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Saturday, 15 June 2013 00:00
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Agbo... herbs of life to some, something else to others

FOLOWING The Nigerian Compass on Saturday’s report of May 18, sources offered this writer more information about the efficacy or otherwise of the local herbal brew, popularly known in local Lagos parlance as Agbo.

Iya Aishat, a local herb brewer had taken us on an extensive tour as she explained the intricacies of this local herbs, how they are made, what they are made of and its uses. In this edition, we have gone further to seek the medical world’s view on this Local herb.

The table we use for writing used to be a tree. But it was felled, sawed, and made into a table. In order to get a table, some parts had been sawed off, some parts had to be polished, some had to be shaped. at the end after removing all the unwanted part and shaping, the felled tree gives a table.

The tree could as well have been uprooted, stem, root, leave and all, and placed in an office as a table, can you imagine the scene if that was the situation? It would probably successfully serve as a table, but it would be taking up much space and would have many unneeded part, causing dirt all the time. The same thing applies to if we had to use tree; stem, root, leave and all, for writing instead of the paper it has been refined to be?

The above illustration is what paints the medical practitioners side of the story. Dr. Paul B. Orhii, in his address delivered at a stake holder meeting on Regulation of Herbal medicines in Nigeria held in April this year said, “Herbal supplements can be beneficial to consumers, but they also can cause serious side effects and potentially dangerous conditions”.

When it comes to herbal remedies, “natural” or “popular” does not always mean “safe”. there are a number of herbal products that can have severely deleterious effects on the health of consumers. Ephedra, for instance, has been linked to several incidents of severe illness and even death in consumers who have taken the herb. It has an herb that is commonly marketed as a weight loss aid or energy enhancer. Between 1994 and 1997, the FDA reported a total of 37 deaths and 800 medical and psychiatric complications that it attributed to use of products containing ephedra.

In just two years (June 1997 and March 1999), FDA released 273 more reports of very serious side effects that were reportedly related to ephedra use. They included high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. Other less serious side effects that ephedra may cause are; insomnia, jitteriness, dry mouth, and restlessness. In fact some researchers alsosay there is a link between Ephedra use and psychiatric disorders such as psychosis.

Doctor, Mrs. Erin OSho, a children doctor said “ the problem with herbal mixture is that it doesn’t go through the right processing. It has a high concentration and this affects children. The liver process what we take into the body and children don’t have a mature liver and with this, herbal mixtures could affect their liver. I don’t use it and I wouldn’t recommend it for my patients”.

Mrs. Adebayo      , the Chief controller, Drug quality control Unit, General hospital Ikeja said; “some of this herbs are beneficial. The problem though is its high concentration. The liver detoxifies toxins in the body and the wrong intake bleach the liver. Most of the orthodox drugs have their origin in herbs. Once something is discovered to be beneficial to the body in a herb, it is processed and made into drugs.

for example if foreign apple is discovered to be beneficial to the body, it is synthesized and produced in large quantity. One should be careful with herbal mixtures because it has no particular dosage and it being in a crude form makes it more harmful. If an equal quantity of orthodox medicine and Agbo is taken, the orthodox medicine would be more harmful but it’s one advantage presently is that the harmful part has been removed and there is a recommended dosage for each intake, something the local herb lacks. The local herbs also have a wide claim; they claim to be multi-functional, and this causes big problems.”

Eniola Akoide, a regular user of herbal supplement claims it is more functional that the orthodox medicine, “I don’t buy the drugs the doctor recommends, I prefer the herbs as I believe it works  faster and better than orthodox medicines. I have not had any side effect since I started taking herbs”. Not all are as lucky as she is, though. Mr Abayomi Koforola, a resident of Mairan Ijaye was sometimes ago diagonised with a bleached liver which was traced back to the ‘agbo’ he consumed on a regular basis after work each day.

Other than Ephedra, a class of herbs known as Aristolochia species has been linked to cancer and severe kidney damage in users. Echinacea, an herb that is marketed as an immune stimulant, may cause liver damage. Kava-kava, an herbal sedative and sleep aid, can cause muscle spasms and tremors. While herbs may be natural, they are certainly not free from side effects or potential health risks.

The good news is integrated medicine is about to take root in Nigeria. Integratedmedicine is the act of using both the complimentary or alternative medicine and orthodox medicine for patients.It is not unusual to find herbs sellers condemning the orthodox medicine and the Doctors condemning herbal mixtures. The patient is then placed at the middle of all this and this could be confusing. Integration aims to  change all that. Doctors recognize and accepts the fact that people use herbs and rather than condemn it, there is a way they can still make patients take their drugs alongside  the herbs so they can get maximal result. A school; National institute of Traditional Medicine now exist in Abuja to train people who want to go into herbs.

Dr. Taiwo Akin, a medical practitioner at General Hospital, Ikeja  says, “ the problem with herbs is that the good part and the bad part are always lumped together. It is not purified and no regulation of dosage and sometimes have side effects. Some of these herbs are toxic to the liver, some to the kidney and some to the blood cells. we are now  conscious that patients take herbs and so we have to be aware of whatthey have taken before coming to us for treatment, this helps to know what medicine to be recommended and if a patient would take the medicine or would still prefer to stick to herbs. With this knowledge, we are able to counsel them betterif we ignore its existence and don’t talk about it, especially with patients, we would not really be able to give solution to a lot of them.”

Most drugs are produced in the synthetic way. After the component that works in a herb is discovered, it is singled out and mass produced synthetically and so a consumer consume just the useful part. The difference between the orthodox and herbs is that rather than make use of just the useful part, the herbalist lumps it all together, both the waste product and the useful one. It is like wanting to cook yam and you put the yam into the pot without peeling the back or removing the sand, you also include the leave and boil. The yam is actually what you want to eat, but the useful and wastes have all been combined. If eventually you eat it that way, the useful part will work but the waste product would cause some side effects.

This illustration is what happens in the herbal world. What Orthodox does is; remove the leave, wash away the sand, take way the peel, rinse the yam and mass produce just the yam.

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