Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hoodia? But I Like My Appetite

Eating is more than a duty for me, unlike a certain overly-sculpted pop icon who acknowledged: "Elizabeth Taylor used to feed me, hand feed me at times, because I do have a problem with eating, but I do my very best." For me it's a joy, an adventure, a non-stop exercise in gustatory gratification. Sure, there are times I'm really put away by how much I can put away, and by that extra shake in the rear. But c'mon. Girls wiggle. You got to love the great anatomy maker for designing the bouncing butt.

But I guess if parts of my body started jiggling of their own accord while I was just (trying to) sit still, maybe I'd consider pulling the reins on my appetite. Temporarily. This would not be an easy feat. I suspect people who know me, or at least know what I look like, are muttering under their breath right now "Liar, liar, pants on fire" or some such. Not that I resemble MK Olsen, but I sure don't cut a Newman (from Seinfeld) figure (no offense Mr. Knight). Bellies were made to expand, and I put those elastin fibers to the test just about daily. Right, FRE?

Dowsing appetite voluntarily is like trying to put out a fire with petroleum derivatives. Seems the harder you try, the more your appetite rages. There are tricks ... drink lots of water, eat lots of low-calorie fibrous foods, get enough sleep, don't have Oreos, Fritos, or Breyers in the house during an appetite surge, and the FRE's latest, use plates the size of compact discs. (Feel free to add your own ideas. I'm keen to fill my trick bag.)

One of the latest appetite-reducing tricks comes to us from a pretty unlikely group of rather svelte natives of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. When the San, the local tribesmen, are about to embark on a long hunting trip, they dine on the flesh of Hoodia, a cactus that thrives in the Kalahari's hot dry climate. And voila!, appetite ceases. I'm not a fan of knee-jerk drug cures; I'm prone to enlist a natural remedy first. But I accept there are certain people and certain circumstances that benefit from the action of certain chemicals. And this particular chemical, the supposed active ingredient in the Hoodia gordonii cactus, dubbed P57, has the potential to improve the quality of life for most concerned parties. It may foster weight loss in the obese, it may (if they are served by good, honest lawyers) advance the standard of living for the impoverished San, it may profit pharmaceutical companies that can figure out how to encapsulate it or manufacture a synthetic version, and it might even discourage third world land developers from literally scraping the mantle from parts of the earth where unforetold remedies lie undiscovered (or unexploited).

How Hoodia reduces appetite is not fully understood. It is thought to act on the hypothalamus, much like glucose does after a meal, causing that part of the brain to send a message of fullness to the rest of the body. It is more potent than glucose though and will suppress desire for food or drink for up to 24 hours after ingestion. Subjects in studies who took Hoodia ate about 1000 calories less a day than those taking placebo. Needless to say, you have to keep taking it for hunger to remain consistently curbed. And although there are reportedly no other side effects besides anorexia and a fleeting feeling of euphoria, who knows what longterm use of concentrated amounts of P57 can do? You also have to wonder if there would be a bounce-back effect when the drug is discontinued.

There are a few hurdles that need to be scaled before Hoodia is available to a mass market. The cactus itself is rare and takes many years to mature. It's active ingredient resists easy processing to pill form, as Pfizer found out a few years ago when they ceased work on it. (Many Hoodia supplements now available have been measured to contain a fraction of the amount advertised.) And no one has found a way to manufacture a cost-effective synthetic version of P57 in quantity yet.

The English pharmaceutical company Phytopharm is in the process of cultivating the cactus in large plantations in southern Africa. Until their harvest can meet demand, there's always the natural way to pare a wiggle ... work it.

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