Hoodia: Lots of Hoopla, Little Science
Few studies support the promise of the South African appetite suppressant, but believers abound.
Goldfarb's Study continued...
Phytopharm, a U.K.-based company developing hoodia weight loss products with
Unilever, the giant food and consumer products company, cites a 2001 study on
its web site that it did, in which the plant extract caused a reduction in
average daily calorie intake and in body fat within two weeks. Caloric intake
dropped by about 1,000 a day after about two weeks, according to the study.
(Phytopharm was originally developing P57 with Pfizer, but Pfizer returned
its rights to Phytopharm in 2003.)
None of this is enough science to satisfy experts at the Mayo Clinic. In an
online report on weight loss pills, published in
March, the clinic's bottom line on hoodia was: "No conclusive evidence to
support the claim [of appetite suppression]."
What Doctors Say
Other doctors are skeptical, including Adrienne Youdim, MD, medical director
of the Comprehensive Weight Loss Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los
Angeles. When asked by patients about hoodia and whether they should try it,
Youdim tells them: "There is no [published scientific] data to support its
use. But, similarly, there is no data suggesting adverse effects. It's kind of
uncharted territory." She doesn't recommend using the product.
Michael Steelman, MD, chairman of the board of trustees for the American
Society of Bariatric Physicians, treats obese patients in his practice in
Oklahoma City, and many of them ask him about hoodia. "I remain pretty
skeptical," he says. "Some of my patients have tried it, but I haven't
had any who felt like it was helpful to them."
Consider Your Sources
On one point nearly everyone agrees: there's plenty of fake hoodia out
there. MacLean is especially suspicious that hoodia products
sold over the Internet aren't the real thing or don't have enough hoodia in
them to work.
It's "buyer, beware," Blumenthal says. "There appears to be much
more hoodia offered in North American markets than the production ability of
the South African markets."
If you decide to try hoodia, "Buy at a reputable store and buy a
reputable brand," suggests Michael McGuffin, president of the American
Herbal Products Association, an industry group. If it seems too cheap to be
good, it probably is, he says.
To boost your odds of finding the real stuff, experts suggest asking the
manufacturer if it sends its hoodia to an independent lab for testing.