Feb 13, 2013

Promising Cure For Dengue: Euphorbia Hirta (tawa-tawa)

Euphorbia hirta or tawa-tawa plant from my garden

Euphorbia hirta or tawa-tawa from my garden

A cure for dengue is one of the items in my prayer list. That’s how scared I am of dengue. Dengue is said to be the most neglected tropical disease in the world and proof to that is the absence -- as yet -- of a cure for it. Dengue patients are simply given symptomatic care (manage the fever with anti-pyretics, prevent dehydration by IV). Doctors just let the self-limited dengue virus take its course, all the while hoping that the body would not be overwhelmed, as some patients do.
Could the elusive dengue cure be found in a common weed? Euphorbia hirta is just a weed but it holds the promise of being the long-sought-for dengue cure. Known in the Philippines as tawa-tawa, gatas-gatas and salingkapao, this grass is ubiquitous, being found growing in roadsides, grasslands and even in the compacted soil of pathways. The photos above show tawa-tawa I found growing in my vegetable garden.
Euphorbia hirta or tawa-tawa has long been held as a folkloric treatment for dengue in the Philippines, where dengue has been claiming lives for many years now. As of 2012, the Philippines ranks 4th in Southeast Asia in terms of dengue incidence, with Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam claiming the top 3 spots.
I have several friends who have personally experienced the platelet-increasing effects of tawa-tawa. A neighbor whose child came down with dengue went against her doctor’s advice and covertly gave her son a decoction of tawa-tawa after his platelet hovered around the 50,000 range. In an hour, she said her son’s platelet count climbed up, the first time it did in the four days they spent in the hospital.
The Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) website reports an interesting research conducted by undergraduate students of the University of Sto. Tomas. In the study, laboratory rats were given chloramphenicol, ethanol and heparin to induce a state of thrombocytopenia or low blood platelet count. This is to mimic what happens in dengue hemorrhagic fever. Platelets are components of the blood which clump together to stop bleeding. When the number of platelets is too low (below 150,000 to 450,000 per microliter of blood), serious bleeding could occur.
The thrombocytopenic rats were then given decoction of tawa-tawa and their blood samples were analyzed. The results were amazing. Platelet levels increased by 47%, bleeding time was shortened by 62% and blood clotting time sped up by 58%.
It must be pointed out, however, that tawa-tawa is not yet a cure for dengue. Remember this is just undergraduate study, though it seized the 2012 Gruppo Medica Award for outstanding health research. Tawa-tawa still has a long way to go before being declared as a drug of choice for dengue. The process of establishing a folkloric treatment as a drug is painstakingly long and fraught with politics and business.

Here are some questions I can think of regarding tawa-tawa as a dengue cure:
What is the standard procedure for making tawa-tawa decoction? A lot of my neighbors simply say boil a handful of tawa-tawa leaves in a cup of water. There needs to be a standard procedure for this or better yet, there should be bottled tawa-tawa syrups duly recognized by the Bureau of Food and Drugs.
What is the dosage? The common advice is to let the dengue patient drink as much of the tawa-tawa decoction as he can all throughout his illness. This poses some problems as there are yet no toxicity studies regarding tawa-tawa.

In the final analysis, however, if I or any of my family should ever come down with dengue, I would still try the tawa-tawa decoction. My rationale? I would take chances with a widely-acclaimed folkloric treatment that is tawa-tawa as it is the only thing that has shown evidence of  raising platelet levels. Nothing in the current medical protocol for dengue addresses the potentially fatal effect of plummeting platelets. Besides, I haven’t heard of any serious side effects with tawa-tawa. Of course I would still submit to hospitalization and all the symptomatic care it would offer, but I would use tawa-tawa decoction on the side. With or without my doctor’s consent.  *wink*

For a full list of my dengue series, here it is:
Overview on dengue, the dengue virus and the dengue mosquito
Updates on the dengue vaccine
Herbal mosquito repellent to prevent dengue
An innovative, mosquito-killing solution
The most dangerous way to ward off mosquitoes


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