CLAIM: Eating Ewedu Cures COVID-19

Olakunle Mohammed

 

There have been several claims on the use of several traditional drugs and herbs as a cure or prevention of COVID-19. One of the claims making rounds across social media and news platforms is that eating molokhia leaves, or what Nigerians simply refer to as Ewedu cures coronavirus or prevents you from catching the virus.

This claim about Ewedu curing coronavirus was already making rounds when I came across a lady at a popular food joint, devouring a plate of amala with soup. She caught me staring at her soup which was a combination of gbegiri, ewedu and soup, when she smiled and informed me that it was her favourite meal.

She said further, “I can eat amala and ewedu throughout the day, now that I know that ewedu can cure Coronavirus,” this was at the time when the COVID-19 virus was in its second wave in Nigeria.

During our conversation at the restaurant, I inquired where she heard that Ewedu could cure the deadly virus that had claimed 2,100 lives in Nigeria and over 3.7 million across the world as at May 2021, she replied, “I saw it on one WhatsApp group where I am a member, the admin posted it there,’ but she could not remember when she saw the timeline for when the post was shared on the group.

Though, I did not get her name but her stance on how ewedu was a coronavirus cure made me decide to fact-check its authenticity, whether it was true or a hoax.

What is Ewedu?

The green leaves which belong to the Corchorus olitorius species and called Jute mallow in English are commonly used as a vegetable in Middle Eastern, North African, East African and West African countries. The vegetable is known as ewedu in south-western Nigeria while Egyptians and Tunisians call it molokhiya, the Kenyans have it as a local delicacy called murere, murenda, or apoth in several regions. However, the leaves are called kren-kre or krain krain in Sierra-Leone but you can find it in Liberia where locals call it palaver sauce and in The Gambia, where it is referred to as kereng-kereng.

Jute leaves are prepared using traditional recipes and eaten in several ways across these two continents but the constant about it, it is rich in several nutrients such as folate, beta-carotene, iron, calcium and vitamin C, according to research published by two food scientists in 2010.

Origin of the claim

The claim went viral on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with an article published by ARAB TIMES on April 6, 2020 which stated that scientific studies have proven that molokhia leaves contain flavonoid that helps zinc to enter into the virus-infected cell and prevents the reproduction mechanism of its RNA genetic material to stop the virus from reproducing inside the body.

Source: The Wayback Machine

Dr Fahd Al-Najjar, a consultant for Internal Medicine and the Digestive System at the Thunyan Al-Ghanem Center at the Amiri Hospital in Kuwait was identified as the researcher who made the scientific breakthrough reported by Al-Rai Daily.

 

On WhatsApp, it was shared as a JPG image containing the wordings, “In short, Krain krain has flavonoid that aids the absorption of zinc in the body. Zinc can enter the virus infected cells and stop corona virus from reproducing. Good news. Eat African! Ewedu,” with the short link article title, “‘Molokhia leaves help curb reproduction of coronavirus’ – ARAB TIMES – KUWAIT NEWS.”

Tracing the Internet History of the claim

The researcher gathered information and data on the claim using available online sources, commonly referred to as open source intelligence (OSINT). A search through Facebook using graph tips revealed results unrelated to the claim, however, a Google reverse image search of the image used in the article revealed several outcomes, showing that the post about Molokihia leaves being a cure for Coronavirus first appeared on the social media platform on May 10, 2020 on a public group called United States of Nigeria which had about 1,850 members, the post had four reactions, one comment and eleven shares.

Source: Facebook/Unitedkingdomofnigeria

On that same date, the image was also posted on another public group titled TALAKAWA’S PARLIAMENT (TP) which had over 2,900 members but had zero engagement.

Source: Facebook/Adevision2015

The same image was shared on January 22, 2021 by one, Ade Eye Clinic but had zero engagement.

Source: Hoaxy

Using the Hoaxy search engine tool for Twitter, it was discovered that 281 users on the microblogging platform had tweeted or retweeted something about ‘ewedu covid-19 nigeria’ and ‘molokhia covid-19 nigeria’ between June 2020 and July 2021.

Source: Hoaxy

Also, use of the same tool with keyword variation ‘molokhia coronavirus nigeria’ and ‘ewedu covid-19 nigeria’ revealed that over 950 users had used the platform between June 2020 and April 2021 to share same information on the disease and vegetable.

Source: Instagram

On Instagram, a traditional search was conducted using #ewedu and #molokhia (which had over 7,100 posts) but only two users bldafricancookhouse and plantainflour.chic posted the image on their pages in 2021.

Verifying the Claim

Is the doctor quoted in the viral claim real?

An internet search for ‘Dr. Fahd Al-Nayyar’ turned up related search results with pictures of the medical practitioner, however, his name was spelled as Dr. Fahad A. Al-Najjar, employed with Al-Salam International Hospital as a Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatology.

This contradicts the designation that he is a consultant for internal medicine and digestive system in Al-Ghanem Center at the Amiri Hospital as stated in the viral article. However, the researcher was unable to get a contact mail of the doctor.

What are the nutrients in Molokhia?

According to home scientists, Molokhia is the powerhouse of nutrition as the research conducted by food scientists, Bhawana Dayal and Singh Neetu in 2015 revealed that 100g molokhia leaves contained carotene, calcium, potassium, iron, vitamins B1 and B2 but in milligram amounts. The food scientists confirmed that fibre, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, niacin and vitamin C, E, K, B6, and A, are present in the vegetable but you would have to eat a substantial serving, at least 500mg.

Also, the research conducted by a group of academics and presented at a home economics conference in 2018 also tested for the nutritional content of molokhia leaves powder, the result showed that it contained niacin, vitamins B6, B12, A,C, D and E, pyridoxine, and folic acid but in extremely small milligrams.

Source: Abd El-Rahman et al. (2018)

But, the viral claim stated that molokhia leaves contain flavonoids.

What is flavonoid?

According to a group of Brazilian chemists that wrote a book chapter on plant properties where flavonoids were described as low molecular weight polyphenols that are usually brightly coloured as a result of their absorptions of UV light and most commonly associated with antioxidant properties.

As seen in the table above, the phenolic compounds tested for in Molokhia leaves showed that there are elements of polyphenol and phenolic compounds inside them.

What are the benefits of Molokhia leaves?

Early researchers have identified molokhia leaves and other vegetables with the nutrients like flavonoids and antioxidants that are protective against several life-threatening diseases, particularly cardiovascular sickness and certain types of cancer. In 1990, a research paper published in the peer-reviewed journal, FEBS Letters stated that food-derived flavonoids such as the flavonols quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin reduce cancer risk, recall that Molokhia leaves have a presence of flavonols quercetin as mentioned in the viral article.

A recent study conducted by a group of Korean food technologist and published in a peer-reviewed journal in April 2021 examined molokhia leaves to see if they possessed health benefits that can improve intestinal health and the immune system. The results showed that the plant has immune-enhancing activity as it revealed high bone marrow cell multiplying activity and produced immunoglobulin A and cytokines when it was tested.

Does Molokhia leaves cure Coronavirus?

Molokhia leaves being identified as a cure for COVID-19 through the viral claim stems from the press statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 4, 2020 which welcomes innovations around the world including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for COVID-19.

But, WHO maintained that establishing the efficacy and safety of these traditional medicines through rigorous clinical trials is critical and would be partnering with countries and research institutions to test selected traditional medicine products for clinical efficacy and safety for COVID-19 treatment.

However, a search of peer-reviewed journals did not turn up any recent publication – letter, journal or research – on molokhia leaves being a viable cure for Coronavirus.

The National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the agency responsible for regulating food and drugs in Nigeria put out an expression of interest in May 2020 to scientists and trado-medical professionals to submit drugs and herbs for clinical trials as a COVID-19 related medicine but no reports showed that Ewedu was ever submitted to NAFDAC for expedited review as a cure for coronavirus.

Oluwatosin Ola, a public health nutritionist when asked about the benefits of Ewedu, stated that “it is an edible plant which is highly nutritious,” corroborating that it prevents the adverse effects of free radicals and antiviral properties which helps to strengthen the immune system by preventing tissue damage and tumor growth. However, the nutritionist was quoted saying, “in terms of Ewedu preventing COVID-19, a research has to be done to establish that.”

She said: “Ewedu alone can only yield a little significance as regards boosting immunity. An adequate diet is vital for improving immunity together with other lifestyle factors.

“This is also applicable to COVID-19, Ewedu cannot be eaten alone as a cure for COVID-19. Till date scientist are still researching to find a cure to COVID-19.”

The nutritionist said further that, “apart from the vaccine that helps in prevention of COVID-19, more research can be done on fruits and vegetables with antioxidant properties to determine their effectiveness in curing COVID-19.”

But, the researcher also asked Dr. Laz Ude Eze, a public health expert, if the presence of certain nutrients in molokhia leaves prevent the reproduction mechanism of COVID-19 RNA in the body stated that, “even though the nutrients in molokhia improves intestinal health and the immune system, it does not automatically translate to affecting the replication of the COVID-19 RNA virus. There is no scientific evidence that supports that.”

Conclusion

There is no evidence, clinical trial or peer-reviewed scientific research that validates the claim that molokhia leaves can cure or prevent COVID-19. Hence, the viral claim is MISLEADING and FALSE.

 

 

 

This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.

 

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