The study, published in January 2022, demonstrated that the Wang Nam Yen herbal tea was as effective as Domperidone to induce breast milk production at 72 hours postpartum in mothers following a caesarean delivery.
Due to its side effect of causing abnormal heart rhythms, Domperidone is currently not approved by US FDA or Thai FDA for breast milk production. However, researchers from Chula Faculty of Medicine said that “mothers have used it off label for a long time.”
The herbal tea also claimed additional benefits in reducing postpartum pain, fatigue, as well as dehydration.
The study was funded by the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTAM) – a subsidiary of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), and the findings were published in the PLOS One journal.
The herbal tea was manufactured by Wang Nam Yen Hospital, a community hospital in Thailand renowned for the use of traditional Thai medicine. Usually prepared in a tea bag, it contains local herbs used in traditional Thai cuisine such as sappan, licorice, bale fruit, ginger, and jewel vine.
In an interview with NutraIngredients-Asia, researcher and advisor to DTAM, Associate Professor Dr Krit Pongpirul, said that traditional Thai medicine has been criticized for the lack of scientific evidence backing its claims:
“In Thailand, we are still dominated by conventional medicine. My job is to make sure every product we try to promote, we should have measurable and objective outcomes.
“We choose the product to study not only based on outcomes, but also the product readiness. We are prioritising the list of herbal recipes to make sure the ones top in the list gets additional evidence before it launches.”
First for policy, then for trade
He also elaborated on the research goals: “There are two goals: One altruistic and one commercial. In Thailand, we want to encourage the lay persons to produce this in their households to minimize their healthcare expense.
“We also want to shift gear to produce commercial products and export to outside Thailand to get some income to fund the universal health coverage, and there has to be some kind of good manufacturing practices in place.”
The team is on track to get the recipe approved in the national list of herbal medicine covered in the universal coverage scheme.
Whereas for the “commercial goal,” it is expected to take a longer time due to the multiple stakeholders involved.
According to Dr Pongpirul, the team is amid transferring the copyright of the recipe from the community hospital to MOPH, as well as setting up discussions with some private companies to make the products commercially viable within and outside Thailand.
The other possible formats the recipe can be encapsulated in include powder, capsules, pills, or the optimal ready-to-drink (RTD) format.
“One of the key lactation problems is not having enough water in the body. The point is to have water along with it. So, it’s an indirect message to make it in a tea format, as it forces you to drink and not just swallow a pill or a capsule.”
While it is still a way to go before it gets to market, Dr Pongpirul said that there would likely be demand from United States (US).
In Asia, it is targeting countries that are familiar with the tea-drinking custom, such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and India.
In Thailand, he said demand for such products was significant, but that consumer education was lacking.
“As I monitor postpartum mothers in the Thai context, they try to find anything in the market, whether it’s vegetables or pills to make their health better.
“Right now, the problem is that people consume too many things for the same purpose. While I don’t worry about this [herbal tea] product, I’m worried that a mother may consume five different brands or products just to produce more milk.
“Consumers may not have a clear idea about drug interaction, especially mixing herbal and Western medicine ingredients.”
Prior to commercialization, Dr. Pongpirul said that the team may consider conducting some observational and cohort studies post-intervention to monitor how many participants take the herbal tea alongside something else, and the side effects with different product interactions.