Herbal medicines have been used to cure ailments from the beginning of human civilisation. Man has used a large number of higher plants as drugs for thousands of years. It is estimated that 35,000 to 70,000 plant species have, at one time or another, been used in different cultures for medicinal purposes. In China alone, 5,000 of 35,000 indigenous species are used as traditional herbal remedies/medicines.
According to the report published by Business Fortune Insight in February 2022, the global herbal medicine market size was $185.86 billion in 2020 and it is projected to grow from $230.03 billion in 2021 to $430.05 billion in 2028 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.32 per cent during the period. Likewise, a comprehensive research report by Market Research Future (MRFR), tagged “Herbal Medicine Market Information by Distribution Channel, Category, Source, Form, Type of Medicinal Plants and Region – Forecast till 2030″, the market size was valued at USD145 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $356 billion by 2030. Likewise, the WHO has indicated that global trade in herbal medicine will reach $5 trillion by 2050.
Speaking recently with journalists, WHO national consultant, public health and environment, Dr. Edwin-Isotu Edeh posited that the increase in the number of cases of harmful side effects of synthetic drugs has created a radical change in the perception and interest of people resulting in the tilt towards increased intake of herbal medicine.
According to the WHO records, he said, about 80 per cent of the world population relies on traditional medicines, largely plant-based, for their primary health care needs. The upward trend in herbal medicine intake is also predicated on population explosion and an upswing in the increasing demand for nature-based, environmental-friendly products. The increasing trend towards self-medication, reduction in costs of subsidised healthcare, EEC legislation improving the status of the herbal medicine industry, renewed interest of companies in isolating useful compounds from plants and marketing strategies employed by the companies dealing in herbal medicine.
Given the increasing trend in the intake of herbal medicine, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has evolved guidelines to support the member states in their efforts to formulate national policies on traditional medicine and to study their potential usefulness including evaluation, safety and efficacy. WHO has set specific guidelines for the assessment of the safety, efficacy and quality of herbal medicines as a prerequisite for global harmonisation.
“It has been estimated that a quarter of all prescriptions dispensed in the USA are likely to contain one or more constituents derived from higher plants and about 95 plant species have been listed as sources of 121 clinically useful prescription drugs derived from higher plants. In general, the main components of any herbal formula are active constituents and excipients. The active constituents are responsible for therapeutic actions to alleviate symptoms and treat/manage disease conditions. The formulations of herbal medicines are designed to support and strengthen the body in an ongoing capacity and due to their high efficacy and less dependency little or complications have been recorded compared to synthetic medicines. Research and development have shown that herbal products are efficient in causing the balance of biochemicals such as Serotonin, GABA, 5HT etc. in the body. As a result, many herbs are being processed into various products such as capsules, syrups, powders, ointments, creams and soap.
“The increasing global dependency on herbal medicine was further demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic era when there was a global surge in the production and use of herbal formulations across the globe. Various countries developed traditional herbal medications against COVID-19,” he said.
Speaking on the intervention of the RMRDC in the herbal medicine sector, the council’s director-general, Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim said the council has been collaborating with the relevant research institutes and some private sector operatives to develop several herbal products locally to promote improved healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
Among the products already developed, according to him, is ‘Gasca D’; a herbal composition for managing diabetes. This is important as, despite many decades of research in diabetes mellitus curative medicines, the disease remains a serious cause of morbidity and mortality, causing devastating personal suffering and huge economic cost. It affects more than 425 million people worldwide. Research in the treatment of diabetes has centred on attempts to normalise fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels by aggressively controlling hyperglycemia through insulin sensitisation, secretion or overcoming resistance and decrease in endogenous glucose production. Attaining near-normal blood glucose levels is a major aim in the treatment of diabetes. A greater understanding of the complexity and multi-factorial nature of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) has informed the development of several new classes of glucose-lowering therapies, but several of these drugs fail to significantly alter the course of diabetic complications and have limited use because of undesirable side effects.
“’Gasca D’ is developed by GreenLeaf Herbal Product in collaboration with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) from natural plants to treat patients with diabetes mellitus. The invention helps to control the blood sugar level, provides herbal health protection and serves as a supplement to manage the general health of people living with diabetes. NAFDAC has registered the product with the number ‘A7-2639L’ and the invention has been patented,” he said.
The RMRDC boss further said the council, in collaboration with Greenleaf Herbal Product, has developed ‘Gasca N’, a herbal composition for stress and blood pressure control. The herbal composition is developed from the fruit pulp of hyphaenae thebaica (duom palm) and powdered gum acacia. The formulation has been registered by NAFDAC as ‘A7-2638L’ after necessary tests and the invention has been patented.
Ibrahim said extensive research and development has also led to the development of Phytoherb 5-VIT, a medicinal herbal composition for boosting immunity. Phytoherb 5-VIT is developed from tamarindus indica, balanites aegyptiaca, adansonia digitata, ziziphus jujube, hyphaenae thebaica extracts. The formulations are non-toxic and easy to digest. It has health-protecting and immune-boosting potential. After necessary tests and procedures, NAFDAC registered the product as ‘A7-100003’. Also, the invention has been patented.
Ibrahim further disclosed that in addition to the above is the development of the phyto-herb and phyto-biotic compositions for treating bacterial infections – and other conditions requiring therapeutic intervention – developed by Greenleaf Herbal Product in collaboration with the RMRDC.
The DG elucidated that its composition comprises azadiracta indica, guiera senegalensis, parkia biglobosa and vernonia amygdalina extracts in combination with gum acacia. The formulation is non-toxic, easy to digest and has anti-microbial potential. Animal and human trials have been concluded and NAFDAC has registered the product as ‘A7-100004’. The invention has also been patented.
“The council is maintaining and sustaining a virile relationship with medical research outfits in the academia and the public to extract active ingredients from more than 150 medicinal plants growing in Nigeria, to promote health care delivery in the country. A full list of the nation’s medicinal plants is being compiled in collaboration with mandated research institutes and private sector operatives.
“This is expected to serve three purposes: development of formulations for different ailments; promotion of conservation of the plants as some of them which may be endemic are already over-exploited and income generation.
“The council is collaborating with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and is coordinating the activities of the established sector skill council for herbal medicine under the Nigerian Skills Qualification Framework (NSCQF) and other relevant stakeholders. It is interesting to note that the NBTE will soon launch a New National Occupational Standard (NOC) document. It is expected that, in no distant future, Nigeria will join the league of herbal medicines producers and exporters across the globe, thereby creating avenues for foreign exchange earnings, job creation and poverty alleviation,” he added.