By Muhamad Iqbal Mohd Zazuli

Traditional herbs are making their way as functional food and beverage ingredients, assisted by the advancement of biotechnology. The local dietary supplements market is heavily dependent on imports, especially from the United States and Australia. Vitamins B complex, C, E, multivitamins and calcium are popular among Malaysians. Other popular supplements include evening primrose oil, omega-3 fish oil, Ginkgo Biloba, ginseng, lecithin, royal jelly, spirulina, ginseng and cod liver oil. But in Malaysia itself, there is a treasure trove of herbal plants that have an abundance of health benefits. These are widely exported from Malaysia to countries worldwide as nutritional supplements to promote good health.

Some of the popular herbs used as functional ingredients in Malaysia include:

Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat Ali)

Eurycoma longifolia has become popular for its alleged testosterone-enhancing properties. For that reason, it is particularly popular in herbal supplements aimed at bodybuilders. Historically, South East Asia has utilised the herb for its suggested antimalarial, antipyretic, anti-ulcer, cytotoxic and aphrodisiac properties. In other studies, fractions of Eurycoma longifolia extract have been shown to induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells and to be cytotoxic to lung cancer cells.

Pegaga

Centella Asiatica, the scientific name of Pegaga (also known as Gotu kola and Indian pennywort), are popular as an alternative to standard Western allopathic medicine for a variety of problems, including senility, rheumatism as well as skin conditions. Other benefits include extra vitality, increasing brain power and concentration, lowering blood sugar levels, treating poor circulation, arthritis and varicose veins.

Green Tea

Green tea extract’s main active compounds are catechins, a compound from the flavonoid family. Standardised Green Tea Extract usually contains 50 per cent catechins. Green Tea Extract is a popular nutraceutical used for its antioxidant properties, with recent also underlining Green Tea Extract potential slimming properties.

Misai Kucing

No, it’s not literally the cat’s whiskers. Misai Kucing or Orthosiphon stamineus extract contains a high level of antioxidants that inhibit the inflammation of the joints associated with gout. The extract can reduce the pain surrounding the joints involved. It exhibits diuretic ability which helps flush out the excess uric acid in our body. This stops it from accumulating in the joints to form harmful crystals. It also aids in the cure of kidney stones, high blood pressure, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

The biotechnology industry in Malaysia has thrived in recent years. The key to continuing that growth lies in the education of our young researchers. The Biotechnology degree at the International University of Malaya-Wales (IUMW) is committed to supporting areas like agro-biotechnology, as well as industrial manufacturing, and human health.

Biotechnology degree lecturers at IUMW are also doing their part by working on the utilisation of plant tissue culture technology to enhance the production of highly potential pharmaceutical compounds from commercialised and underutilised herbs in Malaysia. The need to accelerate new algorithms in the biotechnology scene has become more crucial than ever. Rapidly advancing technology will be applied in the future in ways we can’t yet predict; a degree in biotechnology really is a degree for the future.

For more info about the Biotechnology degree at IUMW, call +6 011-3663-3644, or visit iumw.edu.my.