Is Hoodia Gordonii Effective for Weight Loss?

Desert Plant Is Promising Appetite Suppressant and Weight Loss Supplement

hoodia gordonii, diet pills, appetite-suppressant, supplements
Hoodia gordonii plants in their natural habitat. Roger de la Harpe, Gallo Images

Many thyroid patients — struggling with weight loss challenges — are interested in natural supplements that may help with various aspects of weight loss. You may have heard about the supplement hoodia gordonii, introduced to the U.S. market in early 2004, and promoted as a natural appetite suppressant. Here is an overview of hoodia, and its possible benefits.

What Is Hoodia Gordonii?

Hoodia gordonii is a plant that, while it looks like a cactus, is actually a spiny succulent that grows in the high deserts of the Kalahari Desert region of South Africa, and other very hot and arid areas of Africa.

It is native to South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. In the decade since the introduction of hoodia, it is now considered an endangered species due to ​overgathering.

The San people of the Kalahari — a tribe of hunter-gatherers with a 27,000-year-old culture and history in using native plants for medicinal purposes — have been using the hoodia plant for centuries to help ward off pain, hunger, and thirst when the Bushmen made long trips in the Kalahari desert. The San also believed it also had medicinal purposes —helping with hypertension, diabetes, severe abdominal cramps, and hemorrhoids. 

In an interview with ABC News, Andries Steenkamp, a spokesman for the San people, said: "I learned how to eat it from my forefathers. It is my food, my water and also a medicine for me. Said Steenkamp: "We San use the plant during hunting to fight off the pain of hunger and thirst." 

Hoodia gordonii is not a drug and has no stimulant properties.

There is interest, however, from various pharmaceutical companies, who have been trying to synthesize the appetite-suppressing components of hoodia in order to create a patentable drug in the future.

How Is Hoodia Supposed to Work?

There are various species of hoodia, but the Gordonii variation is only one that contains what scientists believe is an appetite suppressant.

This type of hoodia contains a molecule that is said to have similar effects on nerve cells as glucose and tricks the brain into the sensation of fullness.

In a BBC interview, pharmaceutical executive Dr. Richard Dixey explained how this molecule — called P57 — works:

There is a part of your brain, the hypothalamus. Within that mid-brain there are nerve cells that sense glucose sugar. When you eat, blood sugar goes up because of the food, these cells start firing and now you are full. What the Hoodia seems to contain is a molecule that is about 10,000 times as active as glucose. It goes to the mid-brain and actually makes those nerve cells fire as if you were full. But you have not eaten. Nor do you want to.

Hoodia seems to have some appetite suppressant effects on a subset of people who take it. It generally takes several weeks to take effect. Some of the effects of hoodia include:

  • A reduced interest in food
  • A delay in the time after eating before hunger sets in again
  • Feeling full more quickly
  • General feeling of well-being

Some informal human clinical trials have suggested that hoodia may reduce the appetite by hundreds of calories a day or more in some people. Most of the evidence for hoodia, however, seems to be anecdotal and is not supported by scientific research.

To that end, the use of hoodia is controversial. Mark Blumenthal, founder of The American Botanical Council, told WebMD: "We can only say the evidence available to us right now, which is considered inadequate, suggests that there is some type of appetite-suppressing mechanism in some of the naturally occurring chemicals in hoodia.”

While some scientists maintain interest in the P57 molecule and feel that it may have some applications for human use down the road, there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence that hoodia is particularly effective for weight loss.

If You Decide to Use Hoodia

Prescription drugs containing hoodia or its synthetic P57 derivative are still not on the market.

But natural hoodia supplements are currently available.

If you decide to use hoodia, always talk to your healthcare provider first. Then, you should choose only a tested, quality product, and make sure it is from a reputable company.

You need to be particularly careful that you take a hoodia that contains the actual plant -- some brands out there claim to contain hoodia, and have been tested to show they have no active hoodia whatsoever. Hoodia is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.

Some people start by using 1-2 capsules an hour before lunch and 1-2 capsules an hour before dinner daily for the first two weeks. As the appetite suppressant effect kicks in, some people drop back to 1 or 2 capsules per day. Always follow the directions of your qualified healthcare professional.

Do not take hoodia if you have one of the following conditions/ages:

  • Anorexia, bulimia or another eating disorder
  • Children under the age of 18
  • Clotting or bleeding disorder
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems/taking heart medication
  • Liver problems
  • Nursing mothers
  • Pregnant women

Does Hoodia Have Side Effects?

Hoodia gordonii is not a stimulant, and is not thought to have significant side effects. Various supplement manufacturers, however, caution about the following potential side effects, even if the risk is low:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite suppression which could lead to malnutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Increased bleeding
  • Interactions with other medication
  • Liver damage