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'Bush tea' danger

Cerassie, ganja tea, aloe vera among potentially harmful home remedies

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive Editor - Operations allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 29, 2012    

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POPULAR bush remedies, or 'bush teas' widely consumed in Jamaica and other Caribbean nations have been found to be potentially harmful in recent scientific studies and appraisal by the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, St Andrew.

Among the bush teas identified by the studies as favourites across the Caribbean are cerassie, annatto, peri-winkle, dandelion, vervine, guaco, cashew bark, coconut shell, aloe vera, and cannabis satira (marijuana).

The studies said that although these "bushes" had possible beneficial ingredients, they also had potential toxins which could be harmful to individuals. It noted that use of bush remedies had greatly impacted the health of the region.

"The researchers found that across the region there is widespread use of bush teas for a variety of ills, inclusive of diabetes...The medical authorities believe that these bush teas when drunk result in a negative urine test for sugar, and even a real or imagined lowering of blood sugar.

"The reason for this is obscure, but these clinical findings cannot be ignored or denied," the regional university cautioned in a news release this week, ahead of the 18th Conference and Graduate Course in Diabetes entitled "New Frontiers in Diabetes Management" which opens this morning and ends on April 1 at the Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios, St Ann. The UWI is partnering with the University of Technology (UTech) to stage the conference.

Professor Dalip Ragoobirsingh, director of the UWI (Mona) Diabetes Education Programme and temporary consultant to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) project on Improvement Initiatives for Diabetes Care in the Caribbean, had serious news for Guyana and Jamaica — two countries where bush remedies are very popular.

Guyana, 20 times the size of Jamaica, has much of its population living in its extensive hinterland and resorting to bush remedies for many ailments. Jamaica, with the largest population in the English-speaking Caribbean, is also well known for its consumption of bush remedies.

"Many Jamaican diabetes patients showing up at the University Hospital of the West Indies seem to suffer more severe kidney problems than other patients," Ragoobirsingh told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. "It's especially major for Guyana, and Jamaica, too, has its problems."

He said the findings of the research would be used for patient education in the management and hopefully prevention of diabetes.

The findings were also used to inform discussions at a recent workshop for the development of a curriculum for health professionals organised by the University (of the West Indies) Diabetes Outreach Programme in collaboration with PAHO.

The specific goal of UWI (Mona) Diabetes Education Programme is to achieve real and sustained improvements in diabetes care in 10 Caribbean territories — Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Over the last three years, Ragoobirsingh has visited each territory working along with PAHO staff, health planners and providers from the local ministries of health in designing an intervention for improving diabetes care in their country. He also worked with the local teams to train local health care providers and co-ordinate the implementation and evaluation of interventions, which, he said, was being continuously reviewed and supported.

The UWI (Mona) Diabetes Education Programme is backed by the offices of the campus principal, dean, faculty of medical sciences, as well as the head of the Basic Medical Sciences.

Ragoobirsingh noted that although a lot still remained to be done, there was good evidence that this programme "is playing a pivotal role in assisting health care professionals, individuals with diabetes and their home caregivers, as well as policymakers to implement change, to effectively manage diabetes and prevent its complications across the region".

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