Update 2/16/21. Hoodia supplements have been popular for weight loss for years. But do they work? To be frank, I've been skeptical for a long time. But, my feelings aside, what does the research show? In this review, let's take a look at the research on hoodia Gordonii as it pertains to weight loss. Let's also look at some of the shortcomings of that research. Only by looking at the clinical research can you cut through the hype and get a better idea of hoodia's benefits and whether it's right for you.
What is Hoodia
Hoodia (Hoodia Gordonii) refers to a cactus-like plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert of Africa. The inhabitants of the desert are said to eat the roots and stems of hoodia to curb their appetite as they trekked across the desert in search of food. It was this curbing of appetite that got people thinking about whether hoodia might help people lose weight.
Research suggests the active ingredient in hoodia is a compound called “P 57”. Because of this, you will probably see P57 showing up in the names of various hoodia supplements.
P 57 is said to work in the brain like sugar, and glucose. So, when you take hoodia, the brain thinks it’s getting glucose. This curbs appetite by tricking the brain into thinking you have enough to eat.
See the Hoodia Patch review for more info on that product.
Also, read the Healthe Trim Review
Hoodia Weight Loss Research
Weight loss research on hoodia started to increase when British pharmaceutical and supplement company Phytopharm (now called IXICO) was given a license to develop hoodia supplements. That was back in 2001. As far as I can tell, nothing of substance came of this.
Unilever (the maker of Slim Fast weight-loss shakes) was also investigating hoodia gordonii but gave up. Likewise, pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer has also looked at this compound but they seem to have lost interest years ago. See the side effects section below for a possible reason.
In one weight loss study, 18 overweight men ate fewer calories when they were given hoodia gordonii compared to others who took a placebo. Unfortunately, this study was conducted in 2001 and does not appear to have been published in a medical journal. This is a shortcoming.
Another investigation (unpublished study) found when hoodia gordonii (p 57 actually) was injected in the brains of rats, those rats ate less food. This is also intriguing but injecting hoodia into the brain is not the same thing as taking supplements.
In a study published in 2011, researchers noted hoodia did not work. To be fair, this investigation only lasted 15 days. That might not be long enough to test if it works or not.
More recently (2015), researchers in New York tested the weight loss effects of hoodia parviflora for 40 days in 101 people. (they call it Hoodia Sweet ex Decne in their research). These researchers noted hoodia produced more weight loss than a placebo.
This study was supported by Desert Labs, a supplement company. Some researchers involved in this study were employees of Desert Labs and stockholders of the company.
Even though this study lasted only 40 days, about half the people dropped out. The investigation started out with 204 people but ended up with only 101. That's a very high dropout rate and is a weakness of this investigation in my opinion.
Based on their research Desert Labs now produces the following hoodia Supplements:
There are various other studies too but they deal with lab animals. For us, human research matters most.
How Much Works?
When it comes to weight loss, this is difficult to answer. Based on the human studies so far (unpublished and published) my hunch is 300-400 mg. In the study from Desert Labs (see above), they used 3 grams (3000 mg).
Supplements can be found at most health food stores such as GNC, Vitamin Shoppe and Vitamin World. You can also likely find supplements at Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS. You can also find many supplements on Amazon too.
Hoodia Side Effects
For healthy people, I believe hoodia is safe. For healthy people, I don't see it as dangerous. Further proof of this comes from Desert Labs (see their research above) which has obtained GRAS status for the hoodia they use. That's good. GRAS stands for generally recognized as safe. It's an FDA term that supplements have to apply for in order to use. Niagen is another GRAS supplement too.
While I'm glad it's been given GRAS status, given the lack of human studies, I don't feel we understand what its side effects are. I think we need more human studies – and longer human studies.
For those with health issues, here are some things to consider. This list is not complete.
- Talk to your doctor and pharmacist if you take any prescription medications such as heart drugs, diabetes drugs or blood thinners.
- Stop taking the supplement at least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Talk to your doctor first if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Do not take weight loss supplements if you have eating disorders
In 2005, a Pfizer researcher wrote the New York Times and said previous research noted liver problems due to ingredients that could not be easily removed from hoodia. Might this have played a role in why Pfizer abandoned further development of this supplement?
Hoodia was banned in the UK but this seems to be due more to red tape than side effects. As I understand UK, law supplement companies must provide proof supplements are safe if they have not been regularly used before 1997. This is similar to here in the US, but here the date is 1994. I'm not sure if it is still banned in the UK.
Hoodia And The FDA
Deal with companies you have investigated. Some companies which sell this supplement have had run-ins with the FDA which I feel taints the industry.
Here are some reports:
- In 2016, the FDA reported the case Global Nutrients, Stella Labs and Nutraceuticals, which allegedly had been using cheaper ingredients than people knew.
- In 2017 the FDA sent a warning letter to Black Seed Inc over violations in good manufacturing practices (GMP) and claims made for some of their supplements.
- In 2011 the FDA alerted the public that a weight loss supplement called, P57 Hoodia produced by Huikng Pharmaceutical because they said it contained an illegal weight loss supplement called sibutramine. Sibutramine -formally called Meridia -was pulled from the US after it was linked to heart attacks and strokes.
For more on sibutramine, see these reviews
Does Hoodia Work?
In this review, I presented the research on hoodia weight loss supplements. That research tells us we need more research. There are not enough human studies in my opinion. When considering if this supplement will work for you, remember people who live in the Kalahari Desert use hoodia to curb appetite –not lose weight. Those individuals often need to chase down their next meal. They don’t live around the corner from supermarkets. Weight loss is different than curbing appetite. If it worked for you, let me know.