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“BUSH TEA IN HIGH DEMAND” – SAYS RESEARCHER

THE demand for herbal therapy, including bush teas which have been used for hundreds of years, particularly for diabetes management, is growing significantly in most developing countries.

Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh, director of research and development at the Bio-Tech R&D Institute, made this claim in an address on “The potential of Caribbean plants for the management of Diabetes Mellitus: Exploitation for its use in diabetes management” at a recent

(LEFT) BAHADO-SINGH… very often these raw herbs picked from gardens, or in the bushes, could be contaminated by other unknown herbs LOWE… cited for work with plants that has been scientifically proven to have anti-diabetic properties

 

conference on diabetes in Ocho Rios, St Ann.

He said studies had indicated that this growth in popularity was not only because herbal remedies were relatively inexpensive but also because “they form better cultural acceptability and in some instances have minimal side effects”.

But Dr Bahado-Singh acknowledged that recent data had indicated that many herbal medicines had some side effects or show little or no efficacy, because “there are no defined dosage levels or standards for administration”.

“For this reason, I wish to strongly reaffirm the crucial advice from our recently launched book entitled Caribbean Herbs for Diabetes Management: Fact or Fiction? that ‘herbal therapy should not be used as a substitute for conventional therapy and that herbal remedies should not be viewed as an effective substitute for conventional agents such as oral hypoglycemics and insulin.”

He said herbal medicines and in particular bush teas played a role in the management of diabetes and that it was therefore the responsibility of scientists to properly inform clinicians, health practitioners and the general public on the proper dosages and safety when using these natural remedies.

“We should also exercise great caution when dispelling these cultural practices without strong, recent up-to-date, extensive scientific validation to substantiate these pronouncements to the public,” he advised.

Dr Bahado-Singh said that most folkloric herbal medicines were consumed as bush teas for decades and an entire tea industry in Jamaica and the Caribbean had been built around bush teas.

“I would like to point out that bush teas and herbal therapy, like all conventional drugs, possess side effects. In some instances, they are no more dangerous or harmful to diabetics than some of the current pharmaceutical drugs which are prescribed to patients and most, if not all, possess some side effects, some that have been fatal.

“Take, for example, metformin — one of the most widely used diabetic pharmaceutical drugs — has side effects, some of which include nausea, indigestion and diarrhea…

“However, we should therefore endeavour as scientists to build on the experiences from the years of traditional uses of bush remedies and folklore practices, which can often provide us with useful guidelines to the selection, preparation and application of herbal formulation as well as their potential drug development. In order to achieve clinical acceptance vigorous methods of scientific and clinical validation need to be applied to prove their safety and efficacy,” he suggested.

The researcher said scholarly studies had demonstrated that the demand for herbal therapy was growing exponentially, especially in developing countries.

He cited Dr Henry Lowe’s work with plants that had been scientifically proven to have anti-diabetic properties based on extensive research, most of which was carried out by the University of the West Indies. The plans inlcuded periwinkle, ceraZsee, annatto, cashew, dasheen and bird pepper, among others.

“These studies have indicated that this growth in popularity in the use of herbal remedies is not only because herbal remedies are relatively inexpensive, but also because they form better cultural acceptability and less recognised side effects unlike many pharmaceutical agents as mentioned before..

“However, other studies have indicated that many herbal medicines have some side effects and may also lead to drug interactions and may show little or no efficacy, because there are no defined dosage levels or standards. (Even so) many diabetic patients in the developing world cannot afford the modern medicines and technologies, and thus, in many cases, have no alternative but to rely on traditional healers or using their own herbal remedies to manage their condition.

“Very often these raw herbs picked from gardens or in the bushes, could be contaminated by other unknown herbs, be associated with dangerous soil-borne pathogens and create health care challenges which are additional to those associated with unknown dosage levels and lack of standardisation,” said Dr Bahado-Singh.

 

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