The Role of Herbal Medicine in Treatment of Non-Communicable Diseases

Published on 25th December 2018

Herbal medicine is as old as the human race and has historically been nurtured by traditional medicine men. They have been the custodian of this noble profession and passed it through word of mouth from generation to generation. Herbal medicine is part of Traditional Medicine and uses mainly plants in whole or in parts such as roots, leaves, stem bark, seeds, fruits and flowers plus a few animal products such as honey, milk and blood. In this presentation, I will deal exclusively with herbal medicine.

The basis for reasonable evidence of potency and efficacy comes from empirical traditional data passed over generations and from the health practitioner’s experience in using herbal remedies and any other supportive evidence that gives an overall indication of the herb’s risk to benefit ratio. Randomized clinical trials have also shown that herbs are very efficacious for treating many non-communicable and neglected tropical diseases.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors. A non-communicable disease (NCD) is therefore, as the name suggests, not caused by infectious agents and is therefore non-transmissible. NCDs are distinguished only by their non-infectious cause, not necessarily by their duration, though some chronic diseases of long duration may be caused by infections.

The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like hypertension, heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. NCDs are preventable through effective interventions that tackle shared risk factors, namely: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. Non-communicable diseases account for more deaths than HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and all other communicable diseases combined. NCDs force many people into or entrench them in poverty due to catastrophic expenditures for treatment. They also have a large impact on undercutting productivity.

Treatment, Control and Management

We recognize that the NCD spectrum is large and complex. Effective treatment, prevention and control of NCDs will require sustained engagement across multiple sectors: policymakers, government leaders, academic institutions and other civil society organizations to increase awareness and shift policy and funding support for NCD, Conventional medicine, Herbal medicine and Complimentary medicine.

As mentioned above, the spectrum of NCD’s is very large and it is not possible to cover it all in an article of this nature so I will just give an overview of the four main types of NCD’s: cardiovascular diseases (like hypertension, heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. Herbal medicine is very effective in metabolic diseases like diabetes. Catharanthus roseus, Mormodica charantia, Marsdenia sylvestris, Cinnamon and Morus alba are few of the many plants with anti-diabetic properties and have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. In fact, this has been validated in double-blind clinical trials.

Ajuga remote, Zea mays, Allium sativum, Rauwolfia caffra and Leonotis Mollica have been found to be very efficacious in hypertension amongst other cardio-vascular diseases. As for cancers and other abnormal growths, the following plants amongst others, are used in herbal medicine: Maytenus senegalensis, Eriobotrya japonicum, Carica papaya and Annona muriacata.

Respiratory diseases like Asthma are treated using Zanthoxylum chalebeum, Croton megalocarpus, Eucalyptus globules, Euphorbia hirta and Plectranthus barbatus amongst others. The part of the plant used could be the bark, leaves, roots or even the fruits depending on the plant and can be presented as a powder, tablet, tincture, capsule or injectable solution.

In addition to the above, we recommend the use of detoxifiers for the digestive system, excretory, cardio-vascular and dental systems. Immune boosters and probiotics are also given depending on individual cases.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

These are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions and affect more than one billion people. These infectious diseases are caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths, but mainly by parasites which include the causative agents of trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis amongst others. These parasites are responsible for a high rate of mortality and morbidity each year in the respective endemic countries. Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation in close contact with infectious vectors, domestic animals and livestock are those worst affected. The list of neglected tropical diseases is long and include others like Buruli ulcer, Leprosy (Hansen’s disease), Dengue and Chikungunya, Dracunculiasis and Chagas disease.

Reasons for neglect

This group of diseases has been overlooked because they mainly affect the poorest countries in the developing world and therefore offer little or no economic value to the pharmaceutical industry. Because of the relative lack of interest by the pharmaceutical industry, there has been little funding and a paucity of interest in NTD research. Secondly, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are preferentially given more resources because of their higher mortality and public awareness rates. Thirdly, the importance of neglected tropical diseases has been underestimated since many are asymptomatic and have long incubation periods. The connection between a death and a neglected tropical disease that has been latent for a long period of time is not often realized. Additionally, neglected tropical diseases are often associated with some kind of social stigma, making their treatment more complex. Disease control is greatly affected by this stigma, as it decreases help-seeking and treatment adherence.


The drugs currently used in conventional medicine are limited by toxicity, limited efficacy, long or inappropriate dosing regimens, and drug resistance. Since vaccines and safe and affordable treatments are still lacking, there is an urgent need to discover novel therapeutics against these human health threats. Funding agencies and international philanthropic or nonprofit organizations have not recognized the importance of the chemical space represented by natural products for the discovery and development of drugs against neglected tropical diseases. Yet, natural sources, such as plants, represent a major opportunity to discover new drugs and lead molecules.

It has been demonstrated that natural products like avermectin and its analogue ivermectin isolated from the soil Streptomyces bacteria are the effective treatment for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Artemisinin, a drug developed by artemessia annua has now become the drug of choice for the treatment of malaria throughout most of the tropical world. Locally, Euphorbia hirta, Hagenia abyssinica, Annona senegalensis are known anthelmintics which have been used successfully to treat elephantitis and other nematode infestations.

Schistosomiasis is traditionally treated with Albizia anthelmintica, acacia brevispica and aniseed and leishmaniasis (kala-azar) are treated with Allium sativum and other plants. Trypanosomiasis has been treated with Ageratum conyzoides and Ruta graveolens.

Challenges of herbal medicine

1. No ACT of parliament for control and regulation

2.No insurance or NHIF

3.  Un-cooperative MOH and arrogant and ignorant doctors

4.Lack of finance: From GOK or financial institutions—–no research

5 Ignorant media and MOH officials

By Dr Maina

Dr Maina Herbal Clinic.

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