Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Search for Pure Hoodia Plant Extracts

There are many weight loss products with hoodia gordonii listed as an ingredient. Due to the media attention received by this new product, health supplement companies everywhere have added a hoodia gordonii product to their lines. According to independent reports, some of the claims made by these companies may be untrue and some products do not contain the pure hoodia plant extract.

The company which created a market for weight loss products with hoodia gordonii has not yet released their own product. That company is Phytopharm. Currently partnered with Unilever (makers of Slim Fast and other food products), Phytopharm has been conducting research and attempting to develop and market a product using pure hoodia plant extract for over ten years. They announced in late April of 2006 that they had just completed the first phase of a five phase clinical research program and still expect that several years will pass before their product is available.

In the meantime, media coverage, including reporters traveling to Africa to sample the hoodia gordonii plant, created a market for health supplement companies. If eating the pure hoodia plant would suppress the appetite, then products containing the plant in powdered form should accomplish the same thing. Weight loss products with hoodia gordonii are working for some people and not for others. This is true with many “natural cures”, but a controversy is brewing over whether all of the products that claim to contain hoodia gordonii, actually do. At first, it appeared that this was an advertising gimmick created by companies whose products cost more, something to set them above the rest. Statements from a company that sells a product about other companies selling the same product are sometimes just sales pitches. But, in this case, it appears that there is evidence to support the statements.

The first step in chemical analysis was finding samples of the pure hoodia plant. Hoodia gordonii only grows in areas of southern Africa. It is not favored in botanical gardens or green houses because the blooms have such a strong smell. The smell has often been compared to rotting meat. Wild stands of hoodia gordonii have been protected from harvesting by the governments of southern Africa. Cultivation of hoodia gordonii has been difficult. These statements are made by not only the companies that are currently selling weight loss products with hoodia gordonii, but also by Phytopharm. The lack of sources of pure hoodia plant has led suppliers at some point in the manufacturing process to either substitute something else for hoodia gordonii or reduce the amount of the active ingredient to very low levels.

A non-profit organization called Hoodia, based in South Africa, attempts to inform consumers about which weight loss products with hoodia are genuine and which are fake. At this time they have had chemical analyses performed by Alkemists Pharmaceuticals on twelve different products which claim to contain pure hoodia plant in powdered form. According to these results, some of the products contain hoodia gordonii, some contain a small amount of hoodia gordonii and some contain no hoodia gordonii at all. In fact, one company is the subject of a possible class action suit.

Some of the questionable weight loss products with hoodia have appropriate CITES licenses for exporting hoodia gordonii and so one must assume that the error was made as early as the harvesting process. The government of South Africa was concerned that this might be a problem. Identification of the hoodia gordonii plant is apparently difficult, as there are 15 different species of hoodia, but only hoodia gordonii has been studied as an appetite suppressant. In order for consumers to find weight loss products with hoodia gordonii that is genuine, it may be necessary to look for companies which display chemical analysis reports or are certified by Hoodia