Natural diet supplement Hoodia put to test in weight loss challenge

By Carrie Weil

(LOUISVILLE) -- America's growing waistline, is no small problem. Fat is to blame for ballooning health care costs, plummeting self esteem, and a long list of other problems. But Africa could hold the answer to this weighty issue. WAVE 3's Carrie Weil takes a look at the plant, and now diet supplement, called Hoodia.

It's a phrase Mary Clark has been hearing a lot from customers concerning the benefits of Hoodia after they see a story about it on TV. "I saw this on 60 minutes, I saw this on Oprah, I saw this on WAVE 3."

Clark manages the southern Indiana location of Rainbow Blossom, a natural foods market. She says the marketing buzz is in such overdrive concerning Hoodia, that Rainbow Blossom has a hard time keeping it in stock. As popular as the product is here, it's old news in Africa. The Bushmen have been using the plant for thousands of years.

"When you use the plant itself -- what they find is it actually suppresses the appetite," explained Clark. "So the Bushmen go out, do all of their running, all of their hunting, and not get hungry."

Hoodia is different than other diet aids because it's natural. So far there, have been no scary side effects reported like with Ephedra or Phenfen. Those products are now banned.

One study found people who took Hoodia ate, on average, 1,000 calories less per day. Those are impressive results, but Clark says there are other things to consider.

"Well, what happens when you don't eat sometimes they body says 'hmmmm, she's not feeding me we better turn this to fat so we'll have it for later.' Our bodies require nutrients, they require the lipids, the carbs, they require the sugars, they require air, water. So we need all of those to make the body work."

With all that in mind, three people have agreed to put Hoodia to the test and let us follow their progress. Our "Hoodia Hopefuls" come from three walks of life, but have one desire: shed the extra pounds.

WAVE TV Assignment Manager Aaron Ellis spends his nights juggling calls, press releases, scanner traffic and news crews. Last on the list lately: his health. His downfall is no exercise and as he puts it "not eating smart."

On the day we checked in he did not eat breakfast, which is typical. For lunch, he went through the Wendy's drive thru for a "spicy chicken sandwich and fries." And for dinner, Ellis packed Hamburger Helper. "Because it's what I had in the house."

When Aaron ends his day between midnight and 2 a.m. he says the only thing leftover is a bad feeling. "You get tired. At the end of the day I'm worn out"

Kristian Watkins is a nail technician, wife and mother of two. She spends her days caring for her family and making others look better. Now, she says, she needs some help of her own. In the last 10 years, she's put on 100 pounds. A prescription diet aid even led to heart problems.

"I've done Weight Watchers, you name it, I've done it," Watkins said. "I've struggled with my weight my whole life unfortunately," explained Kristian.

She says her worst eating comes late at night, after long hours on the job. "I'm hoping it (Hoodia) will just help curb that, so I don't want to snack."

Even though she's tried to lose weight before, she says, this time her motivation is different. Her two young daughters are on her mind. "I feel like I'm not being a good example to them, so I'm not real pleased with how I've let myself go."

Our last "Hoodia Hopeful" could be described as everybody's mom. Elementary Principal Fredericka Hargis is "mom" to three grown kids and 500 school children. After long hours on the job, her outlet is cooking. "I cook old fashioned style, everything from scratch."

Most of the time she keeps it healthy using fresh herbs and baking the food instead of frying. She even walks a mile on most nights. Fredericka says she feels "healthy." Her weight nemesis is not just the number on the scale, but another one, her age. She's in her 50's.

"I'm trying to be as healthy as I can but the weight goes on your metabolism slows. I asked my doctor and he says you're older! He says, 'you're never going to be high school size again.' And that's okay, I just want to fit in the closet of clothes that I have," said Fredericka.

So will Hoodia be the answer for Fredericka, Kristian and Aaron? They each have their goals:

Fredericka says "I would be happy if I lost 20 pounds."

Kristian "would love it if Hoodia was able to get me to where I was feeling better and more confident about who I am as a woman."

"I would love it if I felt better," Aaron said. "I'd like to lose 25 to 30 pounds."

We'll be following our Hoodia Hopefuls through May. If you're interested in using Hoodia, make sure you're buying the real deal. Look for a permit from the Department of Agriculture in South Africa or Hoodia labeled "Dexl-10."

Good luck and stay tuned for our Hoodia updates.

Online Reporter: Carrie Weil

Online Producer: Michael Dever