A Brief History of Hoodia Gordonii

The setting for the history of hoodia gordonii is southern Africa. Long before Europeans explored the continent giving Latin names to the strange plants and animals they encountered, the San peoples knew hoodia gordonii by different names; xshoba, ikhoba, xhooba, etc. The question of hoodia safety had long been answered for them. They knew that hoodia gordonii was safe to eat, though not a preferred food source. The history of hoodia gordonii as an appetite suppressant goes back to these people. When traveling or hunting they knew that hoodia gordonii would ease their hunger and thirst. There was no question about hoodia safety. It had been used traditionally to treat abdominal cramps and indigestion. It was even used to treat hypertension and diabetes. Questions of hoodia safety came later in the history of hoodia. Credit for giving the plant a Latin name goes originally to a botanist name Francis Masson, who sailed with James Cook. He called the plant Stapelia gordonii and wrote a book about it and other species of hoodia, which he called carrion flowers, because the blooms smell like rotting meat. Later on the name Stapelia was changed to hoodia, in honor of an ardent succulent grower named Van Hood. This begins the history of hoodia gordonii, by its current name. In the 1960’s scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) investigated many African plants that were used by native people for medicinal purposes. They were interested in hoodia safety and effectiveness as an appetite suppressant. The scientists identified what they believe to be the active molecule in hoodia gordonii and patented the molecule. The recent history of hoodia gordonii scientific research begins here. The CSIR licensed a British pharmaceutical company to continue investigation of hoodia safety and effectiveness. Phytopharm sublicensed the rights to Pfizer, who returned the rights after closing their branch which dealt with plants and naturally occurring substances. Pfizer stated that they believed another company would be better equipped to continue research into hoodia safety and effectiveness. The history of hoodia and Pfizer ends here, in the late 1990’s, and caused some questions among a very few people about whether or not Pfizer would have returned the developmental rights, if hoodia safety and effectiveness could be proven. Another opinion about Pfizer’s return of the hoodia license; often drug companies have several years to market their version of a new drug before anyone can market a generic or a similar natural health supplement. Because of Phytopharm’s long delay in bringing hoodia gordonii to the market (they are still involved in clinical research of hoodia safety and effectiveness), many health supplement companies have been able to obtain large supplies of the plant from farmers in South Africa. This actually begins the history of hoodia gordonii as a natural appetite suppressant. News continuously comes in. Just a few weeks ago (May 2006), Phytopharm announced that they and their new partner (Unilever) had just completed the first phase of a five phase clinical research program into hoodia safety and effectiveness. The world awaits the results.

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