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Hoodia – the much anticipated fat- buster

By Shakuntla Mehta

The weight-loss industry could not be in better shape. Despite the economic woes all around, the diet industry is flourishing – it is a 40 billion dollar movement, or more, and getting stronger. Dieters are shedding £s not lbs. In today’s weight-loss culture of instant gratification, new weight-loss products arrive at lightning speed and fade away just as fast – none delivering the golden promise or the silver bullet. It is a fast moving industry – constantly in search of new and natural products, which hit the shelves almost at the rate of one a month – and that is a very conservative estimate. The only winners have been fad diet Gurus. So far there have been only two options available to counter obesity – willpower or surgery. Bariatrics, the medical branch concerned with obesity, is a very new field - its first surgical procedure was carried out in 1954; today is a different story.

The World Health Organisation estimates approximately 1.6 billion adults (age 15+) are overweight and more than 400 million adults are obese - worldwide. WHO further projects that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.

Given these statistics it is no surprise to see some genuine efforts to find a product that might address these issues. So far there has been little to feel optimistic about. The market abounds in scams and the industry of false hope flourishes. Amidst the chaos of right and wrong products on pharmaceutical shelves, there is one big promise of hope for dieters worldwide – a cactus-like plant that grows deep inside the African Kalahari desert, called Hoodia gordonii.

The San tribesmen, often labelled as ‘Bushmen’, are a hunting-gathering community indigenous to the Kalahari desert (a region that stretches across parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa), who have been eating the pulp of Hoodia, a bitter-tasting succulent, for hundreds of years as a natural appetite suppressant during long hunting trips. San are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving tribes in the world. Perhaps – a ‘genetic Adam’. The harsh environment in which they live has turned them into expert botanists, who can readily identify more than 300 different types of plants with different properties. Their knowledge of medicinal plants is their most valuable asset.

Read the entire story in the October - December 2008  print edition of

The South Asian Life & Times

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