Indigenous natural medicines for diabetes, obesity

KAZHILA Chinsembu.

STATISTICS show that Zambia is in the middle of a diabetes and obesity crisis. And Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya recently warned against diabetes and obesity, mostly brought on by lack of exercises and excessive consumption of food.
Corollary, I think it is an opportune moment to share the news of my 2018 book, Indigenous Natural Medicines for Diabetes, Obesity, and High Cholesterol, published by the Centre of Excellence in the Study of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (Cesiks), ISBN: 978-99945-60- 92-9.
This 250-page book is dedicated to natural products that control diabetes, obesity and cholesterol-the troika of what has become known as the rich man’s diseases.
The risk of heart failure increases by 86 percent in persons with diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Avoiding these three diseases can increase the lifespan by 11 and 15 years in men and women, respectively.
The longer your waist belt; the shorter your lifespan.
Currently, the major challenge is that therapeutic interventions against diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol are limited. This book is a timely contribution to our efforts to improve clinical outcomes and ameliorate the triple burden of diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.
Chapter 1 provides a general introduction to the book. Reminisced through Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart, the introduction brings out the author’s salient thoughts on non-communicable diseases, especially in Africa.
Many times, Achebe’s writings centre on villagers’ daily consumption of the kola nut, an indigenous food plant we now know- with real scientific precision and certainty- prevents obesity and diabetes. This is just but one example that points to the importance of indigenous medicinal and culinary plants.
In chapter 2, the book points out that many parts of the world now face a diabetes crisis. Data predict that the current global epidemiological burden of diabetes is increasing alongside its long-term life threatening sequelae and side-effects from synthetic anti-diabetic drugs.
Challenges in the public healthcare delivery system, inadequate human and financial resources, pricey anti-diabetic drugs coupled with their limited availability, efficacy and tolerability, and a higher priority for subventions to the control of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS than to drugs for non-communicable conditions especially diabetes have opened new vistas for diabetics to seek complementary and alternative medicines.
Thus, there is a renewed momentum backed by the World Health Organisation to discover new, cheaper and better anti-diabetic agents from medicinal plants.
As evidence on putative anti-diabetic properties of plants remains scattered, the book provides a timely synthesis of anti-diabetic plants from Africa, Central America, Mexico, South Asia, and Iran. In the countries mentioned in this book, numerous plant species decrease blood sugar levels by inhibiting the enzymes alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase.
Other anti-diabetic plants restore pancreatic cells, improve insulin secretion and sensitivity, decrease metabolic syndrome in type 2 diabetes patients in addition to exerting antioxidant and hepato-protective functions.
Chapter 3 deals with botanical and culinary medicines that rein in the growing global problem of obesity. High fat diets and sedentary lifestyles are fuelling the current global epidemiological burden of obesity which increased by more than twofold between 1980 and 2014.
In chapter 3, hard scientific data pertaining to the anti-obesity properties of selected species of medicinal and food plants are described. Data on their therapeutic status, active chemical ingredients and possible modes of action including the inhibition of pancreatic lipase are explored. Evidence from clinical trials is elucidated.
The recurring motif is that natural products such as plants and algae present a strong pipeline for the discovery of novel chemical leads that may be converted into better drugs, nutraceuticals and supplements for the treatment of obesity.
Indeed, if there is a long-term therapy for obesity, it must lie in nature’s pharmacy of putative anti-obesity plants and other natural products.
Chapter 4 speaks to cholesterol, the self-contradictory molecule in the body. We have bad cholesterol and good cholesterol. While cholesterol is an essential part of cell membranes, its excessive build-up in cells and the body promotes inflammation and oxidative damage.
Although several protective mechanisms and molecular efflux schemes have evolved against the build-up of cholesterol, many people still suffer from excess accumulation of cholesterol in their systems.
Cholesterol is linked to several conditions such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, cancer, epilepsy, aggressiveness, suicide, sexual dysfunction, low sperm count, loss of libido, cognitive deficits during ageing, and kidney stones.
The presence of cholesterol in the body teaches us that everything must be in moderation; too much of one thing is bad. For instance, a 1 percent increase in blood cholesterol level is equivalent to a 2 per cent elevation in the incidence of coronary heart disease.
Statins, the pharmaceutical drugs used for the treatment of high cholesterol, have adverse reactions and side effects. Therefore, to decrease bad cholesterol, botanical and culinary medicines have grown in popularity all over the world.
Food is the best medicine
In chapter 4, several natural products used in many parts of the world including Zambia to control cholesterol are described. Many of these natural products are common food plants like mutete. Entomophagy, human consumption of insects as food, also controls cholesterol.
By way of conclusion, chapter 5 ends the book by emphasising the need to indigenise the control of diabetes, obesity and cholesterol, premised on the use of locally-available evidence-based botanical and culinary medicines.
The overarching purpose of this book is to push the boundaries for the clinical applications of natural products, medicinal plants, herbal drugs, and functional foods to control diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.
The future will have no pity for medical practitioners and policy makers who, because they have been turned into prescription lobbyists for pharmaceutical drugs, are deliberately putting off the integration of herbal medicines into modern healthcare.
The author is a professor of molecular biology and drug discovery.

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