Friday, October 10, 2008

Should you give (or take) a hoot?

Originally published on August 5, 2006

There has always been a demand for “quick-fix”, “no-pain” weight loss pills.After the ban on the herb ephedra, the market was particularly ripe for the next new "weight loss solution", preferably one that didn't have the same stimulating side effects as ephedra.

Hoodia gordonii is also called hoodia, xhooba, khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, and South African desert cactus hoodia is a cactus-like plant that's causing a stir for its ability to suppress appetite and promote weight loss.

Hoodia is commercially available in capsule, liquid extract, spray, patch or tea form in health food stores and on the Internet.

Hoodia gordonii can be found in the semi-deserts of South Africa. It grows in clumps of green upright stems and is actually a succulent, not a cactus. It takes about 5 years before hoodia's pale purple flowers appear and the cactus can be harvested.

Although there are 20 types of hoodia, only the hoodia gordonii variety is believed to contain the natural appetite suppressant.Although hoodia was "discovered" relatively recently (2005 by CBS 60 minutes), the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert have been eating it for a very long time.

The Bushmen, who live off the land, would cut off part of the hoodia stem and eat it to ward off hunger and thirst during nomadic hunting trips. They’ve, reportedly, also used hoodia for severe abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion, hypertension and diabetes.

In a 2004 study (Brain Res. 2004; 1020(1-2):1-11 (ISSN: 0006-8993) conducted at the Brown Medical School, Providence, RI a steroidal glycoside with anorectic activity in animals, termed P57AS3 (P57), was isolated from Hoodia gordonii and found to have homologies to the steroidal core of cardiac glycosides.

Intracerebroventricular, (seriously!) (i.c.v.) injections of the purified P57AS3 demonstrated that the compound has a likely central (CNS) mechanism of action.The studies demonstrated that the compound increases the content of ATP by 50-150% in hypothalamic neurons.

In addition, third ventricle (i.c.v.) administration of P57, which reduces subsequent 24-h food intake by 40-60%, also increases ATP content in hypothalamus.

With growing evidence of metabolic or nutrient-sensing by the hypothalamus, ATP may be a common currency of energy sensing, which in turn may trigger the appropriate neural, endocrine and appetitive responses as similar to other fundamental hypothalamic homeostatic centers for temperature and osmolarity.

In layman terms, the chemical constituents in hoodia might work within the satiety center by releasing a chemical compound similar to glucose, but are up to 100,000 times more powerful.

However, it is just a theory, for now.The hypothalamus receives this signal as an indication that enough food has been consumed and this in turn stunts the appetite.

This pure organic hoodia gordinii contains a molecule that, possibly, effects, fools the brain into believing you are full, and can even stop the brain from thinking about food-got to love this proposition!(?)

However, there is no clear and/or convincing evidence of any medicinal effects of hoodia.

Scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s national laboratory, began studying hoodia and the initial results were promising -- lab animals lost weight after taking hoodia.

Later, the South African scientists, working in conjunction with a British company named Phytopharm, isolated the active ingredient in hoodia, a steroidal glycoside, which they named p57.Phytopharm has spent more than $20 million on hoodia research.

The company completed a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study in overweight, but otherwise healthy volunteers using the P57 extract from hoodia gordonii.The participants were split into two groups, one received the P57 and the other received a placebo. Each group was told to continue their normal diet and exercise.

The results of the study were as follows: When comparing the hoodia group to the Placebo group, the hoodia group had a statistically significant reduction in caloric intake, had a statistically significant reduction in body fat and had no adverse side effects--if it sounds to good to be true, it probably isn't!

The South African government has strictly regulated the exportation of hoodia to the rest of the world. A Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (C.I.T.I.E.S.) certificate is required to legally export hoodia gordonii from South Africa.

C.I.T.I.E.S. is an international agreement between countries design to protect and regulate international trade of wild animals and plants. Hoodia gordonii is one of those plants protected by C.I.T.I.E.S.The demand for real hoodia is great, but the supply isn't.

Until very recently, hoodia gordonii was only found in the wild in South Africa. Hoodia is difficult to grow.It requires 4-5 years to mature and temperatures in the range of 122F. The supply is scarce, which keeps costs high. (in the range of $115-160 per lb for the un-concentrated raw material).

Due to the high demand and relatively short supply, about 60% of so-called hoodia products on the market are in fact counterfeit.Reputable manufacturers make their authentication documents available for consumer inspection on-line.

There are three different ways of processing hoodia. Knowing these different ways of making hoodia products is very important: Most of the hoodia capsule products are made from powder out of hoodia plants.The whole hoodia plant is ground into a powder. Products using this method claim that since Bushmen, alegedly, ate the whole hoodia plant, it's therefore the most effective way.

However, the Bushmen actually(?) peeled away the hoodia skin and discarded it; they didn't actually eat the entire hoodia plant. This is the cheapest type of hoodia to manufacture, and most likely, the least effective.

Hoodia extract products discard the fiber and skin, that just takes up room and provides little to no positive effect. This processing method extracts and concentrates the active ingredients.

These products usually come in 20:1 or 10:1 potency levels. 20:1 means that 1 g of this extract was made by using 20 g of the whole plant and 10:1 means that 10 g of the whole plant were used to make 1 g of their extract.

The NEW Institute has conducted an "anecdotal" clinical" study with a number of informed willing patients and myself.

The bottom line: unless you are a South African lab animal or Bushmen, stick to moderation, healthy diet and exercise.

Be well!

***This article is to be used for education and general discussion purposes only. It does not constitute medical opinion and should not be used for or relied upon as medical advice. Publication of this newsletter does not create physician-patient relationship between the reader and the author. The article does not contain comprehensive description of the subject issues discussed. It is based on present medical knowledge which is subject to change and is unclear in numerous respects. Statements regarding the bio-efficacy of the nutritional supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The issues discussed can not be resolved without specific analysis of the specific circumstances of each person. The readers should consult with their individual health care/wellness professional to resolve their individual situation. Regrettably, the author of this article will be unable to respond to individual questions, but will address issues of interest to the majority of our membership and the general public.

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