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Can a cactus plant be a magic bullet for dieters?

Can a cactus plant be a magic bullet for dieters?

Prickly bush in the Kalahari Desert could be key to weight-loss success

Today show - Updated: 11:57 a.m. ET Oct. 24, 2005

 

 

Janet Shamlian

Correspondent

 

Could a plant from South Africa be the weight-loss secret that could help millions of overweight Americans slim down? NBC News correspondent Janet Shamlian talks about the possible magic pill we've all been waiting for.

It's the look everyone wants — a body to diet for. They're on the beaches, in magazines and all over Hollywood. How far will we go to get one? How about thousands of miles and deep into a distant culture? South Africa’s Kalahari Desert is home to what could be the answer to an appetite.

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Oct. 24: NBC's Janice Shamlian reports on hoodia — a cactus-like plant only found in South Africa that may hold a magic weight loss ingredient.

It's a cactus called hoodia. “You strip off the skin, you strip off the spines, and then you consume it,” says weight loss expert Madelyn Fernstrom.

Eat it and you won't want to eat anything else — a secret bushmen have known for ages and a mystery to the West no more.

“Hoodia's actually one of our top selling diet products,” says Anthony Paulmeno of General Nutrition Center.

Nutrition stores are packed with products.  But this isn't the fresh plant said to work wonders. It's the dried, powdered and — some say — less effective version.

One of the issues for dieters is that there are so many products with the label hoodia on them, it's hard to know the difference between them, or if they work at all.

“Today” show staffer Jayme Anker is giving it a shot and hoping it suppresses her appetite.

“I am obsessed with it,” says Anker.

Having endured weight loss camp as a child, at 26 she's still waging the war and hoping hoodia will be the weapon that works. “What’s the worst that's going to happen to me?” she says.

It’s an important question. Store brands are not inspected or regulated, and their exact contents are unknown.

Texan Walter Parks bought his bottle on the Internet. “I would say yes, that it is the magic bullet plant,” Parks say. But there are no human studies to prove that.

Fernstrom says, “It's important to say this does need more [research].”

But dieters are hopeful a hunger-busting plant will deliver one of those glorious, how-did-they-get-it bodies that are seemingly everywhere — except in the mirror.