The Hoodwinking Claims about Hoodia

In a society that places a high value on immediate gratification, it seems that just about everyone is looking for a quick and painless way to drop extra body weight. In the last decade, the Hoodia plant has been heavily-marketed as the miracle solution for extra pounds.

A plant similar to a cactus, Hoodia can be found growing in semi-desert regions of Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Among many stories about Hoodia is the claim that for thousands of years the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert used it to suppress hunger and thirst over long hunts.

Of the thirteen different types of hoodia plants, only Hoodia gordonii contains P57, the steroidal glycoside known for appetite suppression. Despite the claims however, there are not many clinical results to back up the supposed suppressive properties of P57. One study conducted on rats in 2004 found that those whose brains were injected with P57 ate less than rats receiving a placebo.

Bucks County Clinical Research is an organization that conducts studies for pharmaceutical and other companies. Their director, Dr. Richard Goldfarb, led a study in which seven overweight subjects were give two Hoodia gordonii capsules per day along with a healthy breakfast and a daily multivitamin, with all other habits unchanged. Subjects lost 3.3% of their bodyweight on average with a median loss over the four-week study period of 10 pounds. Because this was an efficacy study (conducted only to determine if the product worked), it was not published.

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2001 divided 24 participants into two groups, with one receiving Hoodia and the other a placebo. The Hoodia group showed significant reductions in body fat and calorie intake by the end of the study period, but this study too, was not published - a fact which sends up red flags.

While the weight-loss effects of Hoodia appear to be more fluff than substance, here are a few supplements that DO seem to hold some promise when it comes to weight loss:

Green Tea
Studies suggest that the consumption of five cups of green tea per day can help a person burn an extra 70 to 80 calories through an effect known as thermogenesis. This effect can be attributed to caffeine and to epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) a polyphenol found in green tea. Therefore, if a person changes nothing except for the addition of five cups of green tea, they could expect to lose roughly 8 pounds over the course of a year. This could amount to more if adding a healthy diet and exercise.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Research also suggests that the natural dietary supplement conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can reduce body fat and preserve muscle tissue in people who are overweight, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. In the double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the group taking CLA lost an average of six pounds as compare to the control group. It was determined that a daily dosage of about 3.4 grams had the most beneficial effect.

Dr. Michael Pariza also conducted research on CLA with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and found that CLA has an effect on the size of fat cells. While it cannot make a large fat cell smaller, it can prevent a small fat cell from growing larger. While there was not significant weight loss in his study, participants taking CLA who gained weight were more likely to gain muscle than fat.

Among many health benefits, it has been suggested through other studies that CLA:

  • Increases the metabolic rate
  • Reduces abdominal fat
  • Stimulates the growth of muscle
  • Lowers triglyceride and cholesterol levels
  • Enhances the immune system

While green tea and CLA appear to have some benefits, currently there is no miracle solution for extra weight. While it is not a quick fix, the best solution has been around for a while, and it IS proven: the combination of a nutritional diet and regular exercise.


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