Hoodia Gordonii is a succulent plant that grows in the African Kalahari desert. It thrives in extremely hot weather, and it takes many years to mature. The plants, which are native to a narrow region of southern Africa’s republic of Namibia, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, are pollinated by flies - and flies regard the sickening smell given off by the blossoms much as a hungry teen-ager would the aroma of Big Macs while sitting in the drive-through lane. 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.
Bushmen have used hoodia for several centuries, to help ward off hunger when on long trips in the desert. They would cut a piece of the plant, which is about the size of a cucumber, and eat it. It takes a piece of fresh hoodia, about 2 or 3 inches long, to get the appetite suppressing benefit. Scientists have found that one molecule in the plant is responsible for the appetite reducing effect. This molecule has been named P57.
Phytopharm owns the patent to P57, and no other company or individual can sell hoodia as a weight loss aid.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer entered a deal with Phytopharm and tried to isolate P57 into a form that could be marketed to the public. After several years of research, they determined that this was not possible, and they pulled out of the agreement.
Hoodia is currently being sold online by various companies and individuals. They are selling dried, powdered hoodia. However, the appetite suppressing ability of hoodia gordonii is only found in large fresh pieces of the plant. The powder that you purchase contains such a small amount of P57 that it cannot produce the desired effect. These products are not regulated or inspected, and the exact contents are not known.
Phytopharm is still working on developing a viable source of hoodia gordonii that can be marketed to the public. They expect this to take several years. When this is available, it will only be sold by companies that are certified by Phytopharm as being authentic and having the correct amount of P57 to benefit the user.
The current supply of genuine hoodia gordonii is very limited, and is considered rare. The South African government has chosen to protect hoodia gordonii as an endangered plant. In October, 2004, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) provided added protection. Hoodia gordonii cannot be exported as a weight loss product. Limited amounts of the plant can be exported, but only as herbarium collections. The extent of illegal trade is unknown.
3.4 The potential impact of illegal trade is considered to be very high because of the threat of over-exploitation after the patenting of compound P57 by the CSIR, in South Africa. Hoodia products are widely advertised on websites and all the material used to manufacture these products is thought to be derived from wild-harvested plants. There are at least ten companies offering Hoodia products for sale on their websites. Very high actual and potential impacts of trade can be expected, since some pharmaceutical companies require wild material for extraction of the active compound.
3.5 The plantings in South Africa and Namibia have not yet reached a stage where harvesting is possible, so all material currently in trade is probably from wild sources.
2.7 All Hoodias have been subject to collecting by
succulent collectors, and several taxa have been impacted by
habitat disturbance (e.g. road construction, mining and
Harvesting for medicinal properties has occurred in the past as part of traditional practices, but harvesting for commercial purposes is becoming a large potential threat. Since the isolation of the active ingredient in H. gordonii and the extensive press coverage that projected huge financial benefits to be derived from exploiting this species, there has been an increasing interest in the harvest of Hoodia spp. Although H. gordonii is abundant and widespread, collectors of plant material cannot always tell the different species apart, and collecting from the wild is likely to impact a number of Hoodia species. Harvesting requires cutting off the above ground parts of the plant and it is relatively easy to decimate small populations.
Therefore, the hoodia gordonii products you purchase on the internet may not be actual hoodia gordonii, may contain little to no P57, and are probably exported illegally and are encouraging the extinction of this plant.