Business Day, 22 November 2002, Much to be said for natural medicine

THERE are some very interesting initiatives being taken by some dedicated people to use natural medicine in the treatment of serious diseases such as TB, cancer, AIDS and other immune deficient diseases.

There is a vast body of nonwestern medical knowledge that has for thousands of years been utilised by African, Asian and South American people. In countries such as Zimbabwe and in West Africa African traditional medical practice co-exists with western medical practice.

In this country the increasing availability and use of Chinese herbal medicine was facilitated by the sale of Chinese herbal preparations manufactured by the Green Medicine Company, an Australian company. Toren Wing, a business man passionate about the use of natural medicine, first brought Chinese herbal products to SA seven years ago. Through his perseverance, several medical doctors use Chinese herbs in the treatment of their patients. Anecdotal evidence from patients and doctors show that the formulas do assist in improving the quality of life of patients.

In a recent conversation I had with a nurse, Lynne Maritz, she indicated that in the second stage of HIV, lifestyle changes can prolong the period from the average three to four years to 10 to 12 years.

Such lifestyle changes would include eating three meals a day and vitamin supplements. She indicated that research has shown that antioxidants play a vital role during this period as "oxidated stress" which accompanies the presence of HIV in the body is cancelled by antioxidants.

These vitamins also work to decrease the replication of HIV and it keeps the viral load down to some extent. During the third stage of AIDS the combination of antioxidants, herbal remedies and antiretrovirals can significantly increase the quality of life of people living with AIDS.

Lynne has for the past six months consulted with companies, assisting them in their AIDS programmes and discussing the importance of lifestyle changes.

The plant Sutherlandia has in recent years attracted a lot of attention on account of its powerful immune stimulating properties. It grows primarily in the southwest Cape and to a lesser extent in KwaZulu Natal. It has been used for hundreds of years by indigenous peoples throughout the southern African region to treat a variety of diseases. Its core use is as an adaptogen tonic and immune modulator. It has been used in the treatment of TB, cancer and AIDS.

It has been shown by researchers to delay the progression from HIV to AIDS. With the loss of weight in AIDS and cancer patients, it can cause an increase in weight within six weeks of starting treatment. Weight gains of between 10 to 15 kg have been documented in cancer and AIDS patients.

Clinicians in SA and Australia have reported improvements in CD4 counts and decreases in the viral load in AIDS patients. It has been indicated there is preliminary clinical evidence the plant has a direct anticancer effect in some cancers.

The company Phyto Nova makes four products from indigenous plants including Sutherlandia. Nigel Gericke who set up Phyto Nova, is a medical practitioner who has done a lot to popularise Sutherlandia. Convinced the plant is a potent immune stimulator, he decided that since the plant is of such national strategic importance it is better to encourage competition rather than seek to secure patent rights in respect of the plant. This way it can be a key resource for all who need it. He therefore set out to make as much information about the plant available on the internet through the website www.sutherlandia.org.

The company, very small, is run by Gericke and his brother in between his medical practice. As a community service the firm makes available bags of Sutherlandia powder to community organisations which work among very poor people who are ill. The firm charges R7 a bag a six week supply.

Gericke believes that although they have three years of reports from doctors, hospices and traditional healers which indicate the efficacy of the plant, it is essential that formal, independent clinical trials are held to validate the anecdotal evidence that exists. He is also of the view that in AIDS patients, Sutherlandia could be used very successfully in conjunction with antiretrovirals in the third stage of AIDS.

In response to an approach by Phyto Nova to the government, the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Division of the Medical Research Council of SA conducted a study into the toxicity of Sutherlandia and found that there was no indication of toxicity. This study is available on the website www.sahealthinfo.org.

Qunta is a partner in the law firm Qunta Incorporated.