What Is Hoodia?

South African succulent used for weight loss

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Hoodia gordonii, or Bushman's hat, is a succulent herb from South Africa. Since the early 2000s, it has been promoted as a safe and effective appetite suppressant useful for weight loss.

Some alternative practitioners believe it can also treat indigestion and mild gastrointestinal infections. It may have other medicinal properties as well.

To date, though, there is little evidence backing any benefits of hoodia.

This article looks at the research behind claims about hoodia, its possible dangers, how to use it, and what to look for when buying it.

Possible side effects of hoodia
Verywell / JR Bee

What Is Hoodia Used For?

For centuries, the nomadic San people of South Africa have gnawed on hoodia while traveling through the desert. They believe the succulent blocks hunger and boosts energy.

The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) looked into these uses in the 1960s. By 1977, the CSIR isolated a steroid sugar believed responsible. They named it P57.

Nearly 20 years later, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer bought the rights to P57. They planned to make a weight-loss supplement but never did. Pfizer then released the rights and other manufacturers started making P57 products.

Interestingly, a 2014 review of studies said it takes a lot of hoodia to reduce appetite. Authors also said that weight loss is actually a side effect of the herb.

Today, numerous hoodia supplements are sold. Early research suggests Hoodia may do the following, but more research is needed:

  • Improves metabolism: By increasing a key protein, it may increase insulin secretion and lower food intake.
  • Ups levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP): That's an enzyme linked to energy and feeling full.
  • Is an antioxidant: Antioxidants may protect against cellular damage and promote good health. Their role in disease isn't fully understood. Early research suggests some benefits of an antioxidant-rich diet for heart health, immune function, and some types of cancer.
  • Is an antiviral: A 2016 study said it may help protect against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Recap

Despite centuries' worth of use to suppress appetite and boost energy, hoodia has not been proven to be useful for these or any other purposes.

Possible Side Effects

Hoodia is considered safe at low doses. However, at appetite-affecting doses it may cause:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal skin sensations

Hoodia may also suppress thirst along with appetite. That raises concerns about dehydration.

Components of the plant could raise liver enzymes and affect liver function. However, research has not found that it damages the liver.

Contraindications

People on diabetes drugs should be cautious with hoodia. It may cause dangerous drops in blood sugar.

Due to the lack of research, hoodia should not be used:

  • In children
  • During pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • By people with hypertension (high blood pressure), arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms), or other cardiovascular conditions

Interactions

It's unknown whether hoodia causes any drug interactions. Laboratory studies suggest it inhibits an enzyme that helps your body use many medications. It's not yet clear what effect it may have on their effectiveness.

Some drugs it may affect include:

  • Versed (midazolam)
  • Onmel, Sporanox (itraconazole), Nizoral (ketoconazole)
  • Calan, Verelan (verapamil)
  • Victrelis (boceprevir)
  • Tybost (cobicistat)
  • Norvir (ritonavir)
  • Vfend (voriconazole)
  • Biaxin (clarithromycin)

Talk to your healthcare provider and pharmacist about hoodia before you start taking it.

If you have unusual symptoms while taking hoodia, or your medications seem to become less effective, stop using hoodia and call your healthcare provider.

Recap

The amount of hoodia it might take to have any weight-loss effect can cause side effects ranging from headache to rapid heart rate. Hoodia is not considered safe for everyone, and it may affect how well some medications are used in the body.

Dosage and Preparation

Hoodia supplements come in tablet, capsule, and powder form. You can buy them online or at supplements stores.

Dosages are generally 250- to 500-milligrams (mg). It may take two weeks to be effective.

No official dosage guidelines are established. Never take more than the suggested dose on the label.

What to Look For

Safety and quality are concerns with any supplement. In the United States, supplements don't go through the same testing as pharmaceutical drugs. Quality can vary.

Some vitamin manufacturers get voluntary testing from the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or other certifying bodies. However, few hoodia manufactures do so. That can leave you blind as to what is in a product.

It's safest to buy supplements certified by ConsumerLabs, NSF International, or the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. That designation tells you the product has been through quality testing and contains what it says it does.

Never use expired, discolored, or deteriorating supplements.

Get the Right Kind

There are many different species of plants in the Hoodia genus. The only one associated with weight loss is Hoodia gordonii, sometimes called H. gordonii. Make sure that's listed specifically on the label.

Summary

Hoodia has long been used as an appetite suppressant. It may also be an antioxidant and anti-viral. However, not enough research has been done to say whether it's safe and effective.

Many hoodia supplements are on the market. They may cause side effects and suppress thirst to a dangerous degree.

Guidelines for hoodia's safe use haven't been established. If you're going to use it, follow dosage recommendations on the label.

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