Phytochemicals and extracts of medical plants from Bitter Kola, Onions, edible Mushrooms, Lima and Locust Beans among other plants have shown remarkable promise as natural remedies in the treatment and management of major ailments such as ulcer, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases affecting and claiming lives world over. Presenting some of her findings in the area of her specialization at the University’s 150th inaugural lecture of the Federal University of Technology Akure ,FUTA with the topic “Phytochemicals: The Specks that Incapacitate the Gladiators of Human health”, Professor Mary Olaleye of the Department of Biochemistry explained how plant extracts and phytochemicals act as free radical scavengers and antioxidants to protect cells affected by pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides. All of which she says are harbingers of free radicals in the body and may trigger cells to grow out of control, thereby damaging the genetic material of the cells and contributing to the development of Cancer and other diseases.
Olaleye noted that medicinal plants contain substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes against debilitating ailments. While quoting relevant researches, Olaleye said, “Medicinal plants are used by people to maintain good health since they are known to contain bioactive compounds called phytochemicals with therapeutic properties. Many of these phytochemicals have been discovered to have medicinal properties and hence they are useful in the control and management of diseases in man.”
Discussing specific plant extracts and how they interact with human health, Professor Olaleye noted that readily available plant parts such as leaves, fruits, roots and stems are better used to tackle health challenges. She disclosed that Onion intake contains health benefits on Cancer and Tumor prevention, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, popularly referred to as high blood pressure and known to be the cause of death of about 9.4 million people across the world annually.
She further cited Kolaviron, an extract of Bitter Kola as a promising substance for drug development against stroke because of its multi-target neuro-therapeutic activity, adding that methanol leaf extract from the same plant is significant in the decrease of diabetic symptoms and complications which is estimated to contribute to 11.3% of deaths globally with about half of such deaths under the age of 60, as well as the regeneration of affected cells. Olaleye reiterated that more plants like the hibiscus, rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, are being evaluated and committed to use as remedies for the prevention and treatment of neurological, nephrological, cardiovascular, hepathological diseases and other biological activities.
She said most of the drugs used in the treatment of prevailing diseases, particularly over a long period of time, have side effects like dizziness, loss of vision and hearing, confusion and a number of others, which limit and disconcert patients. She said paracetamol, which is considered a safe drug, at high or toxic dosage may lead to liver disease, shutting down the liver which is a vital organ of the body and responsible for several functions of the body. This , according to her, is why more attention should be paid to the use of plant extracts in treating diseases.
In order for Nigeria to take full advantage of her rich plants and shrubs, Olaleye called on government to spare-head the promotion and effective utilization of Nigerian medical plants by establishing Herbarium Centers in all Local Governments Areas in Nigeria with Botanists/Taxonomists deployed to the Centers to help with the cultivation, collection and proper identification of respective plants to facilitate and aid efficiency for target diseases. She further called on government to make resources available to Scientists to carry out extensive studies to validate the medical potentials and safety of existing claims on plant extracts, while encouraging synergy between researchers and pharmaceutical companies towards the development and formulation of drugs from plants.
Earlier, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adenike Oladiji, while introducing the inaugural Lecturer whom she described as an erudite professor of biochemistry with prodigious contributions and marks of excellence in her are of specialization, told the august gathering that phytochemicals are plant extracts which incapacitate human diseases, noting that findings had revealed their therapeutic potentials in common diseases like hypertension, diabetes, ulcer, kidney and Alzheimer’s diseases. She learnt credence to the importance of synergy among researchers, traditional herbal practitioners and pharmaceutical companies to improve the country’s health care delivery and fight against debilitating diseases.