by Vicky Uhland
Recent legal sparring has once again turned hoodia into the Kirstie Alley of the supplements world: Consumers who were hoping a new, improved version was here to stay are now questioning whether the old, controversial version is making a return.
Hoodia gordonii quality questions, which have dogged the African weight-loss botanical since it first became popular half a decade ago, became a hot issue again in late June when Wichita, Kan.-based contract manufacturer Certified Natural Laboratories took legal action against its supplier, Hillsborough, N.J.-based Stryka Botanics. Certified sued Stryka after it determined that a large hoodia shipment it received from Stryka was in fact some other material.
Stryka countered that it had an " independent analysis performed on [Certified's] hoodia shipment" that confirmed it was indeed Hoodia gordonii, according to a statement from company president Brian McNally. Stryka filed papers with a U.S. District Court in early July to " remove" the Certified suit.
The cactus-like hoodia is native to areas around Africa's Kalahari and Namib deserts. It is traditionally used by desert tribes to suppress appetite during long hunting campaigns, but there are no published clinical trials documenting its efficacy, according to Mark Blumenthal, president of the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit research and education group based in Austin, Texas.
Nevertheless, hoodia has become a popular weight-loss supplement and is reportedly set to be added to Unilever's Slim-Fast diet food line as early as next year.
Because the plant can take five years to mature, suppliers have been accused of delivering fake hoodia, or hoodia cut with prickly pear, to satisfy consumer demand.
However, thanks to new, more analytical technology, including microscopy and genetic testing, laboratories are now better able to properly identify hoodia, he said.
Supply is also increasing due to cultivation in South Africa, Namibia and other African countries. In addition, China is planting hoodia, although some experts question whether the Asian climate can produce plants with the same properties as hoodia grown in African deserts.
At issue as well is the efficacy of wildcrafted hoodia versus cultivated. Blumenthal said he has heard about new proprietary studies that show that cultivated African hoodia contains P57, the plant's active compound, but at lower levels than in wild hoodia.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 7