Hoodia gordonii, also known as “Bushman’s hat” and “Queen of the Namib,” is a succulent in the Apocynaceae family of flowering plants.
This century, hoodia has gone from being regarded as nothing more than a rotten-smelling desert plant to being praised as a natural dietary supplement believed to suppress appetite and boost weight loss (
Still, you may wonder how or if it works and whether it’s safe.
This article explores what the evidence has to say about hoodia.
Hoodia gordonii is a spiny succulent plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert throughout Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia (2).
It has fleshy stems that are covered with small thorns and topped with flesh-colored flowers that smell like rotten meat to attract flies for pollination (
The plant gained attention in the early 2000s, as anecdotal evidence suggested that the Khoisan people of South Africa and Namibia — a nomadic hunter-gatherer group — have been eating small pieces of the stems to suppress hunger during long hunts since the 1930s (
This led to the commercialization of the plant’s extract as a dietary supplement under the premise that it naturally reduces appetite, thus boosting weight loss.
You may find hoodia supplements in retail stores and online in tablet, tea, liquid extract, powder, and patch form.
Hoodia, a succulent plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert, became popular for its purported appetite-reducing effects. It’s sold in tablet, tea, liquid extract, powder, and patch form to boost weight loss.
As mentioned, hoodia’s most popular purported benefit is its ability to reduce hunger. Thus, it’s widely marketed and sold as a weight loss supplement.
Yet, scientific evidence is scarce and doesn’t fully support the claim. What’s more, exactly how hoodia may reduce hunger is still unknown, although research suggests two potential pathways (
First, a molecule from the plant called P57 is speculated to stimulate the central nervous system by increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels in the hypothalamus — a part of your brain that regulates metabolic processes (
ATP is a molecule that provides energy to your cells, which is why it’s also known as the body’s energy currency. It’s believed that increased levels of it may reduce hunger by tricking the brain into thinking that you’ve had enough to eat (
Nevertheless, the study making this claim was conducted in rats, and P57 was injected directly into their brains. Meanwhile, other animal studies show that stomach acid degrades P57, and thus, it’s not detected in the brain if consumed orally (
The second way hoodia may reduce hunger is related to two additional molecules found in the plant — H.g.-12 and H.g.-20. Test-tube and animal research suggests that these compounds promote cholecystokinin (CCK) secretion in the gut (
CCK is a hormone that regulates your hunger. Rising CCK levels stimulate feelings of fullness, leading you to stop eating. On the contrary, low levels of this hormone delay feeling of fullness, leading you to eat more (
That said, most available studies have been conducted in rats, and not all of them show promising results.
For example, one such study determined that taking the plant led not only led to the loss of body fat tissue but also muscle mass. This is undesirable, as muscles help maintain a healthy body (
As for research in humans, there’s only one 15-day study that was conducted in 49 women. There were no significant differences in body weight or food intake between those who received 1.11 grams of purified hoodia extract twice per day and a control group (
It’s also worth mentioning that although anecdotal evidence suggests that hoodia was used as a treatment for tuberculosis, as well as that honey from its flowers was used to treat cancer, no scientific evidence backs up these claims (
Hoodia is mostly used as a weight loss supplement. However, it’s not fully understood how or whether it works, and there’s little available research in humans to support its purported benefits.
As with most dietary supplements, hoodia is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, while the traditional use of fresh hoodia by the Khoisan people may imply that it’s safe for human consumption, research suggests otherwise.
In the only human study with the plant, the intake of purified hoodia extract reportedly caused numerous side effects, including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and skin reactions (
It also caused a significant rise in heart rate and blood pressure (
What’s more, one study suggests that hoodia’s effects on appetite and weight loss could be a symptom of a more severe, yet unknown, adverse effect (
Given the overall lack of information, taking the supplement for weight loss is not recommended, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Additionally, people taking medications for blood sugar control and heart or liver disease should steer clear of the supplement, as it may interfere with their treatments.
Currently, there’s not enough human research to determine a safe or possibly effective dose of hoodia.
Consuming hoodia may cause unwanted side effects, including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, skin reactions, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure. More research is needed to determine a safe dose, if any.
Hoodia, a succulent that resembles a cactus, grows in the Kalahari Desert.
Its intake by nomadic hunter-gatherers who reportedly use it to suppress hunger during long hunts led to its popularity and widespread commercialization as a weight loss supplement.
However, little scientific evidence has been conducted in humans to support this effect, and the available research has shown a wide range of unwanted side effects.
Although you may find hoodia supplements in tea, capsule, powder, liquid extract, and patch form, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before consuming them.