The Bushman Diet Drug

Ironically, the wisdom of their traditional culture may harbor treasures that could mitigate their otherwise brutal poverty. For instance, the San Bushmen have long chewed pieces of the hoodia cactus to take the edge off hunger, since they sometimes had to go days with little or nothing to eat on long hunts or in times of drought. South African scientists were testing the plant based on Bushman accounts of its usefulness when they isolated an unknown molecule they named P5 . The substance has exceptional promise as an appetite suppressant, which could ironically enough reduce one of the st century’s great scourges—obesity.

Apparently, brain cells that constitute the hypothalamus play a key role in sensing glucose sugar levels in the blood. The glucose levels in the bloodstream rise during and after meals, which eventually prompt certain brain cells in the hypothalamus to respond. That makes a person feel full, so they stop eating. The substance produced by hoodia serves some still-unknown function in the squat, bristly, mutated-looking cactus, but in the human bloodstream it apparently mimics glucose, except it is 0,000 times as active. As a result, the brain quickly gets that full feeling, and people who take the substance lose their appetites. The substance prompts normally gluttonous rats to stop eating entirely. In an experiment with overweight human volunteers, people taking the substance reduced their food intake by ,000 calories a day without even noticing. Although scientists must still determine whether the substance has any unexpected side effects, it is possible that a substance that the direct descendants of the first humans used to cope with near-starvation will save many others from death by obesity. Fortunately, the researchers agreed to a patent and royalty arrangement with representatives of the Bushmen, so if the drug is a huge success it may actually benefit the Bushmen.