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The History of Hoodia

The History of Hoodia

Even before the rest of the world found out about Hoodia and its appetite-curbing properties, it was the Xhomani San Bushmen of South Africa who first discovered the plant. The native tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert have been eating this plant for more than a hundred years to keep hunger at bay during those long hunting expeditions. Hoodia was the San Bushmen's best-kept secret, up until 2004 when it was introduced as one of the best natural weight-loss and appetite suppressant products.

Known to the world as Hoodia, this medicinal plant is also called by a variety of names. The plant's Latin name is Hoodia Gordonii and its other names include Ikhooba, Xhoba or Xhooba, Ghaap, South African desert cactus, Hoodia cactus, Bushmen's Hat, and Queen of Namib. Because of the cactus-like appearance, the Hoodia has always been mistaken as a member of the cactus family. In reality, Hoodia is a succulent -- with its green and upright stem, purple-colored flowers, unpleasant smell, and bitter taste. The Hoodia Gordonii has more than 13 known species, which grows exclusively in the arid areas of South Africa. Because of its rarity, the Hoodia Gordonii is a well-protected plant.

Hoodia Gordonii thrives in places where the temperature is high. The Kalahari Desert is just one of the few places where Hoodia Gordonii grows abundantly. For this reason, it is hard to grow and cultivate Hoodia in other places. This means that unless you turn your backyard into a mini-desert with the exact climatic and soil conditions as the Kalahari, you will not succeed in growing Hoodia.

It was a Dutch anthropologist who first noted the significance of Hoodia Gordonii as an appetite suppressant. In 1937, the anthropologist studied the life of the San Bushmen and found out that the tribesmen eat Hoodia to curb their hunger. Following this discovery, a group of scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) conducted several clinical studies to prove the appetite-curbing properties of Hoodia. They first tested the plant in rats and the effects were astonishing.

The scientists from CSIR attempted to discover the component or ingredient that gives Hoodia its appetite-suppressing powers. They finally succeeded in 1957 and named the molecule P57. The patented P57 in 1997 and sold the license to a biopharmaceutical company in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. The biopharmaceutical company then collaborated with the New York-based pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer in 1998 to conduct further studies on Hoodia. Pfizer intended to determine the active ingredients in Hoodia and to market it as an anti-obesity drug. However, this task proved to be challenging and expensive.

In July 2003, following numerous clinical studies, Pfizer returned the rights to P57. Although it was able to identify the active ingredients in Hoodia, synthesizing them proved to be costly and difficult. This caused Pfizer to pull the plug on the Hoodia project. However, the quest to produce anti-obesity drugs out of Hoodia is not yet finished. The biopharmaceutical company Phytopharm has recently joined forces with Unilever to continue its efforts of finally producing a commercially available anti-obesity drug.