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African foods as medicine in print

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“Food is Medicine” is a term, which was originally coined by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine; it was his belief that eating wholesome food is the basis for good health. Hippocrates said almost 2500 years ago: “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.”

A new book titled “Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa” has captured African foods that could be used as medicine.The new book was printed and edited in 2016 by CRC Press of the Taylor & Francis Group Boca Raton with offices in London and New York .

The book by Prof. Maurice Iwu traces the shift in African diets from traditional to modern, which have led to changes in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases; explains the resurgence of interest in the composition and functionality of traditional diets; and includes a comprehensive table covering 300 plants with botanical family, botanical name, uses, identifying those that can be considered functional foods.

This comprehensive book with ten chapters and 384 pages documents African plants used for functional and medicinal foods. It contains more than 60 detailed monographs of African foods, describing foods with various characteristics such as prebiotic, probiotic, satiety, immune modulation, stress-reduction, sports performance, mental acuity, sleep-supporting, metabolic syndrome, antioxidant, and unsaturated fats. Plant description, botanical names and synonyms, plant part used, habitat and distribution, folk use, nutritional content, and chemistry are all fully detailed. The book highlights indigenous African food processing technologies up to the modern era.

The author, Prof. Maurice Iwu (M. Pharm., Ph.D. Bradford) was a professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a senior research associate at the Division of Experimental Therapeutics of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, D.C.

He is the founder and chairman of the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), the International Centre for Ethnomedicine and Drug Development (InterCEDD), and Intercedd Health Products. He is a member of the board of directors of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals (Formerly Pfizer Nigeria).

Iwu has been Visiting Scholar to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, University of Oxford (1980), Fulbright Senior Scholar Award (Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio and the Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York (1983); Senior Research Scholar Award, U.S. National Research Council, Washington D.C. (1993 – 1995) and the Richard Schultes International Prize for Ethnobiolog y (1999). He was awarded the Doctor of Letters (Honoraris Causa) of the Imo State University in 2009.

“Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa” is coming after “Second Edition of Handbook of African Medicinal Plants” a 476 pages book with six chapters. Until now, scientists have urged Nigerians to consume locally produced foods and fruits as they contain nutrients that can serve as medicine in the body. They warned against consumption of imported food products as many of them may have been contaminated in the process of shipping them into the country.

The researchers led by Iwu had validated local foods such as bitter kola, coconut oil, Zobo (from Hibiscus sabdarifa/Roselle), bitter leaf, Moringa oleifera, tomato, Sour sop, African bush’ mango (Ogbono), among others as medicines.

Iwu told journalists that his team has developed dietary supplements based on these local foods for managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, Human Immuno-deficiency VIrus (HIV)/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), among others. lwu said they have developed dietary supplements based on these local foods for managing chronic diseases.

According to him, “It is dangerous for you to eat any fruit not produced in Nigeria. There are no way fruits from Ghana or any other country imported into Nigeria will not be contaminated. Imported poultry are preserved with chemicals, some imported fruits when you look at their size you will know were not grown naturally and are not the best and that is why people are coming down with cancers.”

lwu who noted the need for Nigeria to tap into the many benefits of herbs disclosed that a United States statistics show that global market value for herbal medicine is about $200 billion annually.

lwu explained: “It is not a new thing, the father of modem medicine, Hippocrates, said, ‘let thy medicine be thy food and thy food thy medicine.’ So it is a concept we are trying to revive and are trying to make it that dietary supplement is not a fad but based on solid science. “The Foundation of Innovation Medicine (FIM) has now defined what we mean as food as medicine, that is food that can be used as medicine. The term is applied to products that range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and herbal products, specific diets and processed foods such as cereals, soups, and beverages.

“We call it in pharmacy, nutraceuticals, that is nutra for food and ceuticals that it treats diseases. Any substance that is considered a food or part of a food and provides medical and health benefits including the prevention and treatment of diseases, that will qualify as nutraceutical; that is a whole area we as a nation have advantage over other countries even African countries. The only countries that can compete with us are perhaps South Africa and Egypt. What it means is that we have the natural resources, we have the human resources, we have the intellectual capacity to build, we have the technological base to be able to convert these things into not only for our own help but for export and for very solid economy.”

lwu said: “The China project was the first to explain this. The China-Cornell- Oxford Project was a large observational study conducted throughout the 1980s in rural China, jointly funded by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the government of China led by the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. It was between 1983 and 1989. In 1983 I was in a laboratory at Oxford and that was when this project came on stream.

“The study examined the diets, life- style, and disease characteristics of Chinese, comparing the prevalence of ‘disease characteristics, excluding causes of death such as accidents.

“What they did essentially, because China is large, they studied 80 million that came from 63 counties. They found out that there is a clear correlation between what you eat and your health. They also found that certain diseases were peculiar to certain counties in China.

“But what was starling was the fact that they found that diseases also go along economic patterns. The wealthy people have their own disease and the poor people have their own disease. That was a major finding. They now have what they call diseases of affluence like the cancers, lung cancer, blood cancer, breast cancers leukaemia, diabetes, heart disease and so on. Then you have diseases of poverty that is diseases that are found predominantly among the poor like pneumonia and various infectious diseases, diseases of pregnancy rather than eclampsia and metabolic diseases and so on “But what is so bad for us as Africans and Nigerians is that the Western world afraid the China study became conscious of it, the rich in America and Europe now eat differently. They eat more natural food, more fibre and so on. But our own rich people believe that they have arrived and eat what the Whiteman no longer eats which is food of the poor. In Nigeria if you are rich you go to MacDonald’s, Mr. Biggs, Kentucky Fried Chicken and so on to: show affluence. But there the rich men in the Western world don’t do that any longer.

“They have also found that the smallest in-take of meat, no matter how’ small, are the thing that make people have cancers and so on based on animal diet. They also found that the cholesterol level and urea levels where increased even with smallest intake of animal products- meat, egg and mille They also found from that study that the more plant based food you eat, the healthier the person is. They also found that there is a direct correlation between degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, cardiac problems and so on with consumption of animal products. You will remember those of you who are not from too affluent homes that in normal African setting the meat are used as a garnish not as a main meal. You see a whole pot of rice and they just put two lonely pieces of meat. But now it is the opposite, you see somebody have a whole lump of meat and only small portion of rice. This study shows it is a wrong approach.”


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Maurice Iwu

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