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Local herbs boost blood count

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Fluted pumpkin

*Combination of cowhage, fluted pumpkin may decrease blood count
*But increases red cells, cures anaemic conditions when used separately
*Pumpkin performs better than cowhage in improving blood parameters

Until now, Nigeria and other developing countries struggle to make safe blood available because donations are low and equipment to test blood is scarce.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on the occasion of the World Blood Donor Day (WBDD), June 14, said adequate supply of safe blood, could only be assured through regular donations by voluntary unpaid blood donors.

But several studies have shown that local plants could boost human blood count and parameters such as: Red Blood Corpuscles (RBC), Packed Cell Volume (PCV), Haemoglobin (HB), Mean Corpuscular Haemoglobin Concentration (MCHC), Red cell Distribution Width (RDW), Mean Corpuscular Haemoglobin (MCH) and Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV).

MCV is the average volume of red cells. RDW test is a measurement of the range in the volume and size of your red blood cells (erythrocytes). MCH levels refer to the average amount of haemoglobin found in the red blood cells in the body. MCHC is the average concentration of haemoglobin in your red blood cells.

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Haemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.

So patients with low blood levels may no longer have need for blood transfusion and taking of blood capsules or tonics. Also, women that are looking for the fruit of the womb need not despair.

Why? Nigerian researchers have in clinical studies shown that extracts of fluted pumpkin, cowhage or velvet bean, fig and sorghum could be effectively used to improve blood count, as an alternative or complement to blood transfusion, boost fertility and heal anaemic conditions such as in sickle cell anaemia and malaria.

Commonly called fluted pumpkin, Telfairia occidentalis is called Ugu in Ibo and Aworoko, Eweroko in Yoruba, Ikong or Umee in Efik and Ibibio, and Umeke in Edo.

Commonly called cowhage, velvet bean (Agbala or Agbaloko in Ibo and Werepe in Yoruba), the leaves and seeds of Mucuna pruriens could be effectively used to boost blood levels and fertility in women.

Also, a polyherbal tonic tea composed of pulverized, dried leaves of Persea americana or avocado (Lauraeae), Morinda lucida (Rubiaceae), Magnifera indica or mango (Anacardiaceae), Carica papaya or pawpaw (Caricaceae), Vernonia amygdalina or bitter leaf (Compositae) and Cassia occidentalis or stinging weed/coffee weed (Caesalpiniaceae), all combined in equal weight ratio, has been successfully used for the treatment of pain, blood deficiencies, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, malaria, fever, inflammations, as immune booster and in the improvement of blood circulation.

The study, published in African Journal of Biomedical Research evaluated pharmacological effect of the polyherbal health tonic tea in rats.

Morinda lucida belongs to the plant family Rubiaceae. It is commonly called Brimstone tree. It is Oruwo or Erewo in Yoruba, Eze-ogwu or Njisi in Ibo.

Also, researchers have demonstrated the anti-anaemic potentials of aqueous extract of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) stem bark in rats.

Sorghum bicolor belongs to the plant family Poaceae. It makes a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage, kunu-zaki (in Hausa), and tasty pap, akamu (in Ibo), and thick porridge, tuwo dawa (in Hausa). It is fermented to make sorghum beer called burkutu or pito, or made into flour and mixed with bean flour then fried to make dawaki.

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Anaemia is a common childhood disease in third world countries. It is sometimes life threatening and may require urgent blood transfusion. However parents occasionally refuse blood transfusion because of religious or other reasons. Members of the Jehovah witness sect usually refuse blood transfusion for themselves and their wards because of some biblical injunction. The problems and costs attending blood transfusion in our poorly developed health services often tempt some parents to refuse the procedure. It is therefore imperative for physicians to be aware of all available alternatives to blood transfusion.

But a new study published in Journal of Science, Engineering and Technology and titled “Comparative effect of aqueous extract of Mucuna pruriens and Telfairia occidentalis on some red blood cell indices of Wister Albino rats” found that combined extract administration of cowhage and fluted pumpkin extract should be discouraged when treating mild to severe blood shortage because it caused reduction in red blood cell indices instead of increase.

Cowhage/velvet bean

The lead researcher, Akwari, Ada A., is of the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Cross River University of Technology, Calabar, said that of the two extracts T. occidentalis caused increase of the red blood cell indices and may be a better blood booster than M. pruriens.

The Comparative effect of aqueous extract of Mucuna pruriens and Telfairia occidentalis on some red blood cell indices was investigated in rats. A total of 20 Wister albino rat strains weighing 174g –290 grammes were grouped into four of five animals per cage. Group 1 served as the control and received only normal rat feed and water for 21 days, the remaining groups (2-4) served as the experimental group. Group 2- received same as group 1 plus aqueous extract Mucuna pruriens (25mg/kgbw once daily); Group 3 received same as group 1 plus aqueous extract T. occidentalis (25mg/kgbw once daily) and Group 4 received same as group 1 plus aqueous extract T. occidentalis and M. pruriens (50mg/kgbw once daily). At the end of the 21 days, the animals were sacrificed and their blood taken for various haematological analyses.

The result showed that aqueous extract of T. occidentalis caused significant increase in RBC, PCV, HB, MCHC and RDW while it caused a decrease in MCH and MCV.

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Also the aqueous extract of M. pruriens caused a decrease in RBC, PCV, HB, MCV and MCH when compared with their control and caused an increase in MCHC and RDW.

The researchers wrote: “The result also showed that a combined extract administration of T. occidentalis and M. pruriens resulted in significant decrease in all the red blood cell indices, increase in MCHC, MCV, MCH and a decrease in RDW. Of the two extracts T. occidentalis caused increase of the red blood cell indices and may be a better blood booster than M. pruriens. Also combined extract administration of the two extract should be discouraged when treating mild to severe blood shortage because it caused reduction in red blood cell indices instead of increase.”

Also, Nigerian researchers have shown the efficacy of fluted pumpkin vegetable extracts in the management of severe anaemia in children.

According to the study published in The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine and Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, case reports of two severely anaemic patients, whose parents refused blood transfusion and were subsequently managed with oral intakes of the fluted pumpkin vegetable extracts, with satisfactory rise in the haematocrit levels.

The results showed that the pre-pumpkin extracts administration pack cell volume of 15 per cent in both of them, rose to 20 per cent in one and 25 per cent in the other, 24 hours post administration of the extract.

The researchers concluded: “The fluted pumpkin vegetable extract was efficacious in the management of severe anemia in these two children and may be useful in pediatric patients with severe anemia whose parents refuse blood transfusion. The vegetable extract may have an even greater role in the prevention of anemia if intake is instituted early. Wider studies are needed to investigate these hypotheses.”

Fluted pumpkin was found useful in correcting anaemia in a study of some African pregnant women. In the study, thirty anaemic pregnant women with base line pack cell volumes of 20.8+/-2.0 per cent were given freshly prepared fluted pumpkin mixture, containing its fluid extract, raw eggs and evaporated unsweetened milk, orally three times daily for seven days. The mean pack cell volume was observed to have increased to 29.5+/-2.2 per cent, a day following the administration of the mixture.

There is no documentation of the use of fluted pumpkin in the management of anaemia in children. However, this study by researchers at the Department of Paediatrics, Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, Osun State, led by Dr. Olusola Adetunji Oyedeji, draws the attention of medical practitioners managing children to the possibility of fluted pumpkin acting as a surrogate to refused blood transfusion in anaemic children. It may also have a role in preventing anaemia.

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The researchers also acknowledged the contributions of Prof. G. A. Oyedeji of the department of Pediatrics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Osun State.

The researchers wrote: “Life threatening anaemia is a common emergency among Nigerian paediatric admissions. Malaria, sickle cell disease, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency and septicemia are common causes. The logical and most effective method of managing such cases to is by blood transfusion. However, as in these reports, parents occasionally refuse blood transfusion for their children because of religious, cultural, financial and other reasons.

“In our practice setting, the direct cost of screening and transfusion services to the patient for a pint of blood ranges between $10 and 20. This is often unaffordable to many parents. Thus in a study of patients discharged against medical advice, financial constraints was given as the reason for refusing blood transfusion by the parents of some severely anemic, because of their inability to procure the blood needed for transfusion. Cultural practices in many parts of Africa dictate that mothers should obtain permission from their husbands before submitting their children for medical care and procedures like blood transfusion. This may make a mother refuse transfusion when the family situation is not congenial. Sometimes such fathers are unavailable or inaccessible to give consent.

“Concerning complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), most physicians are poorly informed on, the use of herbs for medical conditions. Sometimes patients and their relations are better informed compared to the attending physician. This was the case in these two patients, in whom the fluted pumpkin was effective. Fluted pumpkin is an indigenous pumpkin to the eastern parts of Nigeria. Usually, it is administered either as an extract obtained from blending or manually squeezing the soaked vegetable leaves in tepid water in order to extract the fluid, or it can be eaten as a cooked vegetable. Its mechanism of action is not known. Extracts from fluted pumpkin are known to have reducing and free radical scavenging properties through its antioxidant phyto-constituents such as vitamin C and phenols. These anti-oxidants may reduce tissue and red cell destruction by free radicals. The fluted pumpkin is also rich in folic acid and iron, which may be more easily bio-available for erythropesis compared to nutrients from other sources. Due to the fact that there are no suitable alternative oxygen carrier substitutes for haemoglobin, erythropoesis remains the safest means of alleviating hypoxemia from very low haematocrit levels.

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“The two cases have also shown that fluted pumpkin acts very fast and its effects were evident within 24 hours. Other haematinics such as erythropoetin, iron, folic acid and vitamin B complex do not work as fast as fluted pumpkin. It takes a range of five days to three weeks after administration before their effects can be seen. The other advantages of fluted pumpkin over blood transfusions are avoidance of transmission of infections and blood transfusion reactions. In addition, the cost of administering fluted pumpkin is much less than giving a pint of blood, or erythropoeitin. Fluted pumpkin therapy reduces the number of days that the patient spends on admission, waiting for the improvement in pack cell volume when being managed with haematinics. All this not withstanding, blood transfusion acts faster than any other method by raising the pack cell volume immediately the blood is transfused.

“In order to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with anemia in children whose parents refuse blood transfusion for them, the etiology of the anemia should be investigated and treated promptly. Fluted pumpkin extracts should be administered. The vegetable can also be given as part of the diet to children predisposed to developing severe anemia, such as sicklers and G-6-PD deficient patients when they are being treated for malaria. Thus fluted pumpkin has both prophylactic and curative roles and it has the potentiality of reducing the frequency and problems of blood transfusion in paediatric practice. Detailed studies of its mechanism of action should however be undertaken prior to liberalizing its use. Cautionary measures may also need to be taken with respect to prolonged use, especially in sicklers, in order to prevent pathologic tissue deposits of iron. The use of alternative methods of treatment is rapidly increasing among patients and the physicians needs to be conversant with these therapies.”

Meanwhile, Temidayo Oladiji, T. O. Jacob and Musa Yakubu of the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, have demonstrated the anti-anaemic potentials of aqueous extract of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) stem bark in rats.

The study was published the study in Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

The researchers investigated the effects of oral administration of aqueous extract of Sorghum bicolor stem bark at the doses of 200, 400 and 800 mg/kg body weight on iron sufficient and iron deficient weaning rats. Weaning rats of 21 days old were maintained on iron sufficient and iron deficient diets for six weeks before the administration of the aqueous extract of Sorghum bicolor stem bark at various doses for seven days. Proximate analysis of the iron sufficient and iron deficient diets showed that they were similar except in the amount of iron.

Phytochemical screening of the extract revealed the presence of alkaloids and saponins. Extract administration produced significant increase in haemoglobin, packed cell volume and red blood cells in iron sufficient and iron deficient groups. There was also significant increase in the catalase activity of the rat liver and kidney without any significant change in the serum catalase activity.

The results revealed that extract administration has restored the anaemic condition in the iron deficient group and thus lend credence to its use in folklore medicine in the management of anaemia.

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