HOPE Cape Town is not only working on grass root level but also involved in academic research; a holistic view of HIV and AIDS has been at the core of the work of HOPE Cape Town since the beginning. With the permission of the author we publish this article explaining an exciting research on muti – the medicine of sangomas in South Africa through the PhD student Pius Fasinu:
When wild garlic makes you pregnant
People who use traditional remedies together with conventional medicines may want to rethink their strategy, because the combination of these substances might be doing them more harm than good.
Researchers have found that certain African medicinal herbs, including wild garlic and the African potato, could interfere with how conventional drugs work in the body. The herbs included in the study are traditionally used to treat diseases such as fever, pain, diarrhea, asthma, cold, cough, infections, hypertension, depression and ailments related to HIV and Aids.
Preliminary results of the study being conducted by the Division of Pharmacology at Stellenbosch University (SU) have shown that the herbs can quicken or delay the elimination of conventional drugs from the body. “This adds to the risk of treatment failure or toxicity,” says Pius Fasinu, a doctoral student in pharmacology.
“Patients should tell their doctors if they are taking any herbal medicine, or at best avoid taking the herbs and conventional medicines together,” is Fasinu’s advice based on the findings.
Traditional medicine and especially the use of medicinal herbs are popular in South Africa. “While the use of medicinal herbs predates the emergence of HIV and Aids, a number of indigenous herbs are widely consumed as immune boosters and to manage the symptoms of this disease,” explains Fasinu, who is completing his research under supervision of Prof. Bernd Rosenkranz and Prof. Patrick Bouic of the SU Division of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The high disease burden and the strong attachment of traditional medical practices to culture and tradition have prompted various African governments to start integrating traditional medicine into the mainstream healthcare.
”Nearly two in every three people who live with HIV and Aids combine their antiretroviral drugs with medicinal herbal products,” adds the doctoral student who is doing an in vitro assessment of selected traditional medications used in South Africa and their pharmacokinetic drug interaction potential.
For purposes of his study, Fasinu consulted traditional healers and used available literature to identify and source the most popular herbal remedies used by people who also rely on conventional healthcare.
African potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea), fat hen (Chenopodium album), devil’s thorn (Emex australis), cancer bush (Sutherlandia frutescens), sweet thorn (Acacia karroo) and wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) were included in the study, and were shown to interfere with the functioning of conventional drugs in the body.
The herbs were not tested for their therapeutic benefit or for their potential toxicity when they are taken on their own. Rather, herb extracts were tested to see what their effect was on the enzymes in the body that are responsible for metabolising and eliminating conventional drugs.
Fasinu’s tests showed that the herbal extracts inhibited the majority of these enzymes. “This suggests that conventional drugs taken with some traditional herbs may accumulate in the body because of the enzyme inhibition,” Fasinu believes. “This leads to toxicity.”
In some cases, herbal derivatives also had the opposite effect, in that it induced the production of more enzymes and therefore sped up the metabolism of the drugs. This could lead to the failure of conventional drug treatment because it is cleared from the body far too quickly to be beneficial. Samples from human livers that contain the active enzymes were used to assess the impact of herbal extracts on drug clearance. It provided the closest scenario to herb-drug combination in humans.
“Hypertension may persist if herbs are taken together with anti-hypertensive drugs, and pregnancy may occur when they are taken with contraceptive pills,” he cites some of the inadvertent consequences of using traditional and conventional treatments together.
“Despite the popularity among South Africans to use herbs and conventional medicine side by side, there is little information available on how safe this practice is,” a concerned Fasinu says. “Considering the potential consequences, it is best to exercise caution.”
“Pius Fasinu, with the support of HOPE Cape Town”, email@example.com