvest P57 from Hoodia plants. They thought they would be able to study the P57 molecule and make a synthetic version for much less than the cost of harvesting Hoodia and extracting P57. It turns out that making a synthetic version of P57 was cost prohibitive. Pfizer looked at the data and in turn pulled out of their deal with Phytopharm, believing that a P57 drug was not viable.
Can I just eat Hoodia to suppress my appetite?
Sure - if you happen to live in the Kalahari Desert! You see, the problem is that Hoodia Gordonii is a very fickle plant - it needs just the right climate and soil to grow and still have its appetite suppressant effect. Attempts to grow Hoodia in places like the USA, China and Mexico have proved to be fruitless.
Can't I just buy some Hoodia from the Kalahari Desert then?
Yes - but if ever there was a case of "buyer beware" - this is it. Again, we will go into more details later, but there are a number of factors which make getting real Kalahari Desert Hoodia difficult.
The first barrier is Phytopharm. You didn't think they were just going away after their deal with Pfizer fell through did you? In December of 2004 Phytopharm found a new partner - Unilever. A nice little company with over $50 Billion in annual sales! The deal calls for Unilever to use the Hoodia Gordonii extract in its consumer products. In order to prepare for these products, Phytopharm has been doing deals to lock up a good portion of the Hoodia Gordonii that is available in the Kalahari Desert, leaving only a small amount for anyone else to purchase.
The second barrier is also Phytopharm. Phytopharm has a patent on Hoodia Gordonii for use as a weight loss product. Funny how the Bushmen used Hoodia for thousands of years, now suddenly Phytopharm owns a patent to it. This is a complicated issue we will get into later, but we just wanted to make you aware that technically no one except Phytopharm can sell Hoodia Gordonii as a weight loss product.
The third barrier is good old deceit and greed. With all the media surrounding Hoodia (60 Minutes did a feature piece in Nov 2004) it did not take long for sleazy supplement companies to come out with their "World's Best - As Seen on 60 Minutes - Hoodia Supplements". Each year people spend over $40 billion on products to help them lose weight. Many companies have seen dollar signs flashing in their heads when they read about Hoodia. These companies will throw anything in a capsule, call it 100% Hoodia and sell it cheap. By the time it is tested and found to contain no Hoodia, these companies have gone out of business or changed names.
Okay, now my head is spinning - what should I make of this Hoodia hype?
Grab a cup of coffee and join us for a detailed look at Bushmen, Hoodia, patents, bio-piracy greed and science (I am telling you, there is a movie in here somewhere). Seriously, we just wanted to give you a very quick overview in this article, here are the key points…