Why Nigerians Consume bitters?

In recent times, the Nigerian market has been flooded by all kinds of bitters and they enjoy high patronage among consumers. However, so much is not known about the origins and effects of these bitters on the body. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) conducted a qualitative survey of consumers all across Nigeria recently to get their take on why they consume bitters.

Some of these bitters have names like Yoyo, Alomo, Orijin, Agbo, Action, Washing and Setting, Baby-Oku, Skelewu, Man-Power, Swedish, Goko Cleanser, Ruzu, Kola nuts, Bitter kolas as well as Chinese and India bitters, among others.

You will find them being sold in all manner of places such as markets, stores/department stores, supermarkets, highways, roadsides, buses/vehicles and more.

The News Agency of Nigeria conducted a nationwide survey eliciting the opinions of consumers and healthcare practitioners on the health benefits or otherwise, of consumption of bitters.

Mr Frank Ndiwe is a 50 year old businessmen and father of five children resident in Port Harcourt. Ndiwe says he drinks bitters, especially, squeezed bitter leaf because of its high medicinal values.

“I drink “onugbu” from bitter leaf everyday. It helps to cleanse my body system and sugar level in me.

“I also chew the stick. It is very bitter”, he said.

Similarly, Mrs Joy Orlu, mother of four and teacher, says she takes bitters because it helps to control the sugar level in her body.

“I have high sugar level in my body. I take bitters and I have observed that it helps to control it. I like bitter leaf as vegetable. I chew the raw leaf and I do not urinate as frequently as I use to do.

“My doctor has however warned me not to take excess of such bitters because some of them have nicotine’’, she said.

Mr Nicholas Tamuno, 45 years old civil servant, says he chews bitter kola because it clears cough, sore throat and even reduces sugar level in his body.

“I chew bitter kola, but not in excess. I mix it with honey and it clears my cough. I also use it when I have sore throat and I have noticed that some of our local bitters work.

“We need to encourage our scientists to develop them to full potentials for local use”, he said.

In Asaba, medical practitioners say bitters help the body to build strong immunity against diseases.

Dr Alfred Ebiakofa, staff of Delta Ministry of Health, said bitters are in line with the alkaline system of the body, fight against diseases and help to reduce the sugar level in the body.

“For this reason, some people squeeze bitter leaf and drink the liquid as medication for a particular ailment”, he said.

Dr Emeke Obi of St Lukes Hospital, Asaba, said bitter drinks are medicinal because of the numerous works they perform in the body.

He said bitters help to flush the body system and makes it normal while some like “agbo” or roots, could be used for the treatment of malaria.

He said most people still make it a habit to take a glass of “agbo” every morning to clean and flush the body system.

Mr Anslem Okonkwo, Public Relations Officer of NAFDAC in Delta, said certified bitters are registered by the agency.

Mr Kendrick Obi, a civil servant, said bitters help him to maintain good health, especially in stopping stomach upset.

Mrs Chukwuma Doris, a teacher, said bitters, especially “agbo” helped her to trim down.

According to her, after putting to bed, she drinks “agbo” every morning and evening to make her stomach come back to shape.

In Yenagoa, experts and users of bitters say they can boost immune system, regulate stomach acidity.

They also urged manufacturers to improve their on their hygiene in their preparations.

NAN reports that some of the bitters sold in Yenagoa include Action Bitter, Washing and Setting, Baby-Oku, Skelewu, Man-Power, Swedish, Yoyo, Iguedo’s Goko Cleanser as well as Chinese and India bitters.

Dr Lucky Ameri, Gynaecologist, Ovom Community Health Centre, Yenagoa Local Government, said the intake of bitters had nutritional value and could also enhance fertility.

“Bitters are good for human body but we must be careful of what is being sold in the market these days.

“I know some bitters like Swedish and Yoyo, but with the influx of the unbranded ones nowadays, I must urge consumers to be using those approved by NAFDAC.

“There are too many of them in the market but I can still remember Iguedo’s Gogo Cleanser and Yoyo bitters, these are good for consumption.

“Bitters can regulate stomach acidity and manage blood sugar; it can enhance fertility as well as combating inexplicable infertility in both man and woman”, Ameri said.

Mrs. Margaret Ogene, a nutritionist, said bitters could aid digestion, reduce indigestive discomfort and improve the daily function of the digestive system.

Ogene said bitters could help to feed the micro-bacteria that becomes healthy intestinal flora and taken after a meal is actually a little better but can also be taken before a meal.

Mr Ken Omeka-Agu, consumer of bitters, said it had helped his body to be agile and the system to be functional.

Omeka-Agu said he drinks bitters because they are African herbs and were used by fore- fathers.

“You cannot take roots, especially “Agbo” out of the system because it has been in use by our fore-fathers for ages. That is why they lived strong and long.

“Some tablets are made from herbs, so what is the big deal about herbs, or Agbo?

“Agbo can cure a lot of illnesses. We want the State and Federal Governments to promote the use of African roots”, he said.

Mrs. Mercy Olufemi, an Agbo seller, said she sells Alomo and Kasapreko bitters (from Ghana), Ibile, Opa Eyin and Man Power.

Olufemi said that bitters enhance libido in men and women.

“Some bitters can improve libido and help a man to be active with his spouse; bitters or bitter tonic are spirit-based tinctures made from herbs, barks and roots.

“Bitters are prepared according to secret recipes by several manufacturers, using bitter herbs, leaves, fruits, seeds, or roots and sometimes alcohol or sugar”, she said.

In Calabar, consumers re-echoed same views like those in Yenagoa that bitter drinks are medicinal.

Consumers of Alomo, Orijin and Yoyo bitters said they drink them because of the general belief that they are medicinal.

The consumers attributed their quest for bitter drinks on their belief that African herbs can cure many ailments.

Mr Abdulwahab Oduremi, a bricklayer, said he drinks Yoyo bitters often because with it, he could shed weight.

“In Yoruba land, we believe so much in herbs, especially bitter herbs. So, I take Yoyo bitters in order to cleanse my system and shed weight’’, he said.

Also, Mr Ubong Emmanuel, a welder, said he usually drinks Alomo bitters.

According to him, it cleanses his system and makes him strong and energetic.

“Each time I drink Alomo in the night, I wake up very strong in the morning and that has kept me going. It is very medicinal’’, Ubong said.

Mr Sunday Daniel, a taxi driver, said he uses bitter drinks as cleanser.

“I used to drink stout, but I drink Alomo now since it became common everywhere. I believe it is medicinal”, he said.

Daniel, however, observed that there were fake Alomo biters in circulation, adding that this could be identified through the taste.

A laboratory scientist, Mr William Egoro, warned consumers to be careful in the way they consume bitter drinks, saying that most of the drinks lacked laboratory proofs.

“People consume these things because of their belief that they are medicinal but that is not to say that they are not harmful.

“They do not pass through laboratory tests to determine their efficacy and the quantity to be taken, so it is very dangerous’’, he said.

Mr Isaac Kolawale, Head NAFDAC Office Cross River, confirmed that fake Alomo bitters exist in the state but said the agency was on top of the situation.

Mr Denis Ocholi, a traditional medicine practitioner in Yola said bitters can serve as agents of catabolism in human system.

Ocholi said enzymes derived from bitter substances can destroy all the sugar accumulation in the digestive system.
He added that bitters also contain quinine which could boost immunity against malaria.

Mr Manase Itodo, a consumer of the bitters said bitters can cure constipation by producing digestive enzymes.

Mrs Rotkang Okunlola, a pharmacist with Dilimi Pharmacy in Jos, said many people take bitters because of its believed potency.

According to her, these bitters are usually a rich blend of medicinal herbs and roots believed to cure back pains, pile, malaria, as well as candidiasis (vaginal itching/toilet infection).

She said bitters were also used for the cleansing (detoxification) of the system.

“Some people have advised me to use bitters to increase libido, as it is considered an aphrodisiac in Nigeria, while some females use it to terminate unwanted pregnancies at its early stage.

“Others use it in the weight loss regiment.

“Most bitters have lots of claims of what they can do therapeutically, especially in terms of digestion, increasing libido and general body detoxification.

“But these claims have little or no scientific evidence to support them. The question is: what do you do to an individual, whose psychology is already fed with claims that they work?’’, she retorted.

Okunlola advised that more research be carried out on herbs used for the bitters to know their scientific efficacy, in order to avoid adverse effects.

Mr Sunny Adah, a photographer, told NAN that he takes Agbo for the treatment of malaria and waist pain.
According to him, one shot of the Agbo daily helps to keep malaria at bay and prevents waist pain.

Similarly, Miss Janet Chung, a student, said she takes the bitters because they help in the prevention and treatment of toilet infection, since she shares the toilet in school with hundreds of persons.

Mr. Eze Osuji, a Lokoja-based teacher, said he drinks the bitters for the detoxification of his system.

“I take bitters once every week; any time I take it, I feel very young and energetic; these bitters are good”, he said.

“These bitters are usually a rich blend of medicinal herbs and roots that are believed to cure back pains, cleanse the system and to treat malaria; some people take them to terminate unwanted pregnancies.”

She said, however, that the bitters cause dehydration.

“Some of the bitters, if taken for too long, may damage the intestinal linings, but some use them to boost their sexual prowess because they are considered an aphrodisiac in Nigeria.”

But Sylvanus Dabo, a nutritionist, said there was no official control in terms of its dosage.

“Another question is: have these bitters been tested by NAFDAC? So their efficacy can’t be vouched for; if they were good enough, we would have had them on our hospital shelves and pharmacies.

“Rather than enchaning libido, regular drinkers of the liquid aphrodisiacs may be risking their future fertility”, he said.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD), Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Makurdi, Dr Peteru Inunduh, said bitters were strong spirits that work against the human body system.

Inunduh told NAN in Makurdi that Swedish, Yoyo, Alomo, Orijin, and Agbo were strong alcoholic drinks that affected the body negatively.

“The damage caused by such spirits is unimaginable. Those who consume them daily are likely to die young.’’

Coordinator of NAFDAC in Benue, Ibrahim Anikoh, said most bitters were not registered by the agency.

He warned against indiscriminate consumption of bitters and advised consumers to always look out for the NAFDAC registration before consuming them.

He said some of the bitters sold in the markets had no NAFDAC registration numbers, adding that the markets were saturated with fake bitters and advised consumers to verify such drinks before taking them. Anikoh said the agency was working hard to flush the fake bitters from circulation.

A consumer of bitters, Mr Titus Adah, told NAN that bitters were the best alcoholic drinks, claiming that they charge the brain and make it function better.

He also claimed that they energize the body system by allowing the flow of blood to all organs to function effectively.

Some other respondents said they had become addicted to the spirits on account of their libido enhancing powers.

NAFDAC’s Coordinator in Nasarawa State, Mr Michael Attah, called on consumers of bitters to verify the authenticity of the products registration with the agency before consuming them. Attah told NAN in Lafia that the agency had registered some of the bitters after appropriate testing,and were satisfied with the toxin level.

“We have also ensured that the products met standard specifications.”

According to him, NAFDAC did not approve and is not aware if any bitters is produced in Nasarawa state,.
He added that the health benefits of bitters depended on the contents and not necessarily based on the claims of the manufacturer.

He, therefore, advised consumers of bitters in the country to confirm NAFDAC registration number, dates of manufacture and expiry before consuming them in order to avoid complications.

Mr Umbugadu John, a consumer of bitters, said that adding bitters to his diet was to revive the olden African tradition that it helps in the healing of so many ailments.

“Bitters also aid digestion, check sugar level, and relieve heartburn. Bitters calm upset stomach, increase absorption of fat and support liver functioning, among others.’’ (NAN)

Mr Stephen Laiko, Bauchi State Coordinator, NAFDAC, said most bitter herbal drinks were dangerous to human health.

He said that such drinks were not supplements or drugs that should be consumed as the bitter tastes could cause havoc to consumers.

Laiko advised people to abstain from excessive consumption of bitter drinks to avoid medical disorder
He said that NAFDAC had tested some of the bitter drinks and provided them with registration numbers, having been found to be less harmful.

“Bitter drinks are not drugs or supplements; if you must drink, it is advisable to consume those with NAFDAC numbers because they had been tested and found not to contain intoxicants”, he said.

Dr Rehinatu Adejumo, a Gynecologist at the Rasheed Shekoni Specialist Hospital in Dutse, Jigawa, advised people to desist from consumption of unregistered bitters such as Agbo.

She contended that although some of the bitters were made from natural herbs, they could damage the body system.

According to her, most of the local bitters are not safe as their components or constituents are not known because they did not pass through pharmaceutical test.

“It’s unfortunate the way our people consume these bitters, especially the ones that are not registered. I once had a patient that took Agbo and that stopped his kidney from functioning; this is particularly more harmful to pregnant women”, she said.

Adejumo advised people to always patronize orthodox medicine.

Coordinator of NAFDAC in Jigawa, Mr Olaniran Olakunle, said none of the local manufacturers of bitters in the state registered his product, in spite of calls on them to do so.

A consumer of Agbo in Dutse, Kashim Adebayo, told NAN that he had been using bitter to treat fever of any kind. According to him, his parents have been using Agbo to cure their ailments right from their childhood, so, it will be difficult to convince him about the dangers of Agbo.

Malam Sani Ibrahim said he uses both local bitters and orthodox medicines to cure ailments. Ibrahim emphasized that bitters were more effective in the treatment of fever than orthodox medicines Chairman, Association of Resident Doctors, Specialists’ Hospital, Gombe, Dr Raymond Dankoli, cautioned those who believed in the efficacy of bitter herbal drinks.

He said some of the drinks had negative effects on body organs, especially liver, kidney and lung.

“It is possible that some people derive benefits from the drinks and therefore attach importance to them. That does not mean they are not harmful”, he sressed.

Malam Garba Abdul, Gombe state Coordinator of NAFDAC, said most of the bitters consumed in the state had been duly certified by NAFDAC.

He said bitters were more or less like antioxidants.

Some consumers of the drinks in Gombe insisted that the bitters make them sexually active, adding that any campaign against such drinks would be in vain.

Mr Stephen Laiko, Bauchi State Coordinator, NAFDAC, said most bitter herbal drinks were dangerous to human health.

He said that such drinks were not supplements or drugs that should be consumed as the bitter tastes could cause havoc to consumers.

Laiko advised people to abstain from excessive consumption of bitter drinks to avoid medical disorder. He said NAFDAC had tested some of the bitter drinks and provided them with registration numbers, having been found to be less harmful.

“Bitter drinks are not drugs or supplements; if you must drink, it is advisable to consume those with NAFDAC numbers because they had been tested and found not to contain intoxicants”, he said.

A pharmacist in Uyo, Mrs. Nkechinyerem Jonathan, said that consumption of large consumption of bitters could be detrimental to liver and other parts of the human body.

Jonathan noted that consumption of proper dosage of bitters could be useful to the body as anti-oxidant.
She said in most cases, long term use of bitters could increase liver enzymes and result in a condition called artherosclerosis.

The pharmacist explained that artherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries, which could cause heart attack, heart failure, myocardial infection, stroke and possibly death.

“Yoyo bitters, if taken in excess, can turn out to be a nightmare for pregnant women. Bitters generally have notorious tendency for causing emmenagogue (increase of menstrual flow).

“Yoyo bitters have the tendency of causing some heart rhythm irregularities”, she added.

Jonathan said that excessive consumption of bitters could lead to mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.

Mr Kenneth Okon, said that consumption of bitters had been very useful to him by cleansing his body from general infections.

Okon said that after consumption of bitters he usually felt very strong and active, especially when it comes to sexual act.

A medical doctor in Birnin Kebbi, Dr Saidu Ibrahim, noted that long use of bitters may manifest as liver failure, kidney problems, anemia, cancer, stroke and enlargement of the prostate gland.

He said while consumers find temporarily relief in the bitters, the long term effect to the body can lead to death or prolonged and expensive treatment.

He called on health authorities and NAFDAC to control and regulate the sale and consumption of bitters.

Ibrahim attributed the rising patronage of bitters to attractive advertisements, low price and perceived prowess associated with it.

“The consumers of bitters encounter indigestion, loss of appetite and vitality that become complicated health issues over time, so the best option is to avoid the drink.”

According to him, most patrons of the bitters are people in the low and middle income cadre who feel that bitters enhance their performance and vitality.

Dr Abubakar Labaran, former Commissioner for Health in Kano State, also cautioned against excessive use of bitters.

“Using bitters in moderation is of benefits, but abusing them or over using them can lead to bad effect on health,” he said. According to him, bitters are alcoholic beverage preparations that result as sour, sweet and bitters depending on what the manufacturer wants.

Labaran said some of “Orijin” contents are beneficial to human beings.

“They are used as anxiolytics that calm nerves, because they contain alcoholic, neutral spirits, sugar and citric acids as chamomile.”

He added that in some cases, people used bitters to aid digestion.

Labaran said, “bitters are very well investigated, their content and benefits are also known, unlike other herbs which are never investigated and nobody knows their side effects.” He advised the public to avoid unknown traditional herbs because they can lead to liver and kidney damage and other effects.

A Kaduna based medical practitioner, Dr Nuhu Yusuf said bitters contain alcohol and overwork the liver. He said most of the bitters contain two to five per cent of alcohol which can damage the liver.

“Some see bitters are natural, but since they go through chemicals and preservation, they undergo metabolic changes.

“Anything natural will be consumed direct and not going through chemical processes.

“We agree that bitters have health benefits like easing digestion but when you take and they over react in your body, the aim has been defeated.”

Yusuf agreed that taking bitters regulate appetite, build vitality, calm upset stomach, and nausea and encourage digestive enzymes and bile.

“Bitters help to curb sugar craving in the body and relieve heart burn; they also help to increase absorption of fat soluble vitamins.’’

Mr Kayode Abdulraham, a businessman in Kano, said some bitters were taken to boost morale while others were for healing.

According to him, bitters have positive effects on the body.

“Consumption of Swedish bitters is mainly to improve digestive enzymes and help in raising the acidity of the intestines.

“Some people consume Alomo bitters to boost their morale especially when they are psychologically down”, he said. He explained that many rural and urban dwellers preferred bitters for treatment of diseases in place of modern drugs. Abdulraham said modern day drugs have the combination of these bitters but in a refined form due to technical and scientific advancement.

A businesswoman, Hajia Aisha Ede said, “I take Agbo to cleanse my blood so that it will circulate well.”

Mr Caleb Moses, a hawker in Birnin Kebbi, said he consumes bitters to relieve stress and tiredness.

“I consume bitters and rely on it as a sex energy boost and relief for stomach pains as well as indigestion and malaria”, he added.

According to Michael Abu, a resident of Birnin Kebbi, the consumption of bitters assists in the prevention of diseases such as malaria, fatigue and stress.

“I consume bitters due to the low price. I do so with caution. I believe in traditional medicine especially herbs and with the packaging of bitters I feel safe to consume the product”, he added.

Mr John Emeka, a trader, said the products had been recognized by relevant health authorities, adding that only fake products cause problems.

Malam Ubale Abubakar, a consumer, told NAN that he drinks a bottle of Coca-Cola after every meal.
“Whenever I eat food I make sure a bottle of coke is by my side.

“I become refreshed, satisfied and fulfilled with a bottle of Coke after meal, but am not disturbed without it”, he stressed.

Alhaji Yusuf Suleman, also a consumer, said he drinks bitters because it gives him apatite apart from aiding his digestion.

“However, I know too much intake of the bitters may harm a person. Notwithstanding that, we I do my best to regulate the intake.”

A pharmacist, Mr Victor Moses, blamed health authorities for the increase in the consumption of bitters, noting that there was very little control and regulation of the products.

“The majority of consumers do so due to economic hardship especially the youths who want to always feel high as they lack work to do.

“The enforcement of legislation against consumption of bitters would prevent people suffering from addiction and health hazards”, Moses said.

Mr kenneth Azikiwe, Kaduna State Coordinator, NAFDAC, said all bitters in the market have been duly registered and certified.

“To check the authenticity of the product, you will see their label and the agency’s number given to them to certify the product as good.

“You hardly find any bitters in the market without NAFDAC number because we go on routine check to ensure that all are genuine for the safety of all Nigerians. (NAN)

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