Nganga chewers may look euphoric for another reason aside from the betel concoction's supposed narcotic effect. They could have just fixed a vexing problem with their bowels.
Students of medicine at Caloocan City's Manila Central University have discovered that extracts of ikmo or piper betel leaf may actually help relieve the symptoms of those suffering from diarrhea and other gastric ailments.
This is because piper betel contains chemical compounds harmful to bacteria and fungi that cause diarrhea.
Considering that diarrhea is among the top ten most common diseases in the Philippines and a 2008 WHO study showed that 10,000 Filipinos die from it every year, the students may have stumbled upon a startling discovery that can save many lives in the future.
Betel leaf is an ingredient in the concoction popularly known as "nganga," which also includes areca nut – also called betel nut – lime, and sometimes tobacco.
For centuries, in many rural and upland areas, Filipinos have been chewing betel quid or “nganga" as a way of staying warm and alert, and is known to have a narcotic and even euphoric effect. In other words, nakaka-high.
It’s also an indigenous breath freshener because scientists believe it kills bacteria in the mouth. So nganga may actually make kissing a chewer with reddish teeth and dripping spittle more palatable.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that chewing nganga may be linked to mouth cancer.
Still needs human testing Ikmo is a type of vine common to tropical countries. Its glossy heart-shaped leaves are prized for their medicinal properties. A proponent of the study, Laura Palisoc, focused on the effects of a variety of betel common to the Philippines. “We chose piper betel because it has already been proven to react on bacteria that cause bad breath. We just tried to test if it could be used against diarrhea," she said. According to the study, piper betel contains the chemical compounds hydroxychavicol, carvachol, and eugenol that can kill microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and enteric organisms found inside the intestines. The students boiled piper betel leaves from Batangas, then extracted and tested them against specimens of diarrhea-causing bacteria, Palisoc said in a phone interview with GMA News Online. The bacteria E. coli, Shigella dysenteriae, and Salmonella typhi that they used for the study are potentially deadly contaminants of water and food. Palisoc said their study still needs to undergo human testing and other clinical studies. — TJD/VS/HS