Hoodia is derived from the South African succulent hoodia gordonii plant.
The South African government says hoodia is a protected species which has been a traditional medicine of the Northern Cape's San communities for centuries.
Illegal harvesting of hoodia has been highlighted as a risk to the survival of this plant species.
Hoodia has been studied as appetite suppressant. The NHS Knowledge Network in Scotland assessed published studies of hoodia based in clinical trials. It found there is no reliable evidence to support its safe use or effectiveness in weight loss.
The respected US Mayo Clinic also concluded in a report on weight loss pills, that for hoodia there was: "No conclusive evidence to support the claim [of appetite suppression]."
Hoodia status in the UK
Since 2011 traditional herbal products have to be registered with the regulator MHRA. Unlike licensing for medicines, this registration doesn't mean that a herbal remedy has been tested and proven to actually work. It does mean the MHRA is satisfied the product is made to good quality standards with appropriate labelling and a product information leaflet. It also means the herb has been used in traditional remedies for more than 30 years.
Hoodia does not have this registration.
Instead, the MHRA defines hoodia as a medicine, which means it is covered by strict legislation about any claims which can be made about a medicine. Hoodia products making weight loss claims have had to be withdrawn from sale. Companies are also banned from making such claims in advertising in the UK, and the Advertising Standards Authority has taken action against some suppliers and the claims made.
It is possible for unlicensed herbal medicines to be supplied legally by a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Such practitioners can supply unlicensed herbal medicines which they have prepared on their premises for the needs of individual patients which have been identified in a face-to- face consultation.