Hyderabad: The global herbal market has witnessed phenomenal growth in recent times, according to Dr Mohammed R Khan, principal, Synergex Consulting, Canada. From a 1994 market estimate of $655 million, it has now grown to around $100 billion per year and based on a WHO projection, the global herbal market is expected to reach the $5 trillion mark by 2050, he said.
Addressing a conference on traditional and alternative medicine, which started here on Monday, Indian-origin Dr Khan said the reasons for surge in the use of herbal medicine is the belief that conventional medicines are ‘unnatural’ substances and that ‘natural’ substances help the body build on its own resistance.
Another probable factor involves the influence of the expanding cultural diversity within the North American population, with different cultural groups practicing customs involving traditional remedies, he said, adding, according to JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), one in five individuals taking prescription medications also takes herbal remedies or supplements.
Speaking further he said history supports that herbals are effective and added the examples of how Egyptian Medicine survived from 2900-1550 BC; Traditional Chinese Medicine 2900 BC to date; Ayurvedic Medicine, 800 BC to date; Greek Medicine 500 BC: Unani (Arabic for Greek) in South Asia to date and Ancient Mesopotamia, from 300 BC, they have all been working, he said.
Speaking about the efficacy of herbal medicines he said 25 per cent of modern medicines made from plants were first used traditionally (WHO Fact sheet No 134, May 2003). He also offered some examples such as Willow bark (aspirin), foxglove (digitalis), angel’s trumpets (scopolamine), deadly nightshade (belladonna), cinchona (quinine), moldy clover (dicoumarol, coumarin), and the list goes on and on, he said.
Adding further on the efficacy of herbal medicines he said one of herbals’ major contributions is towards the evolution of surgical anaesthesia — poppy (opiates) for pain management and curare for muscle relaxation. Based on the IMS Health Top-line Industry Data, Narcotic analgesics (opiates) ranked amongst the Top 15 Global Therapeutic Classes, with 2010 sales of over $12 billion, he informed. The discovery of a species of Trillium (the Mexican yam), as the cheap and abundant source of steroids’ synthesis, created the hormonal contraception revolution, he added.
Paclitaxel, a drug derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree, was approved in 1994 as a treatment for breast cancer, two years after its approval for ovarian cancer. The drug inhibits tumour growth, and is now widely used for a variety of cancers, he stated. Malaria has developed resistance to many malarial drugs. The new anti-malarial drug developed from the discovery and isolation of artemisinin from Artemisia annua, a plant used in China, has existed for almost 2000 years, he stated. This is miracle, he observed.
A review on national pharmacopoeias from several countries revealed at least 120 distinct chemical substances from different plants that have utility as lifesaving drugs, he informed.
Speaking about the safety of herbal products quoting, HerbalGram, journal of the American Botanical Council, he said, “It is not possible to establish absolute safety for medicinal plant preparations based solely on epidemiological studies for a variety of reasons.” The WHO therefore published its ‘Research Guidelines for Evaluating the Safety and Efficacy of Herbal Medicines’ in 1993, he informed. And added the WHO made it clear that “The historical use of a herbal substance is valid proof of its safety unless there is scientific evidence of danger.” He informed that the WHO further said, “A guiding principle should be that if the product has been traditionally used without demonstrated harm, no specific regulatory action should be undertaken unless new evidence demands a revised risk-benefit assessment.”
Yet, some of the safety issues do need to be addressed. And those are — possibility of herb-drug interaction, effects on clinical laboratory tests, and adulteration and contamination, he said.
Dr Anil K Mandal, a nephrologist from Mandal Diabetes Research Foundation, US while addressing the conference said diabetes care is in disarray mainly due to the use of undefined classification of Type 2 diabetes. In adult population diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes based on fasting blood glucose (FBG) level above 126mg/dL of glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) above 6.5 per cent is misleading, he said. Worse than that is the immediate prescription of oral anti-diabetic agents such as metformin, glyburide, sitagliptin or a combination of these as well as an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blocker drug. The results are exhaustion of bet cells of the pancreas and depletion of insulin reserve with development of over diabetes and superimposed rental failure leading to prescription of dialysis therapy. All these complications can be averted if a 2 hour-oral glucose tolerance test or 2-h postprandial glucose (2hPPG) is obtained, he said.
The conference is being organised by OMICS Group International, which publishes over 400 open access scientific journals for free access to assist scientific community. Nearly 200 delegates from 12 countries are participating in the event, according to a statement by OMICS.
Among other issues to be discussed at the event include challenges, opportunities in herbal medicines, trends, inventions, research and development in traditional medicine. There will also be a panel discussion on ‘Are alternative medicines overly regulated?’ The meet will conclude on Wednesday.