The Hoodia hype and health products, written by Sue Jean Taylor.

There is much international and commercial interest in products that promote weight loss, from teenagers to genuinely obese people who have tried everything. Of special interest are weight loss products that enable people to lose weight “without any effort”. 

In the market place there is both hype and unease with Hoodia products, particularly when news of the Unilever ‘toxicity’ findings began to circulate. Hoodia products are widely available in pharmacies in South Africa, yet in terms of product efficacy, many consumers of Hoodia products simply “believe the hype” that they will reduce their food intake and weight, rather than being critical of actual safety and efficacy testing. In terms of unease, there are issues with claims and how the product is marketed and the use of phrases like, “the bushmen have been using Hoodia for thousands of years” and also the linking of the word “Hoodia” directly with weight loss.

Other Hoodia products are reportedly manufactured illegally (illegally harvested without CITES authorisation), or contain no Hoodia material at all, or have insufficient amounts of the plant to be effective, but customers do not always know about this.  In a separate study, Unilever has also checked products on the shelves in the USA and found that many of them are adulterated, diluted or contain no genuine Hoodia material (either the plant  material or P57).

Many of the international websites advertising Hoodia products as a weight loss aid make use of the the fact/myth that the product has been “used by the San People for thousands of years” , a statement often made by manufacturers as a key product statement. A quick survey of websites confirms that good marketing use is being made to maintain a general believe in ‘traditional’ remedies being safe. A typical marketing statements will say “pure Kalahari Hoodia gordonii” has been used “by the San for thousands of years”. It may not always be a good idea to rely on the fact that a product has been used for a long time by a particular community as our modern lifestyles differ markedly from San traditional lifestyles.

Hoodia product marketed with ‘boosting’ words like Supreme, Plus, Natural Benefits and invoking the well-worn image of “the San Bushmen’. Image sourced online.

“Natural” products are also of global interest in that many consumers perceive these to be healthier to use than chemical products.


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