HEALTH SECRETARY: FOOD & DRUGS ERRED IN CLASSIFYING 'AMPALAYA'

MANILA, September 5, 2003  (STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo  - Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit admitted yesterday that the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) erred in its previous classification of processed ampalaya which has been marketed as a treatment to diabetes.

"It was a mistake. At that time, I donít know how they came up with that list. I guess they have reviewed it," Dayrit said in a press briefing.

Last June 23, Dayrit issued Department of Health (DOH) Circular 96-A that reclassified ampalaya as "folklorically validated herbal medicinal plant."

The move came after some manufacturers of processed ampalaya have claimed the product to be therapeutic, instead of marketing it as a food supplement for diabetics.

Based on 1998 figures, there were then some 2.8 million Filipinos afflicted with diabetes.

The BFAD also received the findings of endocrinologists and diabetologists that the capability of 200 diabetics to control their blood sugar deteriorated after they shifted to ampalaya preparations from anti-diabetic drugs.

"There was no solid evidence that ampalaya is truly beneficial and can even be used as an adjunctive treatment to diabetes," the BFAD said in a statement.

According to Dayrit, the BFAD erred in classifying ampalaya as a "scientifically validated herbal medicinal plant" because no "rigorous" clinical studies were undertaken.

"When you say scientifically validated, a really rigorous clinical trial must be conducted. That means you have a group of people who were given ampalaya while another group was not given ampalaya... A food supplement does not require that kind of trial," he added.

Because of such misrepresentation, the BFAD has also reviewed the status of nine other herbs similarly classified as "scientifically validated" herbal medicinal plants.

These are lagundi, sambong, akapulko, yerba buena, tsaang gubat, ulasimang bato, bawang, bayagas and niyug-niyugan.

Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, Dayritís head executive assistant, said four of the nine plants have so far been found worthy of such a classification.

But while lagundi, sambong, akapulko and yerba buena can now be sold in the market as therapeutic, they will still be subjected to "marketing surveillance" by the BFAD.

"The other products are still undergoing trials. The BFAD is looking into their pharmacological components, among other things," she said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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