Gambling on ‘no approved therapeutic claim’

By Herbert Vego

MY late friend Willie Mañabo spent his entire working life as salesman for various manufacturers and distributors of food supplements with the caveat “no approved therapeutic claim”. To this day, thousands of networkers like him still thrive by selling similar products, as well as by recruiting “downlines” for even bigger commissions.

If they have no medicinal value, why do people patronize them as alternative medicine? Since I can vouch for their efficacy based on personal experience, others must have also disproved the “no approved therapeutic” label stamped on products okayed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as nothing more than food supplements.

We have heard victims of dengue swear to have recovered after drinking boiled tawatawa leaves.

“I cannot recommend that,” a local doctor once said on cable TV. “No study proving its capacity to replenish blood platelets in dengue patients has been done.”

If so, then why has the FDA not initiated a study?

It must be because no pharmaceutical manufacturer has applied for tawatawa’s approval. Let us bear in mind that had a local company, Pascual Laboratory, not submitted lagundi for DFA study and approval as cough medicine, it might have remained just a “food supplement”.

The vitamin-rich malunggay in capsule form has remained just a “food supplement” because it has not passed through FDA’s “due process”.

There was a time when I asked a distributor of an “immune system booster” (a bottled juice concoction) why his product was still labeled “no approved therapeutic claim.” Had they not sought FDA approval?

“Our company tried,” he lamented, “but we would have to shoulder the high cost of expensive and extensive laboratory tests and experiments to prove its medicinal value. We can’t afford that.”

In other words, only big multinational medicine producers can afford that. But as to whether an approved medicine can fulfill its “mission,” that always remains to be seen on case-to-case basis.  Once, a cardiologist prescribed to me an expensive FDA-approved anti-cholesterol “statin” tablet. Within a few days of taking the drug, however, I could hardly flex my arms due to excruciating muscle pains. I stopped taking it.

There are doctors though who recommend raw herbal products – such as garlic, akapulko, ampalaya, guava and lagundi – that have already been pronounced “medicinal” by the Department of Health (DOH). One of them, Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, used to be the Secretary of said department. In his lectures, Dr. Galvez Tan often quoted the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates (460-357 BC): “Let your food be your medicine.”

Hippocrates as a physician prescribed natural remedies to prevent and treat diseases. He might have heard about herbal practitioners who had preceded him. Despite the primitive means of transportation and communications during his time, herbal medicine as practiced in China for centuries had already gained global patronage. Today, such originally doubtful practices as acupuncture and reflexology remain part and parcel of modern Chinese medicine.

Today, at 73, I rely on vegetables and fruits to strengthen my immune system, believing in their capacity to fight disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

No doubt, if a law could be passed requiring the FDA to exempt formulators of time-tested herbal medicines from spending too much for their approval, the immunity-boosting malunggay capsule would lose nothing but the label “no approved therapeutic claim.”