A couple of Sundays ago I was surprised to see Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes in the middle of an African desert. She was munching on a piece of cactus saying it was cucumbery and wondering if she was going to feel hungry later in the day.
The story had to do with big money, poor people and natural weight loss. The cactus she snacked on, called Hoodia gordonii, is native to only that part of Africa and has been eaten by the San Bushman (local tribal folk) since time began. They would eat to reduce their hunger so that they could travel faster and stave off hunger pangs when there just wasn't much to pass around. Does science support this traditional use of hoodia?
Yes, according to a Sept. 10, 2004 study done by the Brown Medical School, Division of Endocrinology, Hallett Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology located in Providence, Rhode Island. I did a PubMed search for this study and found that though studied in rats, the data should translate over to humans. They showed a likely reduction in feeling hungry and an increase in feeling full.
Further, human trials have been done with very overweight people reducing their daily calorie intake by 1,000 a day. Clearly, hoodia staves off hunger. This cactus helps our brain balance the complex system of hunger and fullness.
I decided to try it myself. Using two capsules a day, once at breakfast and then midafternoon, I found on the first day I skeptically thought it didn't work. But I ate less food without even thinking about it. On the second day, I had a very small breakfast and a much smaller than usual serving at Chinese buffet, then no dinner, but a small snack at bedtime. I just didn't want more. I understand there is no immediate or long-term side effect. A pure hoodia should cost about $18 for 60 capsules.
Did it work for Leslie Stahl? She said "yes," and the San Bushman tribe won a court battle so they can benefit from the worldwide use of this herb.