Ampalaya is now being revalidated back to its original category: a plant that is beneficial to diabetics.
The Department of Health (DOH) is now advocating the use of Ampalaya for type-2 diabetes. Just recently, the Bureau of Food and Drugs approved the first Ampalaya tea in the country, Charantia Ampalaya Tea, as ideal for diabetics’ special dietary needs. In light of the unabated spread of diabetes around the world, the recent positive developments on Ampalaya further set the plant on the path of becoming a globally accepted herb for diabetes. This can bring the Philippines one step closer to reaping the full health and economic fruits of Ampalaya.
Leading the promotion of Ampalaya, along with other herbal medicinal plants, is the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC), an inter-agency attached to the Department of Health. PITAHC was created after the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act was signed into law in 1997. Among others PITAHC is tasked to spearhead efforts to develop safe, effective and commercially viable herbal products.
Raising the standard
Ampalaya’s bright future illustrates how the government can take the lead to raise the standard of the local herbal industry. For starters, the PITAHC is promoting the “Sampung Halamang Gamot,” the DOH list of the ten herbal medicinal plants the health agency said to have enough scientific proof of their safety and efficacy for a particular disease.
Among the plants in the list, Ampalaya is the only medicinal plant approved for diabetes. It has the most number of scientific reports among plants for diabetes, one factor that convinced the DOH to recommend it. A review of these studies by Dr. William Torres (former Bureau of Food and Drugs Director) released last January 2004 concludes that “Ampalaya [Momordica charantia L.] fruits, leaves, seeds and other parts, when used as dry powders, extracts, decoctions, fresh or cooled, have clearly demonstrated hypoglycemic activity.” Researchers have identified the key compounds present in Ampalaya, notably polypeptide-P, a plant insulin found only in the Ampalaya. Similar to animal insulin, polypeptide-P lowers elevated blood sugar levels.
The Law That Breathes Life to PITAHC
TAMA was the brainchild of Sen. Juan Flavier, a known advocate of grassroots healthcare. The law aims to develop traditional and herbal medicinal practices in the country in the hope of giving Filipinos greater access to healthcare. While folkloric and herbal remedies have long been a staple in rural health care, its practice is largely unsupervised and seen as a ‘last resort’. But as more developed countries embrace herbal therapies, and amid the escalating cost of medicines, TAMA aims to upgrade the standards of this practice and integrate it into our health system for more affordable health care. Through PITAHC, the law is set in motion to develop the local herbal industry.
Chamber of Herbal Industry of the Philippines, Inc. (CHIPI) President, Lito Abelarde said that a robust herbal industry creates quality herbal products, and in turn, make health care more affordable. CHIPI is the organization of herbal companies in the country.
“Our herbal industry can rise from stupor to become competitive, and create health and economic opportunities for us,” Abelarde added. “Ampalaya is a good example of how we can achieve this vision.”
From being a traditional home remedy to a DOH-recommended herb for diabetes, Ampalaya has drawn interest from the private sector that transforms this plant into quality products for diabetics.
Ampalaya shows how the government, a strong national policy and ethical business practice of the private sector can help develop an indigenous plant into a true Filipino global product.
“We see Ampalaya as the medicinal herb that has a lot of promise here and abroad,” Abelarde said. “In fact, its probable success can prompt us to look into other herbs that our country can promote around the world.”
The local herbal industry is still an infant compared to those of other countries, Abelarde said; but with the full backing of the government, the industry can be a true global player as what Ampalaya is now proving.