21 January 2008

Herbal Cure for Dengue?

Atty. Alan F. Siu of Cebu had an interesting comment on my dengue post yesterday:
Doc, I'm glad you're blogging on dengue. One of our staff just lost a child to dengue last November. A lot of people here in Cebu are claiming that if the victim is given a drink from an herb called "mangagao" (I think it is "gatas-gatas" in Luzon) this would boost the immune system and fight off the virus. The child who died wasnt able to drink it. I suppose you might be aware of this, and I look forward to your comment. Thanks.

The herb being referred to is scientifically known as Euphorbia hirta. Locally, it is known by many names: gatas-gatas and mangagao, as Atty. Siu mentioned; it is also known as botobotonis, golandrina, saikan, bambanilag, pansi-pansi, patik-patik, and tawa-tawa. Internationally, it is known as the Australian asthma weed, snake weed, and cat's hair.

Claims of its curative effects against dengue include boosting the immune system, increasing platelet counts, and being able to stop hemorrhage and bleeding.

But that's just it. All of its supposed curative effects are purely anecdotal. There has been no serious scientific study locally that has tested its effectivity against the dengue virus. At this point, I can already guess why. No funds. And no one wants to even try and test if it really works. Of course, there are students who give it a try to meet their requirements in some high school or college science project, but the efforts still fall short. What we need is some credible institution to undertake the project, like a government agency or a university-hospital with proven and peer-reviewed clinical and laboratory studies done previously.

There's some irony in it, I tell you. Being one of the Asian countries with the highest dengue cases annually, you would assume that those concerned will be working overtime to find a cure to this disease, right? Well, sadly, that's not happening.

A quick research on peer-reviewed scientific journals about Euphorbia hirta shows the following fascinating results:
  1. It has weak larvicidal properties against Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus - yes, it can kill baby mosquitoes which might carry dengue later on. The Culex mosquito is a filariasis vector. [Parasitology Research, Dec 2007]


  2. It has anti-allergy effects - studies in mice have shown that when the ethanolic extract of Euphorbia hirta was given at an oral dose 100 to 1000 mg/kg, it was able to prevent and inhibit both systemic and cutaneous allergies. [Fitoterapia, July 2007]


  3. It can be a potential anxiolytic drug - studies in mice have shown that its hydroalcoholic extract had significantly reduced the anxiety levels of chronically-stressed mice. [Journal of Neural Transmission, Jan 2008]


  4. It has antibiotic properties - particularly effective against E.coli (enteropathogen), Proteus vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. [Fitoterapia, July 2006]


  5. It can decrease gastrointestinal motility - this means it can be a potential anti-diarrheal medication. [Fitoterapia, Jan 2006]


  6. It has anti-malarial properties - in malarial-infected mice, oral administration of E.hirta extracts were shown to supress the malaria parasite. [Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Dec 1999]


  7. It has diuretic effects - in rats, the water extract of E. hirta leaf had similar diuretic spectrum to that of acetazolamide. This simply means it can increase urine output. [Journal of Ethnopharmacology, April 1999]


In 2005, a SunStar Cebu editorial mentioned a UP Visayas Biology student having observed increased platelet counts in mice orally administered with Euphorbia hirta extracts but it was "not significantly different from the platelet count of control specimens that had no intake of the decoction."

With all the medicinal benefits I enumerated above, we can speculate that Euphorbia hirta may indeed be a potential useful medicine someday. I also learned that in Africa and some parts of Australia, Euphorbia hirta is considered to be an all-purpose herbal medicine. But take heed also that ALL of the studies mentioned above were done in rats or mice. Euphorbia hirta has NEVER been tested on humans.

Because of this, you probably know what my advice is regarding its use. Dengue is a viral illness. The reason why you can still get it after surviving an infection is because there are four (4) dengue viral strains. You might get immuned with one strain, but you're still susceptible to the other three. The dengue vaccine and drug are still under development. Until such time, we only have our own immune systems to defend us. In spite of its hype and anecdotal popularity, I still think drinking Euphorbia hirta extracts and concoctions is not safe.

24 reactions:

siu said...

Thanks a lot for this very informative response. :-) It is quite disheartening to know that no serious study has been initiated about this herb, considering its established potential medicinal benefits,and the absence (still) of a cure - while dengue continues to be such a deadly menace.

Also, not knowing exactly whether mangagao really has such curative effect would only add to the trauma of parents whose child died of dengue and getting blamed - for not giving the herb beverage to the child - by many who really believed it to be a cure.

Dr. Emer said...

I've always believed that if there's a will, there's a way! But indeed, those who really have power to make a difference will take action only (and only if) they're involved. Otherwise, wala talaga. I understand the mental and emotional trauma involved, too. In the end, with the lack of doctors and definitive cures, we can't really blame people from taking this herbal medicine. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say.

Jet said...

One of my many frustrations Doc. I really believe that the country is rich with possibilities for the development of herbal medicine. Needless to say, it is unfortunate that there is not enough interest and budget given to R&D.

If somebody actually gets interested to do research on this, would it be feasible for that person to apply for a grant or some kind of foreign funding to push through with it? Are such systems in place?

Dr. Emer said...

Maybe, there is or there are, Jet. But as far as E.hirta is concerned, I have not heard anything yet.

nikki said...

I think the potentially deadly outcome of Dengue infection is another reason why there are no studies for E. hirta and Dengue.

may said...

sad. i remember being swamped with dengue patients when i worked in peds back home. and you feel so helpless sometimes, especially when it's too late. i wish i had money to fund a study...that sounds promising to say the least.

Gerry said...

Thank you for this informative post. Can you also explain why the herb is not safe? Given that it has several proven benefits to the human body anyway and we do not know for sure how reliable the UP Visayas Biology finding was. Drinking it, whether you believe it'll cure you of dengue or not, should not be detrimental to your health, or would it?

Dr. Emer said...

GERRY - what may be beneficial to lab rats and lab mice may not be good for humans. That's the answer why we can't say with certainty that this herb is safe for human consumption. If you read the post carefully, you would note that the "several proven benefits" enumerated were observed from laboratory animals and NOT human test subjects. Taking this herb for dengue is a RISK. You may get well or you might not. Worse, it might cause more harm. It is still NOT known what it does to the human body. As I said, it might be a POTENTIAL cure, but since NO ONE is testing and studying it more intensively, we can not draw any conclusions as to its safety.

The UP Visayas study was also done on lab mice and the increased platelet counts observed were NOT SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT from control specimens. Need I say more?

al said...

I was researching the net and accidentally and fortunately, I found this blog. I am Al, graduating BS Biology of the Ateneo De Manila University, and I am doing a thesis paper on the efficacy of the E. hirta aqueous decoction on thrombocytes. I am already writing the paper and the data gathered isn't processed yet. We used mice as our specimen and unfortunately, UP visayas wasn't able to provide us a copy of their research. If you have any suggestions/information on the said subject pls contact me at mcwalter514@yahoo.com... I do believe in this plant and the lives it can save.. thanks alot..

Dr. Emer said...

Thank you for visiting, Al. I don't think I have any additional information on E.hirta. Everything you see on the post above is the most I can gather from my quick research. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you are essentially repeating the UP Visayas study, right? That's good. Please update me with your results. I'm sure you know by now that as publicized, the UP Visayas study showed there was NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between the platelet counts of both case and control subjects (still lab mice, btw).

kolge said...

dear mam/sir:

there are some cases here in our country that some people uses E.hirta as a herbal medicine use to cure dengue...and most of them says that this plant cure most of them...they use the root of this plant..boil it then drink it...along with water for 24 hours...i just want to ask what are the component of this plant that helps to cure dengue? i need an urgent reply plz...thx
Im kolge from Philippines

kolge said...

ei sir al from ateneo...right now were doing the same thesis like yours...but a little diff. aspect...but we are focusing on the increasing capability of the plant on the platelet count...Gudluck to us^_^

Anonymous said...

good day! we are students from ateneo as well and we are conducting the same research. we are just wondering what specific chemical components of the plant have effects on platelet count. thank you.

geicoquotes said...

hello.. i'm a 2nd yr med student in Cebu. I am contemplating on doing a study on the effect of E. hirta decoction on human platelet/thrombocyte counts, when i came across this thread. i am just wondering what your results are on the mice subjects (attn: Al, Kolge and anonymous)..

i just feel this is something really worth looking into seriously. and since as far as i've known, no one is brave or crazy enough to do it on humans,(no offense)hehe.. i would like to attempt to test it on my willing and loyal classmates.. :)

and knowing this would be quite an expensive study, if there's a generous benefactor out there who is willing to fund for a good cause, it is truly welcome. (platelet count is around Php 120 each)

hope to hear all your comments, suggestions and violent reactions preeetty sooon.. i need to do my study asap... thanks

admin said...

Hi Dr Emer

I'm glad I found your blog. My wife and I recently formed a non profit foundation called Global Dengue Foundation,Inc. The mission that we set out is to eradicate the Dengue virus. Quite an ambitious one, but with a lot of prayers, hard work and dedication and support from our volunteers,donors, friends and relatives, we hope to succeed someday. Our only daughter was a victim of the dengue virus and passed away on Nov 1,1990 in Quezon City,Philippines. This very sad chapter in our lives was the main reason why I have to move my family( 3 boys :7 mos, 2 years & 4 years old) to the US. My 4 year old son, luckily survived the virus. He was infected the same time as my daughter and they were together in the ICU. My daughter passed away holding my hand, and it was the most terrible thing that happened to me. From that moment on, I vowed that someday,I will do something to fight the dengue virus. Now that our 3 boys are grown up, we can dedicate more time and money in the fight against the dengue virus. We have allocated some of our personal savings to start up the Global Dengue Foundation. I am doing research on other organizations involved in the fight against dengue. I came across the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative of the International Vaccine Institute. This is one program that our foundation identified to help and support. I have also budgeted $1000 to donate to a Philippine agency that will conduct vector control in dengue high risk areas in Metro Manila. If you can point me to the right agency, please let me know. Thank you so much. Anthony de Guzman -Executive Director,Global Dengue Foundation,Inc. 3000 Hardwick Way Granite Bay CA USA 9169195721 admin@denguefoundation.com

Ivan Marl said...

My sister had DHF when she was 12 years old... we spent a huge amount of money for platelets/frozen plasma bought through the Red Cross but unfortunately, her platelets did not increase (she went down as 70, i believe). To worsen it, she acquired pneumonia and the doctors said that her liver is so inflamed that it weakened her more. Praise to God, my aunts informed my mom about stories about the tawa-tawa and the miracles it gave to other dengue cases they knew. The doctors and nurses in the hospital even shared some of their stories. Immediately, my aunt went home and boiled some herbs and brought gallons of the juice for my sister to drink. 2 days after, she went home strong and happy... She's in second year college now...

Ivan Marl said...

When I was assigned in Cebu, my colleague from Manila stayed in our company\'s staff house for a training. Week slater, he went ill and was diagnosed as having something that makes his platelets deteriorate fast. The hospital he was admitted would never declare it a dengue case because according to them, platelets should be at least below the 79 level before declared as dengue. I recommended for him to drink tawa-tawa, wherein in Cebu it is popularly called - MANGAGAW (scientific name Euphorbia Hirta). The day after, his platelets increased and he was sent home after 2 days...

Ivan Marl said...

In Cebu City, Philippines, pharmacies are already selling MANGAGAW PLUS (Tauataua Drink) that is manufactured by Cebu Piscean Mfg. Ind. Corp. The products BFAD LTO # is RDII-RVII-F-2041 and sold at Php 50 ($1) per 500ml bottles. The drinks are flavored and sweet unlike the homemade boiled drinks but this could only show how many people here in the Philippines believed on the effectiveness of such herbal plant that such are already being sold through pharmacies.

Dianne said...

I would be very surprised to see a serious study done on Euphorbia hirta with the goal of finding a cure. Pharmaceutical companies can't make money on herbs, unless they can turn it into a synthetic version that they can patent. The pharmaceutical industry actually undermines herbal healing because they can't profit from a plant that someone can grow in their yard.


If I or someone I knew had Dengue, I would absolute try this herb. What can you lose, since modern medicine really doesn't have a cure. I am going to be traveling from the USA to the South Pacific soon and I will be bringing some with me. I trust Euphorbia hirta more than I do modern medicine.


Herbs are rarely dangerous. They are food products that are created to heal. They are a gift to humankind. On the other hand, drugs from the pharmaceutical industry are the fourth leading cause of death in the USA.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks doc it really helped me a lot with my project, i didn't know what was mangagaw so i kinda got confused. But i understood more about it and as i read, i really said "Wow, why didn't i searched IN this blog" SO it's really nice to know more about it P:

yummy said...

doctors are doctors,they would tend to discredit or dedma lang about 'tawa-tawa' because they don't go to school just to study herbs. western medicine until now is not receptive to herbal/alternative medicine. and sadly, philippine medicine concurs,westernised ika nga. sana,mabigyan nang kaukolang pansin ang r & d.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. My sister is currently in the hospital with dengue. The doctor recommended us to try tawa-tawa which we did. After 1 glass, her platelet count increased by three. Prior to that it was rapidly decreasing (by more that 10) and was causing concern. I agree with what your article, clinical cases such as this should be recorded and a thorough study should be made.

Pop said...

Hello,

ang father ko ay isang doktor. sa mga dengue patients nya, inaadvice niyang gumamit ng Euphorbia hirta. it boosts the immune system sabi ng papa ko. a few days ago , bumalik ung patient na inadvice nyng mg prepare ng Euphorbia hirta. from 21 ang platelet countcount, naging 31. ngayon, 35 na. ung bata ay may rashes o ung parang bugbog na maliliit. cnabi ng paapa ko na ung batang iyon ay huili na nang na diagnose na dengue kaya naging ganun. ako naman na twice na ngkadengue, upinapainom niya ako ng Euphorbia hirta, concentrated form para tataas ang platelet count ng 10 per day bsta maayos ang pg prepare o concentrated. pinag-aralan na niya ito at ito ay may alkaloids na tumataas ng platelet count ngunit hindi umaatake sa virus. ibig-sabihin, ang trabaho ng Euphorbia hirta ay pampataas lamang at hindi pang patay sa virus. sapagkat ang virus ay unti-unting aalis pgkatapos niyang mamalagi. un ang dahilan na sinasabihan ng papa ko ang mga pasyente na huwag makompyansa kapag wla nang lagnat ang bata dahil iyon ang time na dapat mg ingat na sapagkat maaaring bababa ulit ung platelet count kapag ihihinto ung pag-inom. leaves, roots finely chopped, blendered and boiled = concentrated form w/c has saved me twice. i had a count of 60 before. but i still went to school drinking it and tumaas platelet count ko (fyi, ng take pa ako ng perio test). yehey! hmm. malabo pa ang studies sa plant na ito ngunit marami na rin ang na save sa aming community :)

-Pop-

Anonymous said...

Hey great post. Thought I'm not sure I agree with you 100%. Keep em coming. Are you interested in having anyone guest post opposing views?