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Efficacy of most herbal drugs need to be doubted as several raw drugs not available in market

Peethaambaran Kunnathoor, Chennai
Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The claims about the quality of most of the herbal drugs available today, especially in Ayurveda and Siddha, are questionable because of non-availability of certain key raw drugs and other malpractices impacting the quality of these ingredients, according to a study conducted by a member of the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM).

Adulteration and substitution of raw materials are the two major factors that lead to the poor quality of conventional ayurvedic and Siddha medicines, said Dr K G Viswanathan, the CCIM member and the principal of Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda College in Thrissur in Kerala.

According to him some of the major manufacturing companies have stopped the production of certain key ayurvedic drugs because of shortage of raw drugs. He said the conventional Ayurveda medicine for fever “Draakshaadi Kashaayam” is not available today because the main ingredient of its production, the roots of “Kumizhu” (Gmelina arborea), is not available.

“If the medicine is available anywhere, its quality has to be tested as there is no substitution for its ingredients, especially for “Kumizhu”. The tree itself is not seen anywhere. So we are suspicious of the quality of 'Draakshaadi Kashaayam' if it is available in any shop. The production of the Kashaayam was stopped years ago,” he told Pharmabiz in a telephonic conversation.

There are Draakshaadi tablets and Arishtams coming to Kerala from other states claiming as drugs made from the roots of ‘Kumizhu’, but the veracity of those claims is also questionable, he said.

There are more than 60 species of medicinal plants in the list of endangered species and government has banned their collection for commercial production of medicines. Even for samples for the purpose of study, special permission is required from the forest department. Collection of the plants ‘Kottam’ (Saussurea lappa), used for the manufacture of the popular ‘Kottamchukkaathi Thailam”, ‘Rakthachandanam’ (Red sandalwood) used for “shaarivadyaasavam” and the bark of Ashoka tree (Sarca indica) used for ‘Ashokaarishtam’ is restrained by laws. “In such a situation, the manufacturing companies are forced to stop production of these drugs or use substitutions which will impact the quality of the drugs”, Dr Viswanathan said.  He added that several conventional ‘Kashaayams’ are not available now in the market due to the non-availability of raw materials.

The bark of Ashoka tree is very much beneficial for women who suffer from  irregular or painful menstruation. It is also useful in internal bleeding haemorrhoids and haemorrhagic dysentery, the doctor said.

For industry purpose, sufficient quantity of these raw drugs cannot be assured. In his study report, Dr Viswanathan says that almost all the raw drugs available today seem to be suspicious of their quality. The manufacturers claim that they bring these rare species of plants from north India, but the quality of the products has to be questioned as in the local herbal markets in north India more adulteration and substitutions  take place. These malpractices may be deliberate or sometimes unintentional, but it affects the efficiency of the drugs.  In place of genuine drugs, substitutions are taking place where the raw drugs have similar appearance to that of genuine drugs and are deliberately sold in some herbal markets, the CCIM member alleged.

Further, the study shows that, the recent habitat destruction being occurred due to infrastructure development for urbanization and over exploitation by the increasing number of manufacturers, many of the ‘annual herbs’ and bio diversity spots are permanently getting depleted and destroyed at an alarming rate. The road sides and village court yards in Kerala, once up on a time, were rife with medicinal plants, shrubs and annual herbs like “Kurunthotti” (Sida rhombi folia), Chittamruth (Tinospora cordifolia), Vayalchulli (Hygrophila Auriculata), Keezharnelli (Phyllanthus amarus) etc. are now permanently getting lost.

The doctor said increase in the use of drugs also cause for shortage of raw drugs. In the year 1990, Kerala had only 200 manufacturing units, the number has increased to 700 in 2012. Apart from production of number of medicines, the quantity also has increased. Considering such fast rate of growth of this segment, measures have to be taken for development of medicinal plants.

The study recommends for cultivation of medicinal plants by hi-tech methods with the help of agricultural universities. Besides community herbal garden, kitchen garden, medicinal plant board projects etc. should be encouraged. Coordinated efforts of the departments of Forest, Agriculture and Health must be initiated and opportunities for researches in the field should also be given.

Dr Viswanathan said that he would submit his report to the government of Kerala for Vision 2030 and also to the Central Medicinal Plant Board.


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