NHS stops funding for homeopathy at UK’s largest alternative medicine hospital

A major taxpayer-funded centre for homeopathic, herbal and alternative medicines will no longer be providing these remedies on the NHS after health service chiefs said homeopathy was “at best, a placebo”.

The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RHLIM), formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, describes itself as the “largest public-sector provider of integrated medicine in Europe”.

Integrated medicine centres offer alternative remedies, such as acupuncture and herbal medicines, alongside more evidence-backed interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, for managing conditions like pain and insomnia.

Policy changes by NHS commissioners in London will now end funding for those without robust evidence, in line with national guidance.

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A patient leaflet from University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, which RLHIM is part of, says: “From 3 April 2018, The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM) will no longer be providing NHS-funded homeopathic remedies for any patients as part of their routine care.”

A statement on the RLHIM website said it would also “no longer be providing NHS-funded Herbal Medicine for any patients as part of their routine care”.

“This is in line with the funding policy of Camden Clinical Commissioning Groups, the local NHS body that plans and pays for healthcare services in this area,” the statement added.

Non-evidence backed treatments can still be purchased privately.

The statement continued: “Should you choose, you will be able to purchase these medicines from the RLHIM pharmacy, while other homeopathic pharmacies may also be able to supply the medicines.

“You can speak to your clinician or the RLHIM pharmacy at your next visit about this.”

Critics of homeopathy welcomed the change, saying it left just Bristol and Glasgow funding homeopathy in the UK.

Remedies are made up of ingredients which cause that condition or replicate its symptoms, based on the premise that “like will cure like”, and are then diluted to one part in a trillion.

According to the NHS: “Practitioners believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat symptoms.”

However, systematic reviews of the evidence found it was no better than a placebo for 0 out of 68 illnesses.

NHS England wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for an outright ban on homeopathic remedies on the NHS and changed its guidance to make clear it should not be routinely funded.

Chief executive Simon Stevens, ahead of the health service’s review of homeopathic, herbal and alternative remedy funding, said: “At best, homeopathy is a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds which could better be devoted to treatments that work.”

Michael Marshall, project director at the Good Thinking Society which has been tracking NHS funding of homeopathy and campaigning against it, told The Independent: “This now should mean that homeopathy is finished in London, saving the NHS £3m.

“We’ve already tackled and ended funding across the majority of the rest of the country, leaving just Bristol and Glasgow as the last remaining pockets of NHS homeopathy spending”.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson, said: “We are delighted by the announcement by The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine that it will end public funding of a pseudo-scientific ‘medicine’ that for decades has failed to show any beneficial outcomes for patients. The Hospital has in recent years been responsible for the majority of state funding.

He added that some state-funded Steiner schools also still fund these services and this will be “increasingly difficult to justify”.

Source: The Independent

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Why you NEED black-out curtains: Any light in your bedroom can increase risk of depression, study finds

Researchers found exposure to light at light may cause depressive symptoms

The Japanese team said it’s not clear why exposure to light at night increase the risk of developing symptoms associated with the mood disorder

Previous studies have found linked nocturnal exposure to light to an increased risk of depression

However past research have also found lack of sleep may reduce symptoms of the mood disorder

Any kind of light past bedtime – from a gap in the curtains to a flash of your smartphone – could pave the way to depression, new research warns.

Researchers found even the smallest hint of light exposure in the bedroom during the night could cause depressive symptoms by confusing your body clock.

Previous studies have linked nocturnal light exposure to a disruption in the body’s sleep-wake cycle, but have struggled to explain how this impacts depression.

While the new study by researchers at Nara Medical University does not solve the mystery, it provides some of the clearest evidence to date that the link is stronger than most realize.

Researchers led by Dr Kenji Obayashi recruited 863 elderly adults, with the average age of 72 years, who did not have depressive symptoms – anxiety or a persistent feeling of sadness – at the start of the two-year study.

They measured light levels in their room by placing light meters at the heads of everyone’s bed to determine the amount of light their subjects would see while going to sleep. About 710 participants slept in a completely dark room, while the rest of the subjects were exposed to light at night.

The participants were also asked to keep sleep diaries and completed surveys that monitored the development of depressive symptoms.

Researchers found that compared to the dark group, people exposed to more than 5 lumens of light at night had a significantly higher risk of developing depressive symptoms.

This isn’t the first study to link nocturnal light exposure to the mood disorder.

Research published in a 2009 issue of Behavioral Brain Research found mice that were put in a room that was lit 24 hours a day had more depressive symptoms than those that had a normal light-dark cycle.

It’s well known that exposure to light at night can lead to sleep deprivation – research published last week in the journal Physiological Reports revealed exposure to bright light before bedtime can shut down the production of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

However, there’s mixed research on whether or not sleep deprivation can cause depression.

For instance, research published in the Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found people who sleep less than eight hours a night are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

However, research conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 found lack of sleep can actually improve depression symptoms within 24 hours.

Researchers of the current study said it’s not clear how light at night is linked to depressive symptoms.

However, Dr Obayashi said the reduction of melatonin due to light exposure may have psychological consequences.

Source: Daily Mail

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How exercise in old age prevents the immune system from declining

Doing lots of exercise in older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections, scientists say.

They followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now in their 80s, and found they had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.

Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said: “If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.

“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”

The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.

Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research, said: “The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.

“Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”

The researchers looked at markers in the blood for T-cells, which help the immune system respond to new infections.

These are produced in the thymus, a gland in the chest, which normally shrinks in size in adulthood.

‘Out of puff’

They found that the endurance cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells as adults in their 20s, whereas a group of inactive older adults were producing very few.

The researchers believe that being physically active in old age will help people respond better to vaccines, and so be better protected against infections such as flu.

Steve Harridge, co-author and professor of physiology at King’s College London, said: “Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active.

“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits – or be an endurance cyclist – anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help.”

Prof Harridge and Prof Lazarus believe that highly physically active older people represent the perfect group in which to analyse the true effects of biological ageing.

A separate paper in Aging Cell found that the cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength, and did not see an increase in body fat – which are usually associated with ageing.

I met a dozen of the cyclists, on a morning ride in Surrey. Despite the bitter cold, they were universally cheerful, and clearly used to riding in all weathers.

They are members of Audax, a long-distance cycling organisation that organises events ranging from 100km to 300km.

The older members – in their 80s – say they do only the “short” 100km (62-mile) rides, but this is still highly impressive.

So why do they do it?

Pam Jones, 79, told me: “I do it for my health, because it’s sociable, and because I enjoy the freedom it gives you.”

Brian Matkins, 82, said: “One of the first results I got from the medical study was I was told my body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old.”

Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer.

He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”

Cycling 60 miles or more may not be your idea of fun, but these riders have found something that gives them pleasure, which is a key reason why they continue.

Source: BBC

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Poor rural Victorians ‘had best diet’

Poor, rural societies which ate high-quality foods bought locally had the best diet and health in mid-Victorian Britain, a new report has revealed.

The healthiest regions, measured by low mortality rates, were often the most isolated.

In those areas, people would have consumed plenty of locally-produced potatoes, whole grains, vegetables, fish and milk.

There were also fewer deaths there from pulmonary tuberculosis.

This suggests people had better diets, the researchers writing in JRSM Open suggest.

They found the most nutritious diets were enjoyed in isolated, rural areas of England, the mainland and islands of Scotland and the west of Ireland – which was at that time part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Dr Peter Greaves, study author from the Leicester Cancer Research Centre, said: “The fact that these better-fed regions of Britain also showed lower mortality rates is entirely consistent with recent studies that have shown a decreased risk of death, following improvement towards a higher Mediterranean dietary standard.

“The rural diet was often better for the poor in more isolated areas because of payment in kind, notably in grain, potatoes, meat, milk or small patches of land to grow vegetables or to keep animals.

“Unfortunately, these societies were in the process of disappearing under the pressure of urbanisation, commercial farming and migration.”

Dr Greaves said these changes in Victorian society led to worse diets among poor, rural populations and resulted in locally-produced food becoming less diverse – something that has since occurred across the world.

In the middle of the 19th Century, fewer than half of the near 19 million people in England and Wales were living in large urban centres.

Among the three million population of Scotland, only one million lived in town districts, while fewer than 30% of the 5.5 million population of Ireland was urban.

For many poor people across Britain, white bread made from bolted wheat flour was the staple component of the diet.

When they could afford it, people would supplement this with vegetables, fruit and animal-derived foods such as meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs – a Mediterranean-style diet.

Poor people living in wealthier farming districts who were usually paid in cash often had great difficulty getting these foods on a regular basis, but in more isolated areas of Britain milk and fish were more accessible.

A good number of country dwellers lived to ripe old ages, the researchers said.

In the poor rural districts of Connaught in the west of Ireland, for example, nearly 20% of people reached the age of 65 or more and some reached the age of 95 or even 100.

Source: BBC

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Muscle loss in old age linked to fewer nerve signals

Researchers say they may have worked out why there is a natural loss of muscle in the legs as people age – and that it is due to a loss of nerves.

In tests on 168 men, they found that nerves controlling the legs decreased by around 30% by the age of 75.

This made muscles waste away, but in older fitter athletes there was a better chance of them being ‘rescued’ by nerves re-connecting.

The scientists published their research in the Journal of Physiology.

As people get older, their leg muscles become smaller and weaker, leading to problems with everyday movements such as walking up stairs or getting out of a chair.

It is something that affects everyone eventually, but why it happens is not fully understood.

Prof Jamie McPhee, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said young adults usually had 60-70,000 nerves controlling movement in the legs from the lumbar spine.

But his research showed this changed significantly in old age.

“There was a dramatic loss of nerves controlling the muscles – a 30-60% loss – which means they waste away,” he said.

“The muscles need to receive a proper signal from the nervous system to tell them to contract, so we can move around.”

The research team from Manchester Metropolitan University worked with researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and the University of Manchester.

They looked at muscle tissue in detail using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and they recorded the electrical activity passing through the muscle to estimate the numbers and the size of surviving nerves.

The good news is that healthy muscles have a form of protection: surviving nerves can send out new branches to rescue muscles and stop them wasting away.

This is more likely to happen in fit people with large, healthy muscles, Prof McPhee said.

Although it is not known why connections between muscles and nerves break down with age, finding out more about muscle loss could help scientists find ways of reversing the condition in the future.

Source: BBC

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Expert reveals how to treat epilepsy with herbal medicine

It is now possible to treat epilepsy and schizophrenia (madness) using a herbal drug discovered by a Nigerian Scholar of Pharmacology and Toxicology of Kaduna state University (KASU), Prof. Ben Chindo.

The breakthrough research and development of the herbal drug was made known during the 2nd Professorial Inaugural Lecture of KASU, delivered by Chindo at the Lecture Theatre of Faculty of Science, KASU, Kaduna Thursday.

Chindo, a Dean of Pharmaceutical studies of KASU, speaking on the topic: “Herbal Medicine: Panacea or Agents of Mass Destruction,” said, “We have studied on a considerable number of medicinal plants that revealed Central Nervous Systems (CNS) activities including: Ficus platyphylla , Newboldia leavis , Hibiscus sabdariffa,” he told the audience

Other medicinal plants he had studied were: Pavetta crassipes, Neorautanenia mitis, Nauclea laltifolia,Balanites aegyptiaca and Randia nilotica among others.

According to him, of much interest to him was a herbal plant that had been used in the management of Central Nervous Systems disorders traditionally in some parts of Northern Nigeria for ages, he named the plant as the, “Gamji” plant in Hausa whose botanical name is Ficus platyphylla.

“Ficus platyphylla Del.-Holl (Family: Moraceae) is a deciduous plant that is found mainly in the savanna regions of the West African coast,” he explained.

He added, “It is used in folk medicine to manage epilepsy, depression, insomnia, psychoses, pain, inflammation and gastrointestinal disorders working on his research on the plant’s healing agents, assisted by some scientist overseas.

“We evaluated the CNS activity of the methanol extract to provide scientific evidence supporting the use of this herbal medicine for the management of psychiatric and neurological disorders.”

The professor who spoke in esoteric scientific terms, said that the active ingredients of the Gamji plant were identified, isolated and clinical trials carried out on rodents with similar CNS disorders like humans..

He said that result showed that epilepsy and madness could be well treated and cured when the drug is effectively administered over a period of time.

He said he carried out his research in Germany, New Zealand and the United state also went into Stem Cells research.

He said: “I had a one year post-doctoral training at the Otago School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, New Zealand.

“Furthermore, I was on a one year sabbatical leave at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California, USA.

“In these two foreign visits, I actively participated in designing, conducting and analyzing electrophysiological properties of neurons derived from Stem cells for drug development

“I have provided scientific evidence for the efficacy and safety of a number of herbal medicines that are used in folk medicine.

“I gained tremendous insight into cell culture and electro physiological techniques.

“ I would like to pursue in the future, the use of these modern molecular techniques to explore the properties of herbal medicines and their applications for the treatment of diseases.

“I will seek for functional collaborations with laboratories that utilized these modern techniques, with the goal of developing novel therapies from herbal medicines for management of disorders and diseases,” he said.

“Research has proven that quite a number of herbal medicines are important and effective therapeutic regimens in the management of broad spectrum of diseases, making herbal medicines ‘panaceas’ for primary health care delivery.

“Appropriate use of these herbal medicines should be allowed for the promotion of public health and the treatment of disease.

“These medicinal plants are important sources of therapeutic agents with considerable degree of safety and minimal adverse effects and should not be seen as ‘agents of destruction,” he said.

Speaking to the Press after the lecture, the university don regretted that Nigerian government and pharmaceutical firms in Nigeria were not investing in the research, development and production of scientifically derived herbal medicines.

He cautioned the public against patronising herbal medicines hawked in the open street, saying their efficacy and safety for human use could not be ascertained.

“This is gold mine which China has tapped into, and we have already finished research on many other herbal drugs, but they there picking dust on library shelves,” he said.

Asked if he was applying for a patent for the production of epilepsy curing drug, he said, “lt’s an area I am looking into, though I have published parts of my work. But I have not published much of the work, so the possibility of procuring a patent is still there.

Source: Daily Post Nigeria

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Sandy’s Garden … Turmeric

Shopping is not exactly my favourite pastime.

Ever since my wife and I married fifty years ago, I have accompanied her on most of her food shopping excursions; and I am fairly familiar with the layout of most supermarkets within a five mile radius of our home and am known … like many men, apparently … to browse idly through displays of products which we do not normally use or, not infrequently, have never used at all.

So it comes about that I associate turmeric with a suggestion made by Asda: “Why not try sprinkling turmeric into the water when cooking rice to add a vibrant colour. Use to complement vegetable, bean and lentil dishes. Also great in curries, soups and relishes.” There is a jar of turmeric among our selection of spices in the larder: but turmeric comes into the category of seldom used products, for I associate turmeric with curries and we don’t eat many of these. And, of course, I am entirely correct in my association of turmeric with curries, for turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes, to which it gives a slightly bitter flavour and a pungent aroma. It is extensively used to impart an attractive, golden-yellow colour to many dishes, although the principal use of turmeric is as one of the main constituents of curry powders.

The powdered form of turmeric … the usual way we’ll find it in the United Kingdom … is made from the plant’s roots, boiled, dried in ovens and then ground into the orange-yellow powder which we usually find in small jars in the spices section of the shop. The plant whose roots are used in this way is a member of the ginger family which needs temperatures of between 20°C and 30°C … say, 68°F – 86°F in old money … and a thoroughly wet climate, so it won’t thrive in my garden. It does do extremely well in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, its native lands, which goes a very long way to explaining its use in Indian cuisine. And so I was surprised to see an advertisement for Opti-Turmeric, describing the product as being high potency easily absorbed liquid turmeric in capsules.

The manufacturer’s website describes the product in these words: ‘Known as “the golden spice of India” (where 80-90% of turmeric is produced), turmeric is gaining popularity for its perceived health properties across the globe. Although clinical research still remains inconclusive, the health benefits of turmeric have been praised for centuries in traditional Indian (Ayurveda) and Chinese medicines.’ So what health benefits are ascribed to turmeric in Ayurvedic, medicine? Well, Chinese and Indian folk-medicine used turmeric to treat a wide variety of diseases and health problems, including heartburn, diarrhoea, stomach bloating, colds, fibromyalgia … a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body … and depression which, when one thinks about it, could well be brought on by fibromyalgia. But I must emphasise that ‘clinical research still remains inconclusive’ and caution that turmeric should not be regarded as a cure-all and that I am neither endorsing claims made for the health benefits of this spice nor recommending its use as a herbal medicine.

There is a certain fascination, nevertheless, to learn from the Boots website, that ‘A small study in Thailand in 2012 found it may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. It found that over 9 months a daily dose of a supplement containing curcumin seemed to prevent new cases of type 2 diabetes among certain people at risk. However, more research is needed.’ (Curcumin might be described as the active ingredient in turmeric.) Might the type 2 diabetes, from which I suffer, have been prevented if I had eaten more chicken tikka masala?

Source: Falkirk Herald

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Adaptogenic Mushroom Blend Improves Endurance Performance in New Study

Herbs and Helpers

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/herbs-botanicals/adaptogenic-mushroom-blend-improves-endurance-performance-new-study

Results of a human clinical trial1 published late last year in the American Journal of Sports Science show that supplementation with a commercially available adaptogenic mushroom blend including Cordyceps militaris may improve endurance performance in healthy

young adults. The Cordyceps genus of fungi has a research record of medicinal and performance effects, and recent studies have investigated the performance effects of the Cordyceps militaris species in particular.

The trial considered the aerobic performance effects of both a longer period of low-dose supplementation and a shorter period of higher-dose supplementation with the product PeakO2 (Compound Solutions, Inc.; Carlsbad, CA), which contains six Ayurvedic mushroom strains (mainly Cordyceps militaris), as well as vitamin D2, L-ergothioneine, and beta glucans.

In the low-dose arm, 40 subjects aged 19 to 34 received either 1.0 to 2.0 g/day of the mushroom blend with Gatorade, or a similar Gatorade-based control for 28 days. The 43 subjects in the higher-dose group consumed the supplement at a dose of 12.0 g/day or the placebo—also via Gatorade—for one week.

Results for the trial’s low-dose arm showed that after 28 days, the supplementation group saw time to fatigue and maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) increase significantly, while its levels of blood lactate (commonly associated with decreased performance) fell during the “economy” phase of a cycle ergometer test.

As for the high-dose arm, those in the half of the supplement group with a VO2peak below the median at baseline (MB) experienced significant increases in VO2peak and VO2max after the week of supplementation, while those in the supplement group with a VO2peak above the median at baseline (MT)—as well as all subjects taking the placebo (CB and CT)—saw no significant change. The MT cohort did, however, see a significant 3-bpm drop in economy heart rate from pre- to post-testing. And CT subjects also demonstrated a significant 4.5% increase in peak power from before the test to after.

Based on the results, the study’s authors wrote, “these data show that PEAKO2 had a significant impact on markers of aerobic fitness in young, apparently healthy adults. A supplement that improves oxygen consumption, time to fatigue, blood lactate levels, or exercise HR, taken individually would be reason for encouragement in that it takes significant training time to change these variables independent of supplementation.”

Wesley DD et al., “The effects of high and low-dose Cordyceps militaris-containing mushroom blend supplementation after seven and twenty-eight days,” American Journal of Sports Science, vol. 6, no. 1 (2018): 1-7

Source: Nutritional Outlook Magazine

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/herbs-botanicals/adaptogenic-mushroom-blend-improves-endurance-performance-new-study

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Botanical Extract Lowers Blood Glucose, Increases Levels of Insulin in Animal Study

Herbs and Helpers

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/herbs-botanicals/botanical-extract-lowers-blood-glucose-increases-levels-insulin-animal-study

Results of a recent animal study1 show that Pterocarpus marsupium extract lowers diabetic rats’ blood glucose and HbA1c levels while increasing their levels of insulin. The American Medical Association places the prevalence of diabetes in the North American population at 9.4%, making the study results noteworthy.

Water-soluble Pterocarpus marsupium extracts from the Indian Kino tree have long appeared in the Ayervedic armamentarium as a tool for controlling blood sugar. Practitioners would either soak pieces of the wood overnight in water to extract the actives, or have patients drink water from a tumbler made of the wood itself to deliver the water-soluble actives.

However, the molecular mechanism whereby the extracts exert their effects had heretofore remained uninvestigated. In this study, researchers administered two fractions of a Pterocarpus marsupium extract made by Sami Labs (the manufacturing arm of Sabinsa Corporation; East Windsor, NJ) at 2.5% and 5% to diabetic rats at doses of 50, 100, and 200 mg/kg body weight for 45 days.

Results pointed to the 200 mg/kg body weight dose of the 5% fraction as the most effective at generating pronounced reductions in blood glucose (95.65 mg/dL) and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) (0.41 mg/g Hb) levels, as well as increases in plasma insulin (16.20 µU/mL) levels. It also altered the activities of key lipid-metabolism enzymes and significantly reverted lipid profiles in the diabetic rats to near-normal levels.

Further, researchers found the 200 mg/kg body weight dose of the 5% fraction reduced levels of oxidative stress and inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and of interleukin-6 (IL-6) messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), while also reducing protein expression and apoptotic markers, such as caspase-3 enzyme, in the hepatic tissue. Histological studies, such as improvement in pancreas and liver, supported the biochemical findings. Thus, the researchers conclude, “Pterocarpus marsupium could effectively reduce the inflammation and hyperglycemic condition in diabetic rats; hence, it could be a useful tool in the management of diabetes.”

These results also reinforce clinical trial results published earlier by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a research institute supported by the Indian government. Sami licensed-in the product and patents on an exclusive basis from ICMR.

Leelavinothan P et al., “Molecular action of inflammation and oxidative stress in hyperglycemic rats: Effect of different concentrations of Pterocarpus marsupiums extract,” Journal of Dietary Supplements, vol. 0, no. 0 (October 5, 2017): 1-19

Source: Nutritional Outlook Magazine

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/herbs-botanicals/botanical-extract-lowers-blood-glucose-increases-levels-insulin-animal-study

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Kwoma, a natural endowment waiting to be tapped

Herbs and Helpers

Cultivation of medicinal tree crops as a deliberate business venture is a viable foray. It is a specialised area of agriculture and forestry that would yield good returns not only for supply to local herbal medicine manufacturers, but also for export. This is one more area where entrepreneurs can tap into to create new wealth and generate employment.

All the present-day herbal medicine manufacturer needs to do is to shed the old garb of mysticism, seek information, embrace contemporary best practices and adopt attractive packaging. With these done, we too can sell our herbal preparations to the rest of the world.

A good percentage of modern drugs and cosmetics are plant-derived and the World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 21000 plant species with medicinal value and a good percentage of these are believed to be available in Nigeria with our vast biodiversity and bio-resources. This is therefore an area of cache waiting to be unearthed by discerning entrepreneurs, especially because many Nigerians now spend huge sums on imported herbal brands from America, Europe and Asia. Interestingly, some of those formulations are prepared with herbs sourced from Nigeria.

The acceptance and use of plants and roots for the cure and control of ailments has suffered a dwindling fate- from the ancient times when they were the only remedies known to man, to the time when they were treated with suspicion and considered as fetish, to contemporary times when man is revisiting herbal remedies because synthetic preparations sometimes have dangerous side effects that put a question mark on their continued use.

This has created windows of opportunity for herbal medicinal and cosmetic packages to continue to gain acceptance in hitherto highly intolerant quarters. The Shea tree is one of our tree resources that are brimming with potential.

The forest contributes to food security and provides goods and services for man. Forestry development is therefore a wise investment choice. Apart from its economic benefits, there are also numerous health and environmental benefits to reap. Most trees have medicinal applications. A forestry developer also leaves an enduring legacy for his own offspring and for all of mankind. Although the slow growth of the Shea tree makes it an unpopular choice for a plantation crop, the existing market for its product cannot be overlooked.

The Shea tree grows naturally in most parts of West Africa and occurs generously in Nigeria particularly in the North, Middle Belt and part of the South West. It typically starts to bear fruit at around 10 to 15 years old and attains full production when it is between 20 and 30 years after which it can remain productive for up to 200 years, yielding an average of about 15 to 20 kilogrammes of fruit per tree.

As at 2010, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council began a collaborative work with the National Centre for Genetic Research and Biotechnology on a new project for the establishment of Shea tree plantations so that we would no longer rely solely on wild growing Shea trees. This effort will ensure the sustainability of Shea-based enterprises as exploitation of the tree products continues to grow in popularity.

In Africa, Shea butter is used as a cure for most skin and hair conditions. It is especially useful as a moisturizer and is now included in many cosmetic products including lip gloss, skin lotions and hair conditioners. It is also used as cooking oil in some countries. This versatile fat also finds application in candle making and helps to increase the durability of wood used in making certain musical instruments. In the medical field, Shea butter is used as a base for ointments used in treating conditions ranging from arthritis to dermatitis and a host of skin allergies.

The market for all natural Shea butter and products made from Shea butter is undeniable, especially in contemporary times when ‘going natural’ has become the vogue; it is also one of Nigeria’s many natural endowments. However, as with most of our resources, the wealth in the Shea tree cannot be fully exploited if we rely only on naturally occurring trees and archaic processing methods. A solid investment in mechanised extraction techniques and in a sizeable plantation is sure to yield good returns in due time.

Shea butter or Okwoma as it is called in Igbo or Ori in Yoruba, is the fat extracted from the shea tree nut. It is traditionally prepared in Africa by crushing, roasting and grinding the nuts and separating the butter from the resulting paste through a process of kneading and mixing with water to bring the butter oil to the surface. The final product is then removed and left to cool and harden.

Currently, the extraction process remains largely primitive, tedious and ultimately unsustainable. With a view to correcting this, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, in 2002, launched a project to upgrade the traditional processing method to meet up with international standards. This project also introduced machines to mechanise the local grinding and kneading methods; local investors may obtain the technology and scale it up appropriately. Entrepreneurs may invest either in growing Shea trees; although it has a long gestation period; or in the production of the butter or value addition to it.

Copyright PUNCH.

Source: Punch Nigeria

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