[PHOTO AT LEFT - Pascuallab president and CEO Manolo Escueta with Mia Pascual-Cenzon: “We develop products and brands that offer the consumer better value and more choices in generics, herbal/natural, and chemical remedies.”]

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009 (STAR) CONSUMERLINE By Ching M. Alano - Who hasn’t heard of herbal medicine? It’s been around since before Christ. Fact is, herbs (plants or parts of plants) are forerunners to many of today’s medicinal drugs. Some of the medications on the market today are extracts of some of these traditional herbs that have been used over the ages. Today, even some doctors (who swear by the health benefits of echinacea, feverfew, ginkgo, flaxseed, ginseng, and even garlic for cancer prevention, etc.) use herbs to offset the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.

Well, herb you heard the latest? We did, over a hearty lunch at Fely J’s. in Greenbelt 5, Makati, where we met the new president and CEO of Pascual Laboratories (Pascuallab) Manolo Escueta up-close and somewhat personal. “We carve our own niches in the off-patent medicines and supplements category. Then we develop products and brands that offer the consumer better value and more choices in generics, herbal/natural, and chemical remedies,” says Escueta, who brings tons of experience and passion to the 63-year-old company. “It’s like finding the perfect fit for jeans. Pascuallab products are developed based on research to determine the Filipino’s needs and preferences. We then ensure that our brands are competitively priced and have something unique to offer.”

If the name sounds familiar, it is because Pascuallab dates back to 1946, when the husband-and-wife team of Isosceles and Leonora Pascual, both chemists, put up the Pascual Laboratories in a one-room facility in their home in Balut, Tondo. The couple developed products for the treatment of tuberculosis and vitamin deficiency.

Today, Pascuallab is one of the country’s progressive (and aggressive) pharma companies. It’s arguably a leader in the OTC (over-the-counter) wound remedy segment, in the locally produced herbal medicine segment, in generics as well as in anti-infective, anti-tuberculosis, and vitamin segments.

Under the dynamic leadership of its chairman Dr. Abraham Pascual, the company’s manufacturing plant became ISO 9000-2001 certified, equipped with production facilities, which are technologically advanced and at par with international pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, and quality assurance capabilities that comply with current good manufacturing practices.

More, the company has its own humongous, state-of-the-art certified organic farm in Nueva Ecija, where it plants, harvests, and processes herbal medicines.

“In the past, herbal medicine always got a bad rap because it was associated with a time long gone, with the arbularyo,” relates Mia Pascual-Cenzon, director, Design Services & Corporate Communications, Pascual Laboratories, Inc. “But now, we’ve modernized herbals by putting them in formats acceptable to consumers. Even the US has gone on this great herbal natural trend. We try to bring this info and make people see the benefits of living a more natural life, reducing the chemicals they take in. And the nice thing about it is they’re Philippine herbs grown locally.”

“Iba talaga ang Pascuallab,” Escueta gushes. “But what really makes it unique and special is the family. Mabait sila and they really care for the employees. They’re sensitive, passionate, considerate.”

At Pascuallab, passion is the operative word. “My dad is a very passionate person,” says Mia. “I think it’s trickled down from my grandparents to my dad who’s been a big driver and such a source of inspiration for all of our employees.”

This passion has trickled all the way down to the workaholic Mia who swears, “There’s passion in the way we approach our work, the way we choose our products, the way we research what is good for Filipinos or hiyang to them. It’s really three words: passion, health, life. Health is the business we’re involved in. Passion is the way we go about this work. And we’re hoping that because we’re passionate about it, the lives of our employees and of Filipinos will improve because we really take this job very seriously.”

Did we hear somebody cough in the room? (Actually, it was me! I was nursing a sore throat that rainy Thursday.) ’Tis the season for cough and colds. And Pascuallab has just the herbal remedy for that nasty cough or cold that’s really nothing to sneeze at. “We have Ascof Lagundi that’s half the price of the leading branded cough remedy,” says Mia. “The price is low and it’s got no chemicals. Technically, we can say it’s the No. 1 cough remedy that’s natural. Based on clinical studies done on children, we can say it’s safe for children, too.”

Escueta asks us, “Did you know that lagundi has 12,000 chemicals? All these chemicals can be transformed into natural remedies and that’s what our R & D people are working on.”

Does Pascuallab have something for flu, too?

“What we have is more of preventive and to strengthen the immune system so you don’t catch flu,” Mia asserts. “And for that we have Poten-Cee Forte.”

Is there an herbal medicine that could lower blood pressure and is good for the heart?

Comes Mia’s hearty reply: “From what I know, garlic and avocado are often used as supplements to help lower blood pressure. It’s funny but I’ve also heard that the leaves and seeds of the cacao plant, when boiled, can help lower blood pressure and reduce risks of a heart attack (according to Medicinal Fruits & Vegetables, Jaime Galvez Tan and Ma. Rebecca Marana-Galvez Tan). The book says, ‘Cacao causes arterial vasodilation, incre-ased endothelial production of nitric oxide and decreased platelet aggregation, thus it can lower high blood pressure and reduce the risks of a heart attack,’ But it is always best to consult your physician about this, and to complement with a good diet and a change in lifestyle habits.”

What about the much-talked-about ampalaya which has reaped sweet success here and abroad? Mia notes, “Ampalaya (Momordica charantia L.) is a traditionally used anti-diabetic herb. It is recommended as effective by the DOH and considered as one of the best herbal medicines. Clinical trials reveal that ampalaya is effective in managing diabetes:

• It reduces serum glucose levels by 86 percent in non-insulin dependent diabetic subjects (Ahmad N. et al. Effects of M. charantia extracts on fasting and postprandial serum glucose levels in NIDDM patients, Bangladesh Medical Research Council Bulletin, 1999 Apr. 25).

Says Mia, “Pascuallab’s ampalaya brand, Amargozin, is the only clinically proven herbal medicine for type 2 diabetes. Our ampalaya vines are cultivated and nurtured in organic and environment-friendly farms, and are processed into capsules at BFAD-registered and CGMP-compliant production facilities. Furthermore, our Amargozin capsules contain only the Makiling variety of leaves which have been studied by the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants and validated for its blood sugar-lowering effect comparable to Glibenclamide, an oral hypoglycemic drug used for regulating blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.”

She’s quick to add, “This is very important to note because we are the only product on the market making use of this variety of leaves. Others use the pulp, the fruit, the seeds, or other parts of the ampalaya.”

A lot of us pop a multivitamin supplement every day. Is there an herbal multivitamin that Mia can recommend?

She shares, “As of now, an herbal multivitamin has not been discovered, but I think that malunggay comes close to fitting this description. Malunggay contains high levels of beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, and E, calcium and niaziminin. These are potent antioxidants that help prevent damage to cells by free radicals. Malunggay is also rich in calcium, iron, and phosphorous and is a good source of potassium and proteins. One of malunggay’s other well-publicized benefits is that it helps in breastmilk production.”

And now, this somewhat weighty question: Does Pascuallab have something for weight loss?

Mia, who keeps herself in tip-top shape at the top of the corporate ladder, happily replies, “One of the herbals that we market for weight management is banaba. Our brand is called Diaban, available in capsule form. Banaba contains the elements colosolic acid and maslinic acid which have remarkable blood sugar-lowering characteristics by way of glucose transport activation (this means the sugars are being utilized in the body cells). It increases glucose uptake, thereby lowering blood glucose levels (hypoglycemic effect), and decreases blood glucose levels to prevent excess glucose from being converted into fats. An interesting side effect of tighter control of blood sugar and insulin levels is a tendency to promote weight loss. In the US, banaba has also been accepted as a safe and natural component for reducing weight (however, weight loss is very moderate).”

But before you make a mad dash for the nearest drug store, take this friendly word of advice from Mia, “Taking banaba every day as a supplement helps to manage weight. However, it is best supplemented with a proper diet and exercise regimen. May I also recommend C-Lium Fibre as an alternative to weight management? It promotes a healthy digestive system, helps to manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and helps the body to get rid of excess fats. I take this myself and it has worked wonders for me.”

Now you know why a lot of people these days are green-minded.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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