[FoRK] Raw bits on Hoodia

Rohit Khare < rohit at commerce.net > on > Mon Mar 6 09:25:54 PST 2006

an attendee at closed geek confab who lost a noticeable amount of  
weight had really positive things to say about his experience with  
Hoodia supplements. I'm still skeptical that the supplements contain  
the active ingredient to any appreciable level, much less whether  
it's a great strategy. Nonetheless, it seemed quite promising, and  
odd that it's so hard to synthesize that Pfizer quit... RK

 > http://cpanel.wispme.com/pipermail/ 
[MPWG] Hoodia - The Catch-22 of Using Traditional Knowledge for Mass  

Patricia_DeAngelis at fws.gov Patricia_DeAngelis at fws.gov
Thu Apr 21 14:30:14 CDT 2005

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Hoodia - The Catch-22 of Using Traditional Knowledge for Mass  

For some reason, someone, somewhere decided that plant conservation  
is only
relevant to some people when they know "what's in it for them."

Recent calls for conservation of medicinal plants have pointed to the  
that traditionally used medicine has global health applications and,
therefore, should be conserved.  But the truth is, advocating global  
use of
medicinal plants can be the ultimate Catch-22.  Hoodia's rise through  
global marketplace provides a case study for the myriad issues that  
when traditionally used botanicals are brought into the mainstream.  Not
all of them good - not all of them bad.

Hoodia species are succulents that grow in the deserts of Southern  
For thousands of years, San bushmen have controlled their hunger during
long trips or in times of food shortage by chewing Hoodia stems.  In  
times, the potential global market for this traditional knowledge has  
ENORMOUSLY (pun intended!).  Countries on all major continents have
declared obesity epidemics.  The problem officially went global when, in
October 2004, it was declared at the First International Obesity  
"the global epidemic of obesity is completely out of control" (2).
Obviously, then, many people could easily be convinced that this  
genus is
worth keeping around.

The Catch-22?  Hoodia is primarily wild-harvested and global demand for
this product, without proper management, has the potential to  
devastate the
resource.  But, the complexity of properly managing medicinal plant
resources makes it very difficult for the general public, to whom this
material would be mass marketed, to know whether they are doing the
resource any harm (or any good, for that matter).

In a message about Hoodia that I posted to the listserve in January 2005
(3), I raised many of the issues that arise when traditional plant  
usage is
marketed to the masses.  Questions about population dynamics and
sustainability, ethnobotany and benefit-sharing, patents and indigenous
knowledge protection.  In addition, the entire genus of Hoodia was  
listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES; http:// 
Thus, Hoodia provides insight to yet another dimension of botanical  
development: regulation and conservation.  Hoodia has it all!

According to a recent article in the New York Times (1), "In the past  
years, after reports that Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, had begun
looking into hoodia's potential as an appetite-control drug, the  
market for
hoodia that has been dried, powdered and fashioned into capsules has  
growing fast. "The demand is very high, and the supply is ridiculously
low," said Hugh Lamond, who runs Herbal Teas of Africa, one of a  
handful of
hoodia exporters. "It's like shark-feeding time."

In the following excerpt from same the article, two important points are
raised by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, director of weight management at the
University of Pittsburgh:  "...even if eating the plant dampens the San
people's hunger, she said, that does not mean that processed supplements
necessarily work the same way. For one thing, people who take the
supplements do not get as much exercise as the San people do and have
easier access to food" (1).

I would venture to guess that many of the misconceptions about
traditionally-used botanicals (and their efficacy) are borne from the
belief that: 1) the processed form will result in the same effect,  
and 2)
the botanical will work magic.  The fallacy in these two beliefs is  
acknowledged and, when a botanical product doesn't "prove itself," it
further cements the idea that botanicals are quackery.  The New York  
article goes on to raise several other insightful issues that the  
public is
often not made aware of: Issues of efficacy, knowledge transfer,  
of active compounds, and safety concerns.

So, to get back to my Catch-22 assertion, I merely wish to point out  
advocating traditional knowledge for mass consumption in the name of
conservation carries with it a hefty responsibility to educate the  
that there may be more to plant conservation than merely "what's in  
it for

-Patricia De Angelis

More information
(1) An appetite killer for a killer appetite?  Not Yet; By MARY  
New York Times; Published: April 19, 2005

(2) Obesity epidemic "out of control"  ; By ANIA LICHTAROWICZ; BBC News;
Published October 31, 2004

(3) To see my January 13, 2005 post to the MPWG listserve, go to the
archives at:

Patricia S. De Angelis, Ph.D.
Botanist - Division of Scientific Authority
Chair - Plant Conservation Alliance - Medicinal Plant Working Group
US Fish & Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 750
Arlington, VA  22203
703-358-1708 x1753
FAX: 703-358-2276
Working for the conservation and sustainable use of our green natural

 > ---------------
Twee Rivieren Journal; Bushmen Squeeze Money From a Humble Cactus
Published: April 1, 2003

TWEE RIVIEREN, South Africa - The educated city people a government  
minister, a chief executive and several directors of the nation's  
most important scientific organizations -- traveled at sunrise to  
this barren region of the Kalahari Desert to see for themselves the  
cactus that has been trumpeted as a natural wonder.

But when they stood before it, a puny cluster of spiny stalks that  
looked like wrinkled cucumbers, the magnitude of the moment escaped  

''That's it, huh?'' asked Dr. Ben Ngubane, minister of arts, culture,  
science and technology. ''How do you know this one is safe to eat?''

A grin from Petrus Valbooi, a leader of the San people, or Bushmen,  
who scrape life from this barren landscape, reassured the skeptics.  
He cut off a stalk, shaved off its spines, and sliced into its milky  
center, bidding them to taste.

That's where its power lies, he told them. Indeed.

 From a desert weed known as hoodia, one of the world's oldest and  
least developed peoples hopes to enjoy its first taste of prosperity.

The San have sucked on hoodia for generations, principally to raise  
their energy and fight hunger during long hunting trips.

Now, Pfizer, the international pharmaceutical giant, has begun work  
on an appetite suppressant from the plant, and agreed to share the  
profits. The deal, which includes the government, is considered a  
landmark in the field of international property rights.

The company, with a British-based research partner, has spent  
millions working to develop the drug from the active chemical in the  
obscure runt of a cactus, hoping to make it as profitable as Viagra.

Here among the San, the concept of wealth has begun to sink in. The  
first payment to the San, some $30,000, was made last month, and  
there are already plans to buy land and build clinics.

But at the formal signing of the agreement in March, most of the  
Bushmen seemed happy just knowing that the modern world had  
recognized that there remained wealth in ancient knowledge, and that  
at least one tradition in their dying culture might be saved.

''I am very happy because it was not written that this day would  
happen,'' said Mr. Valbooi, who arrived at the ceremony wearing  
traditional shorts made from deerskin and a crown made from the tail  
of a wild cat. ''Now I know that God has not abandoned the Bushmen.''

It was a happy ending to a protracted legal conflict that began in  
1996 when the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a  
government-financed laboratory, patented the active chemical of the  
hoodia, called P57, without acknowledging the San.

The government then licensed rights to develop P57 to the British  
pharmaceutical research company Phytopharm, which sublicensed the  
rights to Pfizer.

After years of legal wrangling, an agreement was reached between the  
San and the government. Under the agreement, some 100,000 Bushmen in  
four countries -- South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola -- will  
receive at least three more payments during the clinical testing of  
the drug.

Then the South African government will pay the San some 6 percent of  
the royalties it receives once the drug goes on the market.

Roger Chennells, a lawyer who represented the San in their legal  
fight, acknowledged that the community was getting the smallest slice  
of what could be a multibillion-dollar pie. ''If this is a cop-out,''  
he said, ''then it is a cop-out I can live with because it is going  
to bring these people benefits no government has ever given them.''

The San trace their history back some 150,000 years, to the world's  
first humans. The hunter-gatherers are still considered expert  
trackers, with abilities to read animal movements from the sand.

But they became the prey under South Africa's colonial rulers, who  
shot them for sport. Under apartheid, the San were enslaved and  
robbed of their ancestral land. The South African military used them  
to find black opposition leaders living on the run.

To the marvel of anthropologists, the San have been able to cling to  
their traditions. After the end of white rule, South Africa's first  
black president, Nelson Mandela, returned them to their lands, as  
arid as the face of the moon.

Today, however, fewer than a dozen people speak their language, and  
even fewer know how to hunt. Children learn traditional dances, but  
prefer polyester T-shirts and tennis shoes over animal skins. Most  
young people abandon the desert for schools and jobs in cities.

Jan Vander Westhuitzen, 47, a Bushman tracker, said hoodia is  
struggling, too.

''Hoodia used to cover the desert, '' he said, cutting a leaf from a  
shriveled specimen and stuffing it in a deerskin medicine pouch.  
''Now the land is too dry.''

He said the plant had been a center of life for the Bushmen for as  
long as he could remember. A sip of its bitter liquid gave them  
enough energy to walk all day or make love through the night. It  
cured a morning hangover, or, brewed like tea, soothed an aching  

He seemed to delight at the idea that its secret was out.

''I do not think we are being robbed of our knowledge,'' he said. ''I  
think that people who know how to live from the earth should share.''

Photo: Visitors to the Kalahari Desert cluster gingerly around a  
hoodia plant, a spiny cactus that produces a chemical being developed  
as a drug by Pfizer. (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

Map of South Africa highlighting Twee Rivieren: Twee Rivieren is in  
the Kalahari, traditional home of the San people.

 > http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/health/nutrition/19cons.html? 
An Appetite Killer for a Killer Appetite? Not Yet
Published: April 19, 2005

The way the San people of the Kalahari Desert describe it, Hoodia  
gordonii is nature's hunger buster. Break off a spiny, cucumber- 
shaped stalk from this succulent plant, feed on its milky center and  
you will have the energy to set off on a long hunt unencumbered by  
hunger pangs.

Or, if you live far from the arid regions in South Africa, Botswana  
and Namibia where hoodia grows, simply buy one of many new brands of  
hoodia supplements.

In the past few years, after reports that Pfizer, the pharmaceutical  
company, had begun looking into hoodia's potential as an appetite- 
control drug, the market for hoodia that has been dried, powdered and  
fashioned into capsules has been growing fast. "The demand is very  
high, and the supply is ridiculously low," said Hugh Lamond, who runs  
Herbal Teas of Africa, one of a handful of hoodia exporters. "It's  
like shark-feeding time."

One supplement, called Hoodoba, advertises online that it "kills your  
appetite, ups your mood and gives you waves upon waves of energy."

The makers of Pure Hoodia, another brand, boast that the product  
contains an active ingredient that "fools your brain into believing  
you are full, making it easier to lose that excess weight."

Yet no human studies gauging the effectiveness or safety of the  
hoodia plant or of supplements made from it have been published.

That is why many physicians who specialize in weight loss do not  
recommend hoodia.

"In good conscience, I can't recommend something when the benefits  
are unproven and the health risks are unknown," said Dr. Jonathan  
Waitman, a nutrition specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell  
hospital's weight control program.

Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the weight management center at  
the University of Pittsburgh, said it would not be surprising to find  
foods "that might stimulate or suppress hunger."

But even if eating the plant dampens the San people's hunger, she  
said, that does not mean that processed supplements necessarily work  
the same way. For one thing, people who take the supplements do not  
get as much exercise as the San people do and have easier access to  

Even assuming hoodia can affect appetite, there are many other  
unknowns, including how much of the supplement a person needs to  
consume to achieve that effect, how often someone can safely take it  
and how long it will keep working.

One unpublished study by a British company found that nine men who  
took an unspecified amount of P57, said to be the active ingredient  
in hoodia, twice a day for 15 days ended up eating fewer calories and  
losing more body fat than did a like-size group of men who took  
placebos. But the study was small and short. And because it has not  
been published in a journal, scientists cannot examine the details of  
how it was conducted or what it found.

The study was done by Phytopharm, a British company that in 1997  
acquired a license from South Africa's Council for Scientific and  
Industrial Research to develop P57. The council had previously  
isolated P57 from Hoodia gordonii and identified it as the ingredient  
responsible for appetite control.

Phytopharm teamed up with Pfizer to develop a drug containing P57.  
But by mid-2003, Pfizer lost interest. Kate Robins, a spokeswoman for  
Pfizer in New London, Conn., explained that early research suggested  
that P57 would be too difficult to synthesize and could not readily  
be made into a drug in pill form.

Now, Phytopharm has teamed up with Unilever, the consumer products  
company that makes cleaning products, deodorant and a wide variety of  
foods, to look for ways to use P57 in foods and beverages. That  
effort will require studies to gauge the ingredient's safety and  
effectiveness, and no products are expected for at least three years,  
said Trevor Gorin, a spokesman for Unilever in London.

The new demand for hoodia, a wild plant, has led to a sudden surge in  
collecting it. As a result, it has been placed on the endangered  
species list. Mr. Lamond of Herbal Teas and other exporters have  
established hoodia farms in South Africa to provide a legal source of  

Unilever has done preliminary tests on 10 different supplement brands  
available in the United States, Mr. Gorin said, and has found that  
two contain no significant quantities of P57, four contain small  
amounts of it, and four contain significant amounts.

Hoodia supplements come in a variety of formulations, some containing  
other ingredients like green tea extract and cocoa extract. Bottles  
containing 60 capsules of varying strengths cost anywhere from $20 to  

How does hoodia work? Laboratory research, supported by Pfizer, in  
which P57 was injected into the brains of rats, indicated that it  
might act on the hypothalamus, a center of appetite control. Dr.  
David MacLean, an endocrinologist at Brown Medical School, who  
conducted the study, said the substance appeared to alter energy  
metabolism in that part of the brain.

But Dr. MacLean said that P57 was easily broken down by the liver, so  
it might be hard to take in enough of it to ensure that it had an  
effect. He cautioned that currently available supplements might be  

"I question whether there is really enough of the active ingredient  
in there to do much," Dr. MacLean said.

The possibility that hoodia is processed in the liver is cause for  
concern, given that many obese people often have liver abnormalities  
that could compound any side effects, said Dr. Michael Steelman, a  
weight loss specialist in Oklahoma City. "Anyone who uses this should  
use it under a doctor's supervision," Dr. Steelman said.

 > http://www.phytopharm.co.uk/hoodia_faq.html


What is Hoodia?
Hoodia is a succulent plant found in the Kalahari desert of South  
Africa. The genus encompasses a number of varieties of plant of which  
Hoodia gordonii is one species. Hoodia plants are succulents, not  
cacti, although they do have a spiny appearance similar to cacti.

There are some other products that claim to contain Hoodia. Are they  
the same as Phytopharm's product?

Only Phytopharm's patented Hoodia gordonii product is botanically  
verified to contain pure Hoodia gordonii and has quantified levels of  
the chemical constituents that produce the anti-obesity effects.  
Importantly, only Phytopharm's Hoodia gordonii product has had  
extensive safety studies performed and been clinically proven to  
reduce calorie intake and body fat. The benefit sharing to the CSIR  
and the San people is only generated by Phytopharm's patented Hoodia  
gordonii product.

How has Hoodia gordonii been used in the past?
For many centuries the San bushmen of the Kalahari desert have used  
Hoodia plants as a food. The species Hoodia gordonii was less often  
used because of its lingering bitter taste being considered  
unpleasant. However, in times of hardship, or being away from  
familiar areas, it was sometimes eaten.

How did the CSIR's research into Hoodia gordonii commence?
Due to the tradition of food use of Hoodia plants, certain species  
were included in a scientific research project established by the  
South African statutory council known as CSIR (Council for Scientific  
and Industrial Research) to screen a large number of bush foods. As  
part of the screening process, extracts of plants were made and  
tested for toxic effects. Surprisingly, it was observed that the  
Hoodia extracts caused a decrease in appetite and body weight in  
animals that did not appear to be due to a direct toxic effect of the  

Do all Hoodia species reduce appetite?
Only Phytopharm's Hoodia gordonii extract has been proven to decrease  
calorie intake in human volunteers.

Have the benefits of Hoodia gordonii been clinically proven?
In 2001 Phytopharm completed a double-blind, placebo-controlled  
clinical study in overweight, but otherwise healthy volunteers using  
an extract of Hoodia gordonii. The large doses of extract caused a  
statistically significant reduction in the average daily calorie  
intake. In addition, a statistically significant reduction in body  
fat content was also observed compared to the placebo group after two  

How long does it take for Hoodia gordonii to have an effect?
A clinical trial conducted by Phytopharm demonstrated that repeat  
dose administration of large doses of Hoodia gordonii extract caused  
a statistically significant decrease in daily calorie intake. By day  
15 the calorie intake had decreased by approximately 1000 kcal per day.

Does Hoodia gordonii have any side effects?
In the clinical study described above the safety data are consistent  
with a satisfactory overall safety profile, however further  
scientific studies are required to establish the safety profile of  
Hoodia gordonii extract. These are currently ongoing at Phytopharm.

Is Hoodia gordonii patented?
The CSIR has submitted patents in territories all over the world  
relating to Hoodia gordonii. Phytopharm has an exclusive licence for  
these patents.

When will the product containing the Hoodia gordonii extract be  
The necessary clinical trials and other studies to ensure the safety  
of the extract will take a few years before a product will be available.

Who are the San people and how do they and South Africa benefit from  
sales of Hoodia gordonii?
The CSIR have entered a benefit sharing agreement with an  
organisation representing the San people, to ensure that any  
financial benefit flowing from the commercialisation of the patented  
Hoodia gordonii extract is shared with people whose traditional  
knowledge first led to the investigation of the plant. In addition,  
Phytopharm has worked closely with the CSIR and appreciated the  
importance of the continuing development to South Africa. To this  
end, Phytopharm has collaborated with the CSIR and opened a clinical  
supplies unit and a botanical supplies unit in South Africa.

What does the inclusion of Hoodia in Appendix II of CITES mean?
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of  
Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between  
governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild  
animals and plants does not threaten their survival. There are 166  
Parties (States bound by the Convention). Species covered by CITES  
are listed in three appendices. Appendix II includes species not  
necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be  
controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their  
survival. Following a review at the Conference of Parties in Bangkok  
(October 2004) it was decided to include Hoodia onto Appendix II of  
CITES. This will help ensure that all harvest operations and trade of  
Hoodia plant material are controlled at an international level in  
order to conserve indigenous plant populations within the range  
states (South Africa, Namibia and Botswana).

Hoodia gordonii is rare, is the source sustainable?
Hoodia gordonii is very rare and is protected by national  
conservation laws in South Africa and Namibia. It can only be  
collected or grown with a permit. Wild stocks are also extremely  
limited so Phytopharm has established plantations over the past 5  
years to grow sustainable quantities of Hoodia gordonii exclusively  
for Phytopharm's product. There is a continuing development programme  
by Phytopharm to ensure sustainable supplies for Phytopharm's product  
in the future.

      Last Updated: 07.01.06     © Phytopharm plc	

Also consulted: http://www.hoodiascam.com/index.php

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