Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Filipino Herbal Medicine and Traditional Healing Practices

With Dr. Isidro Sia, Director- UP Institute of Herbal Medicine

I went to this lecture of Dr. Isidro Sia on Filipino Herbal Medicine and Traditional Healing Practices upon invitation of the Lopez Museum, a museum dedicated for Filipino medieval studies. The Lecturer, Dr. Sia is presently Director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine, National Institutes of Health in UP Manila and a Professor of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Medicine, in the same university.

Dr. Sia earned his Bachelor and Medical degree from the University of the Philippines. He received his Doctorate in Philosophy at Kobe University School of Medicine in Japan.

He has this sense of Nationalism and pride for our heritage because he knows what he is talking about, despite his education and training abroad, He gave the lecture in Tagalog, our national language and never apologize for using it. He is familiar with different dialects, culture and ancient practices of our folks in different regions of the country, which some of them are unfamiliar with me. Different regions have their own unique folkloric healing practices and traditions and never underestimate them, even our own NPA (New People's Army-a militant group in the mountains) knows herbal medicine as they always carry and plant Dabu-Dabu (a plant from Samar) for Malaria and other diseases. Dr. Sia  knows all kinds of herbs, what is indigenous and what are those came from foreign land brought about by our foreign conquerors like Spain, USA and Japan. The Institute had done comprehensive studies of different tribal or cultural healing arts and documented the tradition like those mentioned below and noted that some tribal healing practices are already copyrighted by tribal groups, like the "Babaylan" so using the practices need a permission from the elders or the tribal groups.

Our traditional healers from different regions

What catched my attention is that he mentioned that herbal medicine use should also be regulated or use properly with precautions, not because it is herbal you can use it indiscriminately. According to him poison and medicine has a very thin line or "di nagkakalayo", some medicine started as poison and found a medicinal use. "Ang Kalikasan ay may pagkain, gamot at lason" (in Nature there is food, medicine and poison), proof is that there are herbs that has abortive properties (induce abortion), so herbal medicine should focus on science-culture-economics-safety, that is the crux of his lecture, to give emphasis on the safety, effectivity and cost-effectiveness of using herbal products or medicines. He said, once the product is "romanticized" it becomes a business and loses it purpose and he warned us to be careful on using and spending on products with bogus claims. 

Some of the herbs with documented scientific studies from DOH

"Kalidad at Kantidad" (Quality and Quantity)

Dr. Sia said that all plants, herbs, vegetables, fruits has anti-oxidants in them, but the quality of this ani-oxidants can be diminished as it is stored, processed or consumed. Example,  he mentioned about the Malunggay (Moringa) capsules and Malunggay flavored bread and noodles. It is best that we eat these vegetables as fresh as we can, and instead of taking those capsules and Malunggay flavored items, why not add fresh Malunggay into cooking foods instead, that way we get sufficient quality and quantity of nutrition derived from the vegetable  compared to those flavored food item which only put small quantity of the vegetable, makes a lot of sense.

It is also very interesting that he discussed the current and previous trends in herbal products that is very popular in the market and internet, the latest trend which is Guyabano, a very popular these day as a cancer supplement.  Why they failed the claims and the test of time? are they really effective? since there is no enough documented studies (clinical and scientific) it could not make such claim.

Some of the herbs mentioned below, I really admired and swear to the effectiveness, though  as said earlier, some manufacturer and producer of these supplements' processing methods is questionable, in choosing for supplements I really want to know the source, how they processed and package this products, in some way these manufacturers might failed in some key areas, and their claims are mostly based on testimonials and not supported by clinical studies.

Why some studies failed? To me it could be because the product itself is already oxidized during processing, not necessarily they are not effective, so I might still be using Guyabano or VCO or Noni, Honey, Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) as fresh as possible instead. I am a fan of Apple Cider Vinegar, Narra, Noni and Honey, In choosing ACV I choose a good brand which is committed to organic resources, raw and unfiltered processing, same goes with honey it should be raw, wild, unfiltered and not UHT processed to maintain and preserved the effectiveness.

While these herbs and medicine focuses on the physical healing during studies or clinical trials, the subjects might have other issues such such as mental, psycho-emotional or spiritual issues that could lead to the failure of the effectiveness of a drugs or supplements, this was not addressed during trials but just my own thoughts and opinion. The good doctor do not discourage using them but to be aware and be educated as much as possible in using them, research and use them as fresh as possible not to rely on so much processed herbs and claims, that is his only point. 
Pangako na Napako (Promises that can't be kept),
According to Dr. Sia these failed to deliver results, though I might disagree on some of them.
Some Herbs/Plants that failed to satisfy the claims and also failed scientific/ clinical studies, note the trend in chronological order

Lecture Summary:

Sharing below notes on the lecture of Dr. Sia, who has done research and oversees research on traditional healing practices of Philippine ethnic groups. As a researcher, he keeps an open mind on traditional healing methods and practitioners (e.g., hilot, albularyo, etc.).

1. Most important: Not everything that is natural is safe. e.g., Ginkgo is natural but is dangerous for bleeders because it is a blood thinner.

2. If you receive a leaflet that lists/claims 30+ diseases are cured or helped prevented by something, wait for more studies. It is most likely a passing fad [NOTE: NO APPROVED THERAPEUTIC CLAIMS]. These include Comfrey, Kargasok Tea, Apple Cider, Bee Pollen, Honey, Wheat Grass, Pito Pito, Mahogany, Narra, Noni, VCO, Mangosteen and Guyabano (the latter 3 are the LATEST, and therefore require further studies).

3. The following are approved by the Department of Health: lagundi (for cough), sambong (diuretic, for kidney health), yerba buena (for pain), tsaang gubat (for stomach ache), niyog niyogan seed (anthelmintic/dewormer), akapulko (anti-fungal--for an-an/buni/alipunga/hadhad), bayabas (for wounds), ampalaya (brings down blood sugar), pansit-pansitan (brings down uric acid), bawang (brings down bad cholesterol).

4. Food-medicine-poison belong in one spectrum. They interface. Some poisons are researched for their medical application. Hippocrates said: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Food is the first medicine (nourishes the body, keeps it healthy).

5. Go back to basics. To be healthy: exercise 30 minutes a day, eat 2-4 servings of fruit, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 1-2 servings of meat, moderate salt and sugar, sleep 5-8 hours. Do not look for quick fixes.

6. It is better to eat healthy food than to rely on supplements. e.g., malunggay is better in your tinola than in noodles/pan de sal or in capsules (powder form). Take supplements (multivitamins) only when needed (sick, cannot eat properly, under treatment).

7. Do not romanticize traditional medicine. It has a role, but it is also a business. Before patronizing, ensure that it is safe and cheap. If something is used as food, then it may be safe but not necessarily effective as a medicine.

8. When researching the internet, do not go to websites with plenty of ads. Stick to those of universities or government agencies.

9. All plant materials contain anti-oxidants. So if all that a product claims is it has anti-oxidants and it came from a plant, it may be telling the truth but it does not mean it has special healing properties compared to other plant materials.

The lecture ends well with very interesting questions from participants who are very conscious of their health and it was both educational and enlightening. 

It cross my mind that the Philippines is so blessed for being rich in culture and herbal medicines both indigenous and endogenous , if we Filipinos know how to plant or grow our own food, there will be no hunger, malnutrition and proliferation of diseases and we can all be healthy. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Neem: A Nature's Pharmacopeia

Neem Leaves
Neem trees are everywhere present in the country though its origin is India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, here are some leaves I gathered in my neighborhood. A bunch like this could be boiled in one liter of water.

I first encountered the name Neem through herbal products from India and Himalayas, saw that their ingredients is mostly Neem, so I though it must me a good plant.  I have no idea how it looks like and thought all along it can be found only in India, since the name also very unfamiliar. But to my surprise a visit to Symbios Holistic and Wellness Sanctuary herbal garden in Timberland, San Mateo Rizal has so many Neem trees, and my my friend Dr. Sonny Viloria told me it is good for High blood pressure (HBP) or hypertension, lowering blood cholesterol and sugar, boost immune system etc.  I also happened to meet an  Ayurvedic Doctor from  India, and he told me more about Neem, how to use it and its benefits.
I boiled the leaves in a clay pot for healthy reason

On an empty stomach , every morning upon waking up drink at least 1/4 to 1/2 cup of boiled fresh leaves, boiled only fresh leaves and not the dried ones, dried ones are used to drive mosquitoes away by burning the dried leaves. The taste is very bitter but tolerable, a good cleansing and nourishing regimen.
The Neem Tree
The good news is that Neem can be found anywhere in the Philippines, I saw a lot of them in landscaped gardens, in ULTRA (sports complex in Pasig), I saw them like a wild trees in the parks, parking lots, highways, villages and subdivisions, even in my Sister's home in Bulacan, I was surprised and delighted to see one big Neem tree. I don't know where they came from but I learned that birds love its fruit and they carry and plant them anywhere they go, so you would see they grow anywhere. Talking to some Landscape Designer it is their favorite plant in their projects because it is both ornamental, easy to grow and maintain. Department of Health (DOH) Compound has many of this tree, I learned it drive away mosquitoes, ( but according to the Ayurvedic Doctor, only by burning the dried leaves. When I went to Tahanan Village in Paranaque and in Alabang area, I saw every corner, household, parks with so many Neem trees, you could see them on highways too but be cautious to use those that are exposed to pollution as they can also absorb pollutants. I don't even know if people are aware that it is a good and medicinal plant/tree. It is being used as a landscape outdoor trees for it grows with less water, low maintenance and give a good shade and they say drive away insects such as mosquitoes.

Neem Tea
The extra tea is used to mix with my shampoo, for gargle, facial wash and for taking a bath, it is not only refreshes but good for my skin and hair. So if you have a piece of land try to plant this wonderful tree. I must say it works for me and I feel better taking this tea. I just love Neem tree.

So far, So good been using it, whenever I saw a tree, I gathered leaves and boiled into tea, It works for me in so many ways, help my blood pressure under control and my blood chemistry at a normal level, give me resistance to any flu despite the sudden changes in temperature, take good care of my hair and skin since I used them, not to mention it keeps my body weight under control. All friends and people I know using this swear for its health benefits.This is not recommended though if you are pregnant, and in case you are not diabetic 1/2 cup once a day every morning before breakfast only since in could lower you sugar level dramatically  and may cause hypoglycemia.

More on Neem from Wiki:

Traditional medicinal use

In India, the plant is variously known as "Sacred Tree," "Heal All," "Nature's Drugstore," "Village Pharmacy" and "Panacea for all diseases". Products made from Neem trees have been used in India for over two millennia for their medicinal properties: Neem products are believed to be antihelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, contraceptive and sedative. It is considered a major component in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine and is particularly prescribed for skin disease. Neem oil is also used for healthy hair, to improve liver function, detoxify the blood, and balance blood sugar levels, and is considered to have no side effects.

*all photos taken by the author

Thank you for crossing my bridge. God bless.

Thank you for crossing my bridge. God bless.