Prophetic Medicine: What about sugar?

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SHAFAQNA – By Dr John Andrew Morrow - According to a tradition, the Messenger of Allah referred to the Spring of Eternal Life as sweeter than sugar. [1] In another tradition, the Prophet is reported to have said: Eat sugar cane (qasab al-sukkar). It helps the one who is full to digest, and it fills the one who is hungry.” [2]

Sugar: A Prophetic Prescription

According to a tradition, the Messenger of Allah referred to the Spring of Eternal Life as sweeter than sugar. [1] In another tradition, the Prophet is reported to have said: Eat sugar cane (qasab al-sukkar). It helps the one who is full to digest, and it fills the one who is hungry.” [2] Imam Muhammad al-Baqir reproached one of his companions for failing to appreciate the medicinal benefits of sugar: “Woe to you, O Zarara,” said the Imam, “what makes people heedless of the excellence of lump sugar [al-sukkar al-tabarzad] when it is beneficial for seventy illnesses and it devours phlegm completely and uproots it?” [3] On one occasion, Imam al-Ṣadiq was called upon by a Companion who suffered from quartran fever. He said: “What about the blessed, the good [remedy]. Grind sugar and add it to water. Drink it on an empty stomach whenever you want a drink of water. The Companion did as he was instructed and the fever did not recur. [4]

Issues in Identification. It is the consensus that sukkar is Arabic for sugar. In Modern Standard Arabic, sugar cane is known as sakkarun. It is also known by its Classical Arabic name of qasab al-zukkar and is cultivated in Arabia. According to Akili, crystallized sugar is called tabarzad while ubluj refers to sugar-candy. [5] Sugarcane is indigenous to India and was brought to the West by Alexander the Great and his soldiers by about 325 B.C. Al-sukkar al-tabarzad is known in German as kandiszucker.

While most people in the Western world view sugar as detrimental to good health, sugar, in its natural, raw and unrefined form, is actually an excellent food rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, with a long tradition of medical applications, many of which have been confirmed by scientific studies.

Properties and Uses. While most people in the Western world view sugar as detrimental to good health, sugar, in its natural, raw and unrefined form, is actually an excellent food rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, with a long tradition of medical applications, many of which have been confirmed by scientific studies. A comparison of 100 grams of white, refined, sugar with that of whole raw sugar demonstrates the great differences in nutrition between these two products:

White Sugar Whole Raw Sugar
Sucrose 99.6 88-91
Glucose 0 2-6
Fructose 0 3-6
Potassium 3-5 600-1,000
Magnesium 0 40-100
Calcium 10-15 80-110
Phosphorus 0.3 50-100
Vitamin A 0 120-1,200
Vitamin B1 0 0.023-0.1
Vitamin B2 0 0.06-0.15
Vitamin B6 0 0.02-0.15
Niatin 0 0.03-0.19
Patothenic 0 0.34-1.18

The nutritional value of panela, natural brown sugar, is even higher than that of whole raw white sugar: 100 grams of panela contains 2,850 mg of mineral salts, 116 mg of phosphorus, 118 mg of calcium, 136 mg of magnesium, 1056 mg of potassium and 3 mg of iron. Panela has 5 times more minerals than brown sugar and 50 times more minerals than refined white sugar. It also contains traces of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, manganese, chloride, copper and ascorbic and folic acid. The nutritional qualities of panela are quite exceptional and can be compared with those of honey.

The medicinal properties of sugar were first documented by the ancient Indians. In Sushruta Samhita, one of the two seminal scriptures of Ayurvedic medicine dating back 2500 years, sugar purifies the blood, prevents rheumatic afflictions, and disorders of bile, and possesses nutritive properties of high order. According to Ibn Butlan, white sugar purifies the body, is good for the chest, the kidneys, and the bladder. It causes thirst. [6] The ancient Egyptians used sugar and honey to stop bleeding from wounds, a technique equally employed by Europeans until the advent of antibiotics. [7] As Dr. Joel L. Swerdlow explains, “Sugar promotes new tissue growth by drying the bed, or bottom, of a wound, weakening the bacteria present there by dehydrating them.” [8] As a result, some surgeons have now turned to sugar to help heal deep wounds. [9]

In Ayurvedic medicine, sugar is used to strengthen the stomach, the kidneys, the heart, the eyes, the brain and the sexual organs. It is said to benefit the spleen, circulation and digestion. Sugarcane is indicated for genitor-urinary disorders such as micturition, prostrate problems, cyctitis and nepthritis. Mixed with lime juice, it is said to hasten recovery from jaundice. The juice of the sugarcane is utilized in febrile conditions. In India, like in many other parts of the world, sugarcane is used to brush and floss the teeth. Research has shown that sugar, in its natural form, prevents tooth decay.

As Dr. Joel L. Swerdlow explains, “Sugar promotes new tissue growth by drying the bed, or bottom, of a wound, weakening the bacteria present there by dehydrating them.” [8] As a result, some surgeons have now turned to sugar to help heal deep wounds. [9]

Sugarcane juice is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat fevers, genitor-urinary disorders, jaundice, weak teeth, thinness, eyes disorders, cataract, and conjunctivitis, as well as burning of the eyes, and eye-strain after excessive reading. Panela is also reported to be an antidote, antiseptic, antivinous, bactericide, cardiotonic, demulcent, diuretic, intoxicant, laxative, pectoral, piscicide, refrigerant, and stomachic. It is a traditional remedy for arthritis, various skin problems, inflammation, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, hiccups, inflammation, laryngitis and opacity.

Scientific Studies. Studies conducted in Colombia have shown that panela can prevent wound infection in perforated appendicitis, constipation in babies, and nutritious anaemia, rickets, thrush or aphthae. Other studies have shown that panela can help heal both internal and external wounds including ulcers, as well as potentially protecting the ungs from smoke-induced lung lesions.

Antiproliferative and Antioxidant Activity
According to a study conducted by the Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil, a flavone from sugarcane juice showed in vitro antiproliferative activity against several human cancer cell lines. [10] In another study conducted by the Universidade de Sao Paulo, phenolic compounds from sugar cane juice showed anti-oxidant activity, indicating a potential use for beneficial health effects and/or therapeutic applications. [11]

Anti-inflammatory Activity
According to an animal study, the oral administration of a mixture of fatty acids isolated from sugar cane showed anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, providing evidence of its potential usefulness in inflammatory disorders. [12] According to an animal study conducted by the Centro de Inmunologia Molecular in Cuba, the topical application of a mixture of fatty acids from sugar cane exerted important anti-inflammatory effects in arthritis and psoriasis without evidence of irritant effects. [13]

Immunostimulating Activity
According to an animal study conducted by the National Institute of Animal Health in Japan, chickens who were orally administered sugar cane extracts showed significantly higher antibody responses, suggesting an immunostimulating effect. [14]

In an animal study conducted by National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, the oral administration of sugar cane extract produced an immunostimulative effect on porcine innate immunity that may provide protection against pathogens. [15]

According to an animal study conducted by the University of Tokyo, chickens who were orally administered sugar cane extract showed significantly higher body weight and gain in body weight as well as a lower food conversion rate. Oral administration of sugar cane extract also resulted in significantly higher immune responses, suggesting an immunostimulating and growth-promoting effects. [16]

Protective Activity against Endotoxic Shock
In an animal study conducted by the National Institute of Animal Health in Japan, the intraperitoneal administration of sugar cane extract before or after induced lethal shock significantly improved survival rates (92.3%) and a decrease in liver injury. These results suggest that sugar cane extract has protective effects. [17]

Protective Effect against Pseudo-Rabies
According to an animal study conducted by National Chung Hsing University in Japan, the oral administration of sugar cane extract to pigs with pseudo-rabbies virus showed a significant enhancement of natural killer cytotoxicity, lymphocyte proliferation, phagocytic function of monocytes, and interferon-gamma roduction of CD4(+) and gammadelta T cells. Sugar cane extract administration also reduced the severity of clinical signs and brain lesion in the course of disease in pigs with pseudo-rabies. Sugar cane extract treated pigs showed a 12% growth enhancement compared with untreated controls. Sugar cane extract administration had an immunostimulating effect on porcine immunity that may subsequently enhance protective activities against pseudorabies virus infection which may be extensively applied in field for the prevention of infections. [18]

Radioprotective Effect
According to an animal study conducted by the National Institute of Animal Health in Japan, the oral administration of sugar cane extract increased the survival rate of irradiated chickens to 68.8% when compared to the irradiated control (50%). [19] In another study conducted by the National Institute of Animal Health, the administration of sugar cane extract before or after irradiation enhanced both primary and secondary immune responses in chickens. [20]

Cholesterol-Lowering Effect
According to a study conducted by the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas Cuba, policosanol, a natural mixture of higher primary aliphatic alcohols isolated and purified from sugar cane wax, possesses cholesterol lowering properties. This study indicated that while policosanol lowers LDL levels, HDL levels reamin unchanged. [21]

Hypoglycemic Activity
According to an animal study conducted by Tohoku University in Japan, a non-sucrose portion of sugar cane juice prominently diminishes blood sugar level in mice. Activity-guided fractionation of this portion yielded six glycans, saccharans A, B, C, D, E and F. These glycans exerted remarkable hypoglycemic actions in normal and alloxan-produced hyperglycemic mice. [22]

According to a controlled animal trial conducted by the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas in Cuba, policosanol, a natural mixture of higher primary aliphatic alcohols isolated and purified from sugar cane wax, significantly reduces total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol serum levels in a dose dependent manner. Serum triglyceride levels were significantly different between treated and control animals, but the reduction was not found to be dose-dependent, and high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels remained unchanged. [23]

According to studies conducted by the Center for Natural Products in Cuba, policosanol prevents the onset of atherosclerotic lesions, lowers cholesterol, and reduces the potential of lipoprotein to undergo lipid peroxidation, thus demonstrating promise in the management of atherosclerosis. [24] In a controlled 9 month animal trial conducted by the Center for Natural Products in Cuba, D-003, a mixture of high molecular weight aliphatic primary acids purified from sugar cane wax, significantly lowered total cholesterol, and significantly inhibited platelet aggregation. [25]

Although more than 50 studies have reported substantial reductions in plasma lipid concentrations in response to Cuban sugar cane policosanol mixtures, several animal and human trials conducted outside of Cuba, and that used non-Cuban mixtures, have failed to reproduce the efficacity of policosanols observed in earlier studies. McGill University in Canada, set out to evaluate the lipid-modulating actions of authentic Cuban sugar cane policosanols in twenty-two healthy hypercholesterolemic volunteers. In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study, no significant difference was observed between treatment and control groups in plasma total, LDL-, HDL-cholesterol, and triacylglycerol concentrations. The study showed no beneficial effects of Cuban sugar cane policosanols on lipid indicators in hypercholesterolemic persons, calling into question the clinical usefulness of policosanol mixtures as cholesterol-lowering neutraceutical agents. [26]

The Carolinas Medical Center Department of Family Medicine also examined the efficacy of sugar-cane derived policosanol in healthy adults with mild hypercholesterolemia. In an 8 week, double-blind, randomized controlled trial, no significant differences in the change in LDL cholesterol were observed between the placebo and policosanol groups. No significant changes were observed in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triacylglycerol, and C-reactive protein. Researchers concluded that policosanol does not alter the serum lipid profile over an eight week period in adults with mild hypercholesterolemia. [27]

Antiosteoporosis Activity
According to an animal study conducted by the Center of Natural Products in Cuba, D-003, a sugar cane juice derivative, prevented bone loss, increased osteoblast surface, and reduced bone resorption parameters. These results suggest that D-003 could prove useful in managing osteoporosis. [28]


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[11] Mauricio Duarte-Almeida J, Novoa AV, Linares AF, Lajolo FM, Ines Genovese M. Antioxidant activity of phenolics compounds from sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum L.) juice. Plant Foods Hum Nutr.2006;61(4):187-192.
[12] Ledon N, Casaco A, Rodriguez V, Cruz J, Gonzalez R, Tolon Z, Cano M, Rojas E. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of a mixture of fatty acids isolated and purified from sugar cane wax oil. Planta Med.2003;69(4):367-369.
[13] Ledon N, Casaco A, Remirez D, Gonzalez A, Cruz J, Gonzalez R, Capote A, Tolon Z, Rojas E, Rodriguez VJ, Merino N, Rodriguez S, Ancheta O, Cano MC. Effects of a mixture of fatty acids from sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum L.) wax oil in two models of inflammation: Zymosan-induced arthritis and mice tail test of psoriasis.Phytomedicine. 2007.
[14] Hikosaka K, El-Abasy M, Koyama Y, Motobu M, Koge K, Isobe T, Kang CB, Hayashidani H, Onodera T, Wang PC, Matsumura M, Hirota Y. Immunostimulating effects of the polyphenol-rich fraction of sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum L.) extract in chickens. Phytother Res. 2007;21(2):120-125.
[15] Lo DY, Chen TH, Chien MS, Koge K, Hosono A, Kaminogawa S, Lee WC. Effects of sugar cane extract on the modulation of immunity in pigs. J Vet Med Sci. 2005;67(6):591-597.
[16] El-Abasy M, Motobu M, Shimura K, Na KJ, Kang CB, Koge K, Onodera T, Hirota Y. Immunostimulating and growth-promoting effects of sugar cane extract (SCE) in chickens. J Vet Med Sci. 2002;64(11):1061-1063.
[17] Motobu M, Amer S, Koyama Y, Hikosaka K, Sameshima T, Yamada M, Nakamura K, Koge K, Kang CB, Hayasidani H, Hirota Y. Protective effects of sugar cane extract on endotoxic shock in mice. Phytother Res.2006;20(5):359-363.
[18] Lo DY, Chien MS, Yeh KS, Koge K, Lin CC, Hsuan SL, Lee WC. Effects of sugar cane extract on pseudorabies virus challenge of pigs. J Vet Med Sci. 2006;68(3):219-225.
[19] Amer S, Na KJ, Motobu M, El-Abasy M, Nakamura K, Koge K, Hirota Y. Radioprotective effect of sugar cane extract in chickens. Phytother Res. 2005;19(6):496-500.
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[23] Arruzazabala ML, Carbajal D, Mas R, Molina V, Valdes S, Laguna A. Cholesterol-lowering effects of policosanol in rabbits. Biol Res. 1994;27(3-4):205-208.
[24] Menendez R, Fraga V, Amor AM, Gonzalez RM, Mas R. Oral administration of policosanol inhibits in vitro copper ion-induced rat lipoprotein peroxidation. Physiol Behav. 1999;67(1):1-7.
[25] Gamez R, Mas R, Noa M, Menendez R, Garcia H, Gonzalez J, Perez Y, Goicochea E. Effects of chronic administration of D-003, a mixture of sugar cane wax high molecular acids, in beagle dogs. Drugs Exp Clin Res.2004;30(2):75-88.
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