AFRICAN PLANT COULD BECOME THE NEWEST WEAPON
IN THE WAR ON OBESITY -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY ON CBS
Long Part of the Diet of the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Hoodia Plant Curbs Appetite
Imagine not being hungry all day without feeling side effects typical of diet pills like a racing heart or queasy stomach. That's what Lesley Stahl experiences when she takes just a few bites of the hoodia plant in the Kalahari Desert for a report to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Nov. 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
A plant that tricks the brain by making the stomach feel full, hoodia has been in the diet of South Africa's Bushmen for thousands of years and could become the newest weapon in the war against obesity if an English drug company has its way. What's more, the Bushmen, also called the San, a disadvantaged minority, also stand to benefit from the sale of hoodia products. "[The San] had given the information that led directly to the patent," says attorney Roger Chennells, who took up the cause for the Bushmen and negotiated a deal that will ensure them a share of any profits.
An earlier attempt to synthesize the active ingredient in hoodia proved impractical and the drug company, Phytopharm, now plans to make products that contain an extract of the plant itself. The company says it will soon announce a partnership to market hoodia products in the United States.
Hoodia is already listed as an ingredient in several weight-loss products on the market now and some firms have even used Phytopharm's clinical trials to sell those products. But Phytopharm's CEO, Dr. Richard Dixey says that many of these products contain only minute, ineffective amounts of hoodia. "When we have assessed these materials, they contain between 0.1 and 0.01 percent of the active ingredient claimed...[an amount that] does nothing at all," claims Dixey.
To be effective, Phytopharm will put much larger amounts of the plant into diet shakes and bars, something the company says it can do as it expands production of hoodia to hundreds of acres in South Africa. It expects to have a tasty and safe product on the market by 2008. "We knew that if [hoodia] was successful, many, many millions of dollars would be coming towards the San," says Chennells, "The market being hundreds and hundreds of millions in America."
Conservatively estimated, Americans spend over $40 billion per year on diet aids.