MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has the potential of developing narra, the country’s national tree, as a top source of antioxidant producing food item, based on a study by De La Salle Dasmariñas College of Pharmacy.
However, small pharmaceutical companies will need government support to conduct clinical trials to develop the narra extract as medicine and to protect consumers from fake products in the market.
Researchers disclosed that discarded bark and branch wood of the critically endangered narra have antioxidant properties that can help improve the lives of millions of Filipinos.
“Narra can also be considered as a medicinal plant. It possess certain properties that could help our body fight certain types of diseases,” College of Pharmacy dean Dr. Louie Legaspi said during the Narra Extract Research Study media briefing over the weekend.
“The wide range of activities, including the results of our study, opens opportunities to discover more potential health benefits of narra extracts. We also hope that this improves our perspective on how we see narra, as an important medicinal plant,” he said.
The study determined the different production processes that will be most efficient to the narra sample without sacrificing the efficacy of the product in improving consumer health and wellness.
It showed that the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scores of all methods tested displayed similarly high levels of antioxidant potency.
ORAC is a method developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and Aging to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods.
“There is a list by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the narra extract, based on the ORAC score, ranks among the 10 percent foods that have antioxidant properties. That means to say that the narra extract is number one in the Philippines when it comes to antioxidant properties if we look at the ORAC score,” Narra research professor contributing editor Sigfredo Mata said.
Timothy Bengala, professor and primary investigator of the Narra Research, also referred to the health benefits of pterostilbene, according to the study by Xu et at in 2021. Pterostilbene — a potent antioxidant — is found in plants like the narra tree.
Based on the study, pterostilbene is proven to be effective as immune-enhancing, anti-asthma, anti-cancer, antifungal, anti-ulcer, and anti-allergy.
As early as 2002, narra has been found to have medicinal value and was used as the main ingredient of a dietary supplement to improve the quality of life of those with diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, bladder stones and infectious diseases.
Currently, narra food supplements are available at select drug stores and on e-commerce websites.
To establish narra extract as medicine, clinical trials must be done to secure license from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Alice Catabay, professor and head of research and development at De La Salle Dasmariñas College of Pharmacy, said clinical trials cost from P3 million to P6 million.
“Medicinal plants can undergo the same process. The problem is how do we help small manufacturers to go to clinical trials,” she said.
And if they do push through with clinical trials and secure FDA license, the government must help protect small manufacturers from competition to recoup their investment as an innovator, Catabay said.
“That’s what we can encourage the government to give us, a window of time to manufacture and sell, just like in the US,” she said.
Pharmacists are also lobbying for strict regulation on medicine and supplements sold online.
“Actually we are lobbying (for government) to be strict with medicines and supplements sold on the Internet…. When it comes to drugs, you have to be strict,” Catabay said.