With the continued rise of diabetes incidence, there is an urgent need to develop more alternatively yet effective anti-diabetic drugs for Filipinos especially those who do not make ends meet.

As people affected with diabetes know, managing this chronic disease is not walk in the park.

It requires discipline. Moreover, it is costly. Medicines alone can already put a dent on the budget. And if not properly managed, diabetes can have complications, such a chronic blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, amputation, and birth defects among others.

The sad part is that diabetes is affecting more and more people worldwide. In the Philippines, about 3.56 percent of Filipinos were diagnosed with diabetes in 2000. The World Health Organization predicts that the number of diabetic Filipinos will double by 2030. Moreover, about 95 percent of these diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, mainly caused by lack of exercise and poor diet.

With the continued rise of diabetes incidence, there is an urgent need to develop more alternative yet effective anti-diabetic drugs for Filipinos especially those who do not make ends meet. And in the search of such drugs, one particular vegetable is getting the attention of researchers and creating a buzz in the world of alternative medicine: Moringa oliefera, locally known as malunggay, which has been dubbed as wonder plant and super food. Can this locally available, easily propagated, and cheap plant knock out diabetes?

Malunggay has been known to possess various beneficial health effects. It contains four times more vitamin A and beta-carotene than carrots, 15 times more potassium content than bananas, twice the protein amount in milk, thrice the iron content of spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more calcium than milk.

In fact, there are products available in the Philippines derived from malunggay extracts such as food supplements, tea, pandesal, and an energy drink. Researchers have also found that extracts of malunggay can significantly educe blood sugar in mice. This is the reason we chose work on malunggay in the development of alternative anti-diabetic drugs. Our goal is to isolate an anti-diabetic compound from malunggay and to formulate a less expensive, alternative drug against diabetes for the consumption of diabetic Filipinos.

It took at least four kilos of dried malunggay leaves and countless obstacles to produce a miniscule amount of the pure anti-diabetic compound from malunggay. However, this miniscule powder was all we needed to test the potential anti-diabetic property of malunggay. We isolated the compounds present in malunggay by their polarity, or their likelihood to dissolve in water (polar) or in oil (nonpolar). The compounds in each group were tested for anti-diabetic effects by mixing them with an enzyme that increases blood sugar.

The group with the most potent anti-diabetic effect – the compounds that can stop the enzyme from working – was further separated into groups and tested again. This procedure was repeated until only a single compound was left.

Having isolated the ant-diabetic compound was overwhelming, that we felt compensated for all of the troubles and problems encountered during the course pf this project.

With the help and support from the government and the hard-earned money of the taxpayers, our group managed to isolate an anti-diabetic compound from malunggay leaves by performing a bioassay-guided isolation scheme. We are hoping that support for this project will still continue to pour in order to hasten the development of an alternative anti-diabetic drug.

The compound will still be subjected to further tests before it is offered in the market for Filipinos in need of less expensive, alternative maintenance drug for diabetes. We still have a long way to go to develop such drug, but the important thing is, not only have we have begun the journey; we have gone a long way.

Written by: 
Irene M. Villaseñor, Ph.D. and Juane Marco B. Gonzales
University of the Philippines Diliman

Published by:Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)