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The weight loss herb.


Hoodia is a bitter-tasting (cucumber-ish) cactus-like plant. It grows wild is in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. The stalk of the hoodia plant is what is consumed. It looks like a small spiky pickle but the sharp spines are removed.

Leslie Stahl, of CBS News, reported on hoodia last year. In fact she ate it. She said that she had no after effects – no funny taste in her mouth, no queasy stomach, and no racing heart. She also wasn't hungry all day, even at mealtime. She also reported that she had no desire to eat or drink the entire day. "I'd have to say it did work," says Stahl.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari have been eating hoodia for a very long time. The first scientific investigation of the plant was conducted at South Africa’s national laboratory. Because Bushmen were known to eat hoodia, it was included in a study of indigenous foods.

"What they found was when they fed it to animals, the animals ate it and lost weight," says Dr. Richard Dixey, who heads an English pharmaceutical company called Phytopharm that is trying to develop weight-loss products based on hoodia.

It took the South African national laboratory 30 years to isolate and identify the specific appetite-suppressing ingredient in hoodia. When they found it, they applied for a patent and licensed it to Phytopharm.

Phytopharm had spent more than $20 million on research by late 2004, including clinical trials with obese volunteers that have yielded promising results. These volunteers ended up eating about 1,000 calories a day less than those in the control group. Consider that the average American man consumes about 2,600 calories a day and woman about 1,900. "If you take this compound every day, your wish to eat goes down. And we've seen that very, very dramatically," says Dixey.

But be careful... no one has demonstrated that the resulting product is safe. And many products claiming to contain hoodia only have minute amounts of the active ingredient.


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