Who hasn’t received the SPAM emails touting the benefits of Hoodia? This quirky word is actually a South African succulent – one that looks like a cactus -- that’s been exalted for its miraculous weight loss properties. The Cactus Diet is more of a cactus-esque snack than a sound weight-loss program. Supposedly the Hoodia, which is now sold in capsule, liquid and tea form, has properties that fight hunger and in turn battle obesity.
For thousands of years, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari have eaten the cactus-like plant to hold themselves over during long trips. Researchers started dissecting the Hoodia to determine what causes it to act as an appetite suppressant. What they found was the presence of an unknown molecule, which has been named P57. According to one researcher, there are nerve cells that detect glucose sugar in the hypothalamus, the mid-brain. "When you eat, blood sugar goes up because of the food, these cells start firing and now you are full. What the Hoodia seems to contain is a molecule that is about 10,000 times as active as glucose. It goes to the mid-brain and actually makes those nerve cells fire as if you were full. But you have not eaten. Nor do you want to," says Dr. Richard Dixey of a bio-pharmaceutical company studying the Hoodia. Keep in mind that many of the Hoodia Pills being offered on the internet usually have no Hoodia properties in them whatsoever. Also, no research has been conducted to determine the long-term effects of Hoodia on the body.