The Kalahari and Bushmanland’s indigenous hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) is marketed as a weight loss aid, but the recently published results of a research trial have put industry players on the defensive.
Multinational consumer goods company Unilever conducted the trial in the US to test the efficacy of the perceived appetite-suppressing P57 molecule in hoodia. The trial found that consuming the P57 molecule caused a number of side-effects, and did not result in significant weight loss.
However, South Africa’s leading Hoodia gordonii products producer and exporter, Afriplex, said that the trial’s results could not be looked at in isolation because it focused on P57 molecules that were extracted from hoodia plants using complicated chemical processes, added to a carrier base, and then tested on trial participants.
“Unilever wanted to isolate and extract the P57 glycoside to formulate products for weight loss,” said Afriplex’s CEO, Danie Nel. “But it didn’t know what to expect using only this one glycoside extracted from the hoodia plant.
“It’s actually difficult to say how the P57 will act on its own. There might be other molecules in hoodia that actually complement the P57 glycoside and that negate its side-effects when whole plant material is used.” However, Kirk Bassingthwaighte of hoodia producer and marketer Bassaroot in Namibia, was concerned about how the publication of the Unilever trial results would impact on consumers’ views of hoodia products. “This will definitely have a negative effect on the hoodia industry,” he said.
He added that while the Unilever trial focused only on the isolated P57 molecule, his company’s products contained dried and crushed whole plant material.
Meanwhile, Unilever’s London-based global media relations director, Trevor Gorin, told Farmer’s Weekly that he wasn’t sure why the trial results were released now given that his company terminated its project on the efficacy of hoodia’s P57 molecule some years ago.
“The trial results have clearly been published, or even republished, by an outside source. Because we pulled out of the project three or four years ago, the publication of these results is not impacting on our business,” Gorin explained. – Lloyd Phillips