The Dengue Saga: Mythbusters 02 | The Tawa-tawa Conundrum

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QUESTION: Is Tawa-tawa and dengue mutually exclusive?

We have heard of titos and titas swearing by the healing properties of that lowly plant we call tawa-tawa in combating dengue. There appear to be plenty of anecdotal evidence of people getting better, thanks to the plant. But the thing about anecdotal evidences is that they remain that: based on anecdotes, and thus inconclusive, with results that could be credited to merely coincidental.

Tawa tawa plant, or the Euphorbia hirta. A plant that is touted to have healing properties against dengue.
Tawa tawa plant, or the Euphorbia hirta. A plant that is touted to have healing properties against dengue.

A growing number of studies, however, point to the plant having properties having more than just dengue-healing.

A 2016 study by G. Q. de Guzman and co-authors published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology said that Euphorbia hirta (the fancy scientific name for tawa tawa) is one of the most widely-used medicinal plants in the Philippines as a treatment for dengue.

Unsurprisingly, since dengue is endemic to the Philippines, this could have contributed to tawa tawa as more commonly used for that disease. E.hirta is also a traditional or folkloric medication in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, but they these countries do use it for dengue and instead use it for common ailments such as fever.

For dengue, the most common aspect being studied by researchers is it’s thrombocytic properties. What does it mean? It means its ability to replenish platelet counts. There is a common misconception that dengue infections are determined by platelet counts only, which is discussed on The Dengue Saga: Mythbusters 03 Platelet Counts.

Thrombocyte (Platelets) properties are still important on the context of dengue since more severe forms of infection circulate around bleeding and hemorrhage among many others. (Read: The Dengue Saga: A Known Nemesis)

A 2014 study by A. J. L. Coloma and co-authors published on the International Conference for Healthcare and Medical Students compared the thrombocytic efficacy of tawa tawa, papaya and malunggay on thrombocytopenia-induced rabbits, produced results which shortened the duration for platelets to recover compared to those not given these herbs.

The study also saw that bleeding was reduced, which lad the researchers to conclude that it may be a prudent treatment in dengue infections which have these same symptoms.

Yet another study in 2012 published in the Journal of Ayub Medical College Abbottabad by Munazza Mir and co authors concluded that majority of patients had improvement in their platelet count and white blood cell counts after use of aqueous extract of Euphorbia hirta. A marked recovery in fever and flu-like symptoms was also observed. However, further research on the herbal treatment with E. hirta should be conducted in other dengue endemic regions to establish its clinical utility in management of dengue fever.

A 2010 study by S.Kumar and co authors titled “Euphorbia hirta: Its chemistry, traditional and medicinal uses, and pharmacological activities,” validated the plant’s potential antiviral, antibacterial, antimalarial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, and antitumor properties since the herb was reported to contain alkanes, triterpenes, phytosterols, tannins, polyphenols, and flavanoids.

They cited many studies for tawa tawa’s various properties.

The 1999 study by Martinez V and co-authors showed that it’s n-hexane extract of aerial parts of E. hirta had anti-inflammatory effects in the model of phorbol acetate-induced ear inflammation in mice.

A 1994 study by Chopra RN in which E. hirta is reported to have an antiasthmatic activity due to the relaxation effect on the bronchial tubes and a depressant action on respiration.

A very interesting 1995 study by Mathur on male contraception show that E. hirta at a dose of 50 mg/kg reduced the sperm motility and density of cauda epididymal and testis sperm suspension significantly, leading to 100% infertility.

This and a lot more including antibacterial, antimalarial, galactogenic, it’s effects on urine output and electrolytes, antidiarrheal, antiamoebic and antifungal properties are also mentioned. At first glance the plant could be seen as a cure all wonder, but let’s not forget that the extracts being studied from the plant and herbal medicines in general are being isolated and/or augmented and purified in laboratory settings for its specific properties. Taking the plant as a whole may likely not produce the desired effects (and is yet to be proven so as well, because the only basis are the studies, do know that most of them use animal models and some have not reached the intended trials for the safe use in humans).

As it is known that many drugs that are publicly available are derived from plants, this does not mean that the plant it’s based on carries the same effects when taken raw, boiled or added to dishes, etc. The active component of the drug is the only one being derived from the plant, which takes various steps and involves laboratory grade purifications. The tawa tawa capsules that claim to help in platelet production being produced by various companies for example take mostly the active compounds of the plant that help with platelet regeneration, and then discard the rest.

In this way, the desired effects are focused and the side effects or adverse effects are lessened as much as possible.

So this is a great avenue for researchers looking to study various known herbs supposed to contain various different medicinal properties and to test one of those.

QUESTION: is Tawa Tawa and Dengue mutually exclusive?

VERDICT: No. tawa Tawa has been validated as having properties not limited to being anti-dengue or anti-viral only, although further studies must be done in order to make a conclusion on its effectiveness. Those enthusiastic on researching about traditional medicine should look no further but this plant as the subject.

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