Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Can Hoodia help you lose weight?

Q. I've seen a lot of Internet ads for Hoodia, a natural supplement that suppresses your appetite. What do you know about it? Does it work, and is it safe?

A. Hoodia is a succulent plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, where the indigenous people (San) are said to chew the plant to help stave off hunger. The Hoodia species with purported appetite-suppressing properties is Hoodia gordonii. In the 1990s, researchers isolated an extract of the plant called P57, which is thought to stimulate feelings of satiety in the brain.

Phytopharm, an English biopharmaceutical company, was licensed in 1997 to develop P57. In collaboration with Unilever, it hopes to incorporate Hoodia as a food additive in meal replacement products pending clinical studies of its safety and effectiveness. So far, efforts to synthesize P57 on a large scale (an important step in developing an appetite-suppressant drug) haven't panned out.

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