How and why did food supplements come about

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By Dr. Victor Dumaguing

To Your Health

Friday, June 27, 2014


THE practice of medicine in the Philippines is a combination of science and art, not necessarily a happy and equal 50/50 sharing because both doctors and patients alike are born into a world full of folkloric stories of treatment , miraculous cure brought about by some esoteric herbal concoctions made more powerful by some ritualistic ceremonies performed on the patients.

During the past halcyon days, people, especially in the remote rural areas, had more confidence on the albularyo or the hilot in the management of their ailments which could range from simple flu to diarrhea and even the more serious pneumonia or meningitis
Notwithstanding the great leaps and bounds that the world of medicine has undergone recently, it is undeniable that most Filipinos from all walks of life still regard their illness and more importantly their treatment, as again a combination of science - drugs as result of long years of research and clinical trials, expertise of the health care provider and a dash of good-old-common-sensical- but-reliable tales and testaments of cure from friends and relatives.

This is not to say that the Filipino patient is gullible. However, for all the purported high IQ of most Filipinos and their penchant for endless questioning, it appears that he would rather listen to the experience shared by a neighbor or a friend rather than really listen to his doctor or nurse, especially when it comes to treatment of their disease.

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Diabetes mellitus is one of the foremost illnesses in which food supplements found acceptance. The banaba, its leaves, younh shoots and did I hear bark, when boiled and drank was supposed to help lower blood sugar. There were some unverified reports that indeed, banaba helped decree an elevated blood sugar but the effect was very short, which meant that for it to be an effective controller of high blood sugar, then the patient has to take the drink every four hours. Obviously, a very impractical, cumbersome process.

Then came ampalaya. With then Secretary of Health Dr. Juan Flavier encouraging Filipino patients to go back to basics, ampalaya enjoyed immense popularity that saw a slew of business enterprises coming up with various formulations of the ampalaya as adjunct in diabetes therapy, so popular even our vacationing balikbayans brought back to the US large amounts of the pill, capsule and sachets.

The Department of Pharmacology of the UP College of Medicine had their own investigation into the "ampalaya phenomenon" with no definite encouraging result. One member of the Philippine Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism (PSEM) shared with this author a study, which found that shoots of ampalaya grown in a specific part of foot of Mt. Makiling, was the only one, which showed some sugar-lowering properties. It is not known if further studies were undertaken to verify or confirm its efficacy and effectiveness.

Despite the trimedia statements that ampalaya is just a food supplement and not the major player in improving blood sugar of diabetics, still many patients, sad to say, gave up their insulin or their oral anti-diabetes drug, only to suffer later its complications -- cataract or blindness, dialysis due to kidney failure, or leg amputation because of diabetic foot gangrene.

Next Week: The pros and cons of food supplements

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on June 28, 2014.

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