Hoodia: Lots of Hoopla, Little Science

Few studies support the promise of the South African appetite suppressant, but believers abound.

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It's taken years for overweight Americans to discover what the South African bush people knew innately -- or so the story goes. For eons, the bush people have nibbled a native succulent plant called Hoodia gordonii -- and stayed slim. No fretting (apparently) about fitting into "skinny jeans" or advancing a belt notch.

Now, the plant native to the Kalahari Desert is being imported in heaps to slim down hefty Americans. Media reports and word-of-mouth is fueling this latest weight loss craze, not to mention thousands of email spams.

Widely sold over the Internet and in health food and discount stores, Hoodia gordonii is typically offered in capsules or tablets, but is also available in milk chocolate chews. A 30-day supply often costs $35 and up.

Despite booming sales -- one manufacturer claims its sales alone reached $20 million in the past year -- the unanswered question is: Where's the proof this stuff works?

Hoodia -- a succulent, not a cactus, as it's often erroneously described -- has lots of hoopla, but little science, at least little published science, as even advocates admit. Experts familiar with it say hoodia tricks your brain into thinking you're full. But they acknowledge that published, scientific studies proving hoodia works long-term are sparse.