The National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has alerted the general public to the proliferation of methanol-contaminated alcoholic herbal bitters in the Nigerian market therefore, the agency warns Nigerians to be careful on consumption of such products.
According to NAFDAC, “Methanol poisoning causes neurological problems, including visual disturbances, blurred vision, blindness, nerve damage and insomnia. Ingestion of high levels of methanol often causes death.”
Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, told newsmen, in a telephone chat that the agency, after extensive laboratory investigation, has identified ‘killer’ bitters in the Nigeria market and has sent public alert even as it has placed the products on hold.
Last month, a sample of alleged killer bitters, Galant bitters, to NAFDAC and lodged a formal complaint after some concerned Nigerians came to Rutam House alleging that their relatives died after taking the product.
Orhii explained: “We did laboratory test and found that the bitters drink contains high levels of methanol. We are mopping up the drink from the market and we want Nigerians to stay away from the bitters. The bitters were registered as imported product but it looks like somebody is adulterating and faking it somewhere here. We have sent out a public alert.”
The public alert notes: “NAFDAC hereby alerts the general public on the circulation of a possible fake and adulterated drink, Galant bitters, found to be contaminated with high levels of methanol.
“The Galant bitters registered by the agency is manufactured by Rita Food and Drink Limited, 30 Street, 4 Singapore Industrial Park, Thijan An District, Bing Doing Province, Vietnam.
“Methanol poisoning causes neurological problems, including visual disturbances, blurred vision, blindness, nerve damage and insomnia. Ingestion of high levels of methanol often causes death.
“NAFDAC has placed all Galant bitters on hold nationwide and currently conducting an investigation to determine the source of the contamination. Any useful information should be forwarded to the nearest NAFDAC office.
“The general public is hereby advised to desist from the consumption of Galant bitters pending the outcome of the investigation.”
According to Wikipedia, a bitters is traditionally an alcoholic preparation flavoured with botanical matter such that the end result is characterised by a bitter, sour, or bittersweet flavour. Numerous longstanding brands of bitters were originally developed as patent medicines, but are now sold as digestives and cocktail flavourings.
The botanical ingredients used in preparing bitters historically consist of aromatic herbs, bark, roots, and or fruit for their flavour and medicinal properties. Some of the more common ingredients are cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel, and cinchona bark.
Most bitters contain water and alcohol, the latter of which functions as a solvent for botanical extracts as well as a preservative. The alcoholic strength of bitters varies widely across different brands and styles.
Indeed, plant extracts, now popularised as ‘herbal medicines,’ have been shown to prevent, treat, manage and cure several diseases from cough to cancer.
This proven efficacy has resulted in great patronage for any product that comes with the name ‘herbal’. Most companies are capitalising on this window to rip in more profits. From toothpaste to creams, health drinks to bread, the story is same.
The latest craze is herbal bitters.
The manufacturers in an aggressive marketing drive claim they are recipes for indigestion, weight loss, youthfulness, strength among others.
According to a Professor of Phytomedicine at the University of Benin, Edo State, MacDonald Idu, “If you are suffering wound infections and rashes, foods containing bitter principles are the best antidotes, while bitters are also indicated for treating skin disorders, fever, jaundice and loss of appetite.”
Idu said that several bitters components were bactericidal, germicidal and anti viral in their nature, as well anti inflammatory in effect. “Bitter foods are known to elevate the air mass element in your body and reduce the excess amount of ills in other elements. Oriental herbal texts indicate that herbal bitters are very light and cold in their nature and the typical taste is due to the presence of various components like caffeine, alkaloids and a bitter principle called berberine. The extreme dryness of bitters assists your body to get rid of excessive mucus, watery storage particles and help remove pus from the wounds,” he said.
Idu, however, urged caution on the use of packaged herbal bitters. He recommended home-made bitters, a combination of scent leaf, bitter leaf, Telfairia occidentalis leaf (ugu), Gongronema latifolium leaf (utazi in Igbo)) and lime peels blended into a juice and taken first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
“Avoid herbal bitters if you are pregnant or nursing and do not treat children with bitters. You should also avoid or stop taking bitters if you have been diagnosed with the following conditions: kidney disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and chronic gall bladder issues,” Idu said.
He said that bitters could also cause adverse reactions if taken in combination with other drugs like sedatives, antidepressants and tetracycline antibiotics.
“Read the instructions and recommendations on the bottle carefully before you begin treatment and do not exceed the recommended dosage for bitters or any other herbal medication. You should always consult a physician before beginning treatment,” he said.