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Hoodia Gordonii's History

Consumer Conscious

Hoodia the miracle plant, has led a complicated history in the last few years. Since its popularity sky-rocketed after a story by 60 Minutes, the market has been flooded by imitations and legal difficulties. So how is it that a plant that has been used as an appetite suppressant for thousands of years gone unnoticed until recently? And what proof is there to back it up?

South African Bushmen, or the San, have been using hoodia gordoniias a appetite and thirst supplement for tens of thousands of years. They would chew chunks of the peeled plant on long hunting trips to ward of hunger. Not only were they not hungry or thirsty, they were also full of energy.

But it wasn't until the 1960s that the plant was discovered by modern medicine. South African scientists who were studying the indigenous food of the San came across the positive effects of the plant. They were looking for toxic effects, but instead discovered its weight loss potential.

Thirty years and 20-million dollars worth of research was put into the plant by Phytopharm, a British Pharmaceutical company. In late 2001 the Phytopharm patented P57, the active ingredient that was isolated from the plant. They discovered that those who ate the heart of the plant consumed a thousand less calories a day than those who didn't. How hoodia works, they found, is that the plant mimics glucose at a thousand times stronger, signalling to the hypothalamus that you are full.

The hoodia cactus plant The many different varieties of hoodia that are found worldwide were also tested, but it was discovered that none held the properties of hoodia gordonii that eliminates appetite.

Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical company, entered in a deal with Phytopharm. After experiments to produce a synthetic hoodia proved expensive, as was manufacturing and preparing the plant, Pfizer backed out of the deal.

The San, the South African Bushmen who had used the plant for tens of thousands of years, convinced Phytopharm that they were conducting bio-piracy if they were not compensated. So in 2002 the San were awarded royalties on all hoodia gordonii sold.

Unilever, the manufacturer of Slimfast products, made a deal with Phytopharm after the deal with Pfizer fell through.

The same month hoodia caught the attention of 60 Minutes. After the news program's story about hoodia gordonii and its helpful weightloss effects, hoodia became a hot commodity. The problem was, many companies that claimed to sell hoodia were not the real thing. There are several ways in which they duped their buyers - using hoodia gordonii seeds or hoodia gordonii not grown in the Kalahari Desert, using another variety of hoodia, and using hoodia gordonii as just one of several ingredients, cutting down on price and effectiveness.

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