The Tortoise and The Hoodia

The hoodia plant in the Kalahari Desert is becoming the newest fad in the war against obesity. Hoodia is a bitter-tasting cactus-like plant that grows wild only in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. The small, spiky pickle-like plant is eaten like a cactus when you remove the sharp spines. It tastes like and has the texture of a cucumber. The indigenous people of Southern Africa have long known the benefits of hoodia for treating indigestion and small infections.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari have been eating the hoodia plant for a very long time. Common names for the plant are "Bushman's Hat" and "Queen of the Namib." The indigenous Bushmen call the hoodia plant Xhoba. After centuries of use, no deaths or adverse health reactions have ever been reported. Some of the most fragile reptiles in the world survive on eating the hoodia plant.

Scientists say hoodia fools the brain by making you think you're full, even if you've eaten just a morsel. I think a more realistic explanation is that hoodia naturally contains unique and very concentrated nutrients that fulfill a "desert" need for nutrition and survival. All animals in desert regions eat the foods that supply the nutrients that keep their bodies from dehydrating and provide long-term nutrition in a region where food is scarce.

My youngest son and I founded and operate a wildlife preservation for exotic tortoises. We have one of the largest collections of breeding pairs of different tortoise species from around the world. The tortoises we have from desert regions, such as the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, eat cactus and plants like hoodia. Hoodia doesn't "trick" their bodies into thinking they are full. It supplies the nutrients these tortoises need to survive in a desert environment, satisfying their need for "more."

Humans can offer their bodies these same plant nutrients. The result is a feeling of satisfaction and less hunger because the nutrients are REAL, not fake-food chemicals that offer absolutely NO nutrition for survival. Real, nutrient-rich foods like hoodia and other cacti satisfy the need to constantly eat; whereas, typical American foods crammed with chemicals and low-grade fats, offer little to no nutrition and, therefore, consistently signal hunger and the need to continuously eat.

Consider diet sweeteners as a good example of the difference between the hoodia plant and laboratory chemical foods. Several studies have shown diet sweeteners actually make people fat. In my book Splenda®: Is It Safe Or Not? - I note a study by Tordoff and Friedman proving test animals had the urge to eat more food after given artificial sweeteners; the urge can last up to 90 minutes. They determined that when blood levels for insulin production are normal, the test animals ate less food. High levels of insulin are believed to be a cause of hunger, and the test animals given artificial sweeteners consumed more food due to higher insulin levels than the ones who did not eat the sweetener chemicals.

The science continues to support the fact that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite. Researchers Blundel and Hill also proved that most artificial sweeteners enhance appetite and increase short-term food intake. They reported (also in Splenda®: Is It Safe Or Not?): "After ingestion of aspartame, the (test) volunteers were left with a residual hunger compared to what they reported after eating glucose (sugar). This lingering hunger leads to increased food consumption."

Maybe now, consumers surviving on diets of fake, manufactured, chemical foods will understand that when they eat real foods replete with nutrients oozing from its juicy source, they are less hungry, nutritionally satisfied, and eat less; thereby, losing weight and having more energy. If tortoises can survive on this natural plant and live for over 100 years, at a very slow pace and in the desert, mind you, then humans can, too.

Now, here's a nasty catch: human mass consumption and the need for the nutritional benefits of hoodia in industrialized nations may well threaten this plant into extinction. Our demand for "weight loss" in prevailing countries like America far out-strips the plants' ability to reproduce.

The press coverage and heavy marketing by nutritional supplement companies have already created such a demand for hoodia that a protected status was imposed in several countries like Namibia, South Africa. And beware of the slick marketers and manufactures out to make a buck on this latest "diet fad." Many products claiming to contain hoodia may not actually contain the active ingredient alleged to suppress appetite. Only the South African product has the claimed properties, and these products should be imported with conservation in mind.

When major food and pharmaceutical corporations extract effective, natural nutrients from the wild for mass production and marketing, I always urge caution! Profits typically rule over quality, and if a cheaper synthetic replica cannot be made, then the natural ingredient is diluted with other chemicals, morphing the original nutrient into something it was not meant to be. Then, negative health reactions generally occur and the nutrient is blamed - not the adulteration of it. We have witnessed this numerous times over the past 30 years with aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, MSG, Olestra® and trans-fats.

It appears this is, indeed, happening with hoodia. In 1977, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) isolated the ingredient in hoodia, now known as P57, responsible for the "appetite-suppressant effect", and patented it in 1996. The CSIR then granted United Kingdom-based Phytopharm a license, and they collaborated with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to isolate active ingredients from the extracts and research ways of synthesizing them for use as an appetite suppressant.

Pfizer released the rights to the primary ingredient in 2002. Pfizer now states that development on P57 has been stopped due to the difficulty of synthesizing it. Jasjit Bindra, lead researcher for hoodia at Pfizer, states there were indications of unwanted effects on the liver caused by other components, which could not be easily removed from the supplement, adding, "Clearly, hoodia has a long way to go before it can earn approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Until safer formulations are developed, dieters should be wary of using it."

See what I mean?

In 2002, CSIR officially recognized the San tribe people's rights over hoodia, allowing them to take a percentage of the profits and any spin-offs resulting from the marketing of hoodia. Hoodia gordonii is now a protected plant, which may only be wild-harvested by individuals and the few companies who have been granted a license.

If hoodia remains in its natural state and is purchased from legitimate retailers, we can all do our part to preserve this plant while supporting the supply remaining in its natural regions, and generating commerce for the native South Africans. When purchasing pure hoodia, you can support profits for the South African nations who plant and harvest hoodia properly. Hey, try growing it in your own garden or greenhouse. Consumers can use hoodia as a healthy weight loss nutrient and leave the tortoises and tribal inhabitants their natural food supply.

We recommend organic hoodia at The Hullistic Network as a source of natural nutrition for people - Hoodia - and we feed the plant to our South African tortoises at our tortoise preservation. If you are interested in purchasing Hoodia, use the coupon code "hn0307" in our shopping cart for 10% off (month of March only). For more information on our wildlife preservation, Tort Shack and G.R.E.E.N.

Posted March 2007 | Permanent Link

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