Magic Weight Loss?

Doing a report on magician Harry Houdini when I was 10 years old did two things: excited me about magic and made me realize it was all an illusion. As a consequence, I’ve spent much of my life being an optimist and opportunist…tempered with a healthy skepticism.

Like hundreds of millions around the world who struggle with their weight,  I was intrigued by a 60 Minutes program in November of 2004 that highlighted a seemingly magic way for people to manage hunger and eat up to 1,000 calories less per day. The magic? A somewhat rare and native South African “succulent” (that looks like a cactus) called Hoodia Gordonii.

Seems that the San people of the Kalahari desert (a tribe of hunter-gatherers with a culture and history going back thousands of years using native plants for medicinal purposes) have been using the plant for centuries to help ward off pain, hunger and thirst when the Bushmen made long trips in the desert.

So what happened when 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl ate some?

During the 60 Minutes segment, Lesley Stahl ate some and the next day said she’d, “….had no after effects – no funny taste in her
mouth, no queasy stomach, and no racing heart. She also wasn’t hungry all day, even when she would normally have a pang around mealtime. And, she also had no desire to eat or drink the entire day. “I’d have to say it did work,” says Stahl.”

Phytopharm, a British pharmaceutical company, has patented the “fully characterized extract” of the plant and are in full clinical trials (FAQ here).

A deliverable magic pill or potion is, as Phytopharm says on their web site, “years away.” (Note: They did a deal with Pfizer which allegedly fell through when it was discovered the extract couldn’t be synthesized…meaning there’d be huge costs and a long time horizon growing and harvesting the plant. There is now a distribution deal with Unilever inked).

Spending several hours over the last couple of nights researching (and being skeptical of) the magic behind this plant and the enormous number of questionable web sites offering this magic extract, I’m nonetheless very intrigued. Seems ironic to me that there are people starving around the world and huge numbers of us are trying to find ways to starve ourselves and/or eat less. Also, it seems hunting for a magic pill (vs. hunting for balance in one’s life) is a search for the wrong solution. Still, higher rates of obesity worldwide are inevitable as more and more of us do work with our heads and less and less with our bodies — and we’ve got to find ways to reduce our caloric intake and our evolutionary propensity to store fat for times of famine.

I’m going to continue to hunt for ways to balance and manage my propensity to yo-yo with my weight. Hoodia gordonii might be a little bit of magic that works.


1/21/05 UPDATE: I pinged Phytopharm asking about availability and progress with their clinical trials, understanding the timeline and also whether or not any 3rd parties were actually shipping the product (though I didn’t expect they’d answer the last query). Here’s their email response to me last evening:

Dear Mr Borsch Thank you for your enquiry concerning products containing Hoodia. Phytopharm is actively developing this novel product, which would be covered by patents of which Phytopharm is the exclusive licensee. This product is in clinical development worldwide and will be unavailable for prescription or sale for some time. It is essential that such products are fully tested before marketing.

Phytopharm does not supply this product to any other company and is actively developing novel products covered by patents of which Phytopharm is the exclusive licensee.

Phytopharm is unable to comment about products made by third parties, so cannot assist any further with your request.

Kind regards
Yours sincerely
Phytopharm plc


  1. Anthony on February 11, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    I am 15 years old. And I weigh 130 pounds. I am 5 foot 2.
    I tend to be okay at eating. I eat a source of different foods. But, I always want to eat. Mostly that’s the main thing I think about during the day. I would like to lose about 20 pounds so I can be more active, quicker, and stronger.
    What do you suggest I do about my eating habits??
    Please reply as soon as you can.

    Thanks for your help.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.