A prominent herbalist in Turkey, Şeref Menteşe, has lambasted drug companies, saying the side effects of commonly prescribed drugs have resulted in too many illnesses in the country, costing billions of dollars for the treatment of toxins released from the drugs.
“As a herbalist who tries to promote the huge benefits of herbal treatment in Turkey, I have been confronted with huge lobbying efforts by big pharmaceutical companies that aim at nothing but thwarting the development of alternative or traditional medicine,” he said, stressing that these companies have spent millions of dollars in lobbying efforts to keep doctors, bureaucrats and parliamentarians on their side. “Alternative healing methods based on herbal extracts from nature could potentially save billions of dollars for the state treasury,” he asserted.$HOME4
Menteşe, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who makes a point of saying he is not against what he describes as orthodox medicine, claims there is huge potential in Turkey in terms of the development of herbal medicines. “The herbal and plant variety in Turkey is very rich, numbering around 5,000 [species],” he said, “We could develop a huge market following close cooperation between universities, research and development [R&D] centers and the industry.” He predicts the market value for such cooperation could be in the range of $80-100 billion in terms of export revenue.
The son of an immigrant worker in Germany, Menteşe pursued a degree in medicine but dropped out during his senior year after realizing how drug companies interact with future doctors and surgeons during their schooling. “One day, we were told experts from drug companies would brief us on how to write prescriptions for drugs. That was the day I realized there was a huge conflict of interest between doctors and big pharmaceutical companies. I said to myself this is not the way to go about healing patients under the influence and directives of drug lords,” he recalls.
Menteşe later studied alternative treatments in Malaysia and visited many East Asian countries, including China and Japan, to learn more about herbal science. He realized East Asian people did not did not display most of the side effects of pharmaceuticals that modern science tried to tackle in Europe and the Americas.
“It was an eye opener for me because I saw these people have, for centuries, been closely interacting with nature and were using natural remedies like teas and such,” he said. Mushrooms and their usage as herbal treatments for a number of illnesses peaked his interest. He decided to take a closer look at what he called miracle mushrooms and became a specialist in mushrooms.
There is a fundamental difference between the approach of modern medical science and one based on traditional medical science, Menteşe argues. “The former tackles the effects of the basic illnesses and does not deal with the root causes. If you ask me, most diseases are derivatives of a dozen illnesses. Herbal medicine attacks the roots of these diseases,” he explains.
According to him, drug companies exaggerate most of these diseases and even fabricate them to make money off of the fears of the general public. Menteşe gives the example of the swine flu pandemic, also known as H1N1, in 2009 as a fabricated disease propagated by drug companies to make money worldwide. In fact the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) stated in its 2010 report that the handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with European Union agencies and national governments, resulted in a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public.”
The H1N1 virus was estimated to cost the nation’s healthcare system in excess of TL 1 billion ($626 million), according to Turkey’s Health Ministry, which factors the cost of vaccines, increased trips to private and public health care providers, lab tests and prescriptions. Many people received flu vaccine shots in Turkey, but the number dropped dramatically when the Turkish prime minister said he would not get one, creating a rift with his health minister, who advocated having the vaccination. “Nobody can be forced to take a shot,” Erdogan had said.
On the way to a herbal company: It is clear that Menteşe’s heart lies in herbal science, even though he has sharpened his entrepreneurial skills in other areas. He ventured into sectors ranging from communications to the hospitality industry before starting to invest in herbal medicine. He ran communications and textile businesses and opened up a Turkish shopping center in Germany. Upon returning to Turkey, he worked in the hospitality sector by establishing the 250-bed Hotel Beyza in the Altinoluk district of Balikesir province at a cost of 5.5 million euros.
In 2008, he started up the Albatroz Company, which sells herbal products mostly based on reishi mushrooms commonly grown in East Asia. He imports reishi mushrooms from Malaysia and has them processed to produce herbal medicine in Germany before exporting them to over 40 countries. “The reishi mushroom is a miracle product,” he says, “It was used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years.”
Menteşe underlines that reishi mushrooms have no side effects whatsoever and help cure many diseases. He specifically singles out cancer treatment using reishi-based herbal medicine, for example. Various studies have shown reishi extracts may help stop tumor growth in cancer-infected organs and even treat them, as well as help build up the immune system in humans.
The reishi is used in herbal supplements to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Findings indicate that reishi extract can help strengthen the liver against viruses and other toxic agents in mice, suggesting a potential benefit of this compound in the prevention of liver disease in humans.
Menteşe’s business quickly became a market leader in mushroom-based natural remedies in Turkey and with the fame came counterfeit herbal drugs allegedly using reishi mushroom extract. “I do not mind copycat businesses as people, in time, will turn to the authentic products in the market,” he says.
He does criticize archaic regulations regarding drug development that draw their legal authority from 1927 laws and says it does hamper the ability of his business to grow. “That is why I have reishi extract herbal remedies produced in Germany using advanced technology,” he explains.
Open to joint ventures: Asked if he is willing to sell his successful enterprise to a domestic or foreign buyer for the right price, Menteşe responds negatively, saying he is only interested in taking a partner provided that the partnership would mean an advanced technological process and know-how. “I have money flowing from my other businesses and no interest in entering into partnerships just for financial reasons,” he says.
Menteşe also blames drug companies for the lackluster development of the herbal medicine market in Turkey. He even claims bureaucrats in both the ministries of agriculture and health are under the influence of these multi-billion dollar companies. “The bureaucracy puts obstacles before the development of herbal medical treatments. The market is open to alternative medicine in Japan and the US, for example. But here in Turkey, you cannot even use the word treatment with herbal drugs when marketing them. This is totally unacceptable,” he explained.
That is hardly unique to Turkey and most herbal products are not allowed to be advertised as medicine in many countries. With pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, which spends billions on testing and developing new drugs, governments often find themselves in a position of not being willing to give the go-ahead to marketing herbal medicines on the same footing.
Criticizing remarks by Health Minister Recep Akdag, who said 90 percent of all cancer patients would die of the disease, Menteşe said the statement itself proved conventional methods could not work in curing cancer, even though the government spends $2.5 billion on its treatment annually. He challenges modern medicine with the claim that he would be able to cure most terminal cancer patients using a reishi-based treatment. “Let them come with the best doctors and best medicines, I will come with my own developed herbal drug. I will get much better results with zero risks and no side effects,” he vowed.
Insufficient regulations and a lack of laws regarding herbal treatment is another stumbling block preventing the development of herbal medicine in Turkey. It allows counterfeit herbal drugs to spread into the market and trigger consumer complaints. Menteşe emphasized that the government needs to regulate the industry by issuing licenses and approving drugs that have internationally accredited lab certificates. In Turkey, there are no labs capable of running tests on herbal drugs to verify claims on the label or issue a license that is acceptable to many export markets. “That is why I get my products licensed and tested in Germany,” he states.
However, this carries a potential risk of backfiring on Menteşe’s aspirations to help herbal medicine businesses take off. Licensing and registration may become another obstacle before herbalists in many markets, including the European Union. For example, a new law called the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) states that in order for a herbal medicinal product to be licensed for sale, there must be proof that it has been used for 30 years in the EU, or 15 years in the EU and 15 years in another part of the world. The law is set to take effect in May 2011.
The directive created uproar in India and China, where herbal remedies are widely used and exported to the EU market. The concern was that smaller herbal medicine companies could not afford the high costs of the testing process that would provide hard data for regulators. Since big drug companies have no money problems, it would create unfair competition, critics argue. So far, in the UK for example, only 79 herbal medical drugs are registered and big pharmaceutical companies manufacture one-third of them.
Political lobbying needed: Menteşe believes a political platform is needed to raise awareness about the importance of alternative medicine in Turkey, and he has even thought of setting up a sort of green party to advance the agenda or become a deputy for another party to campaign on behalf of herbalists. “At the end of the day, it all boils down to the political commitment to overcome intense lobbying efforts by big drug companies,” he said.
He lashed out at big pharmaceutical companies, saying they corrupt health officials and doctors by offering lavish gifts and vacations. “All the big drug companies in Turkey have at least one or two deputies in Parliament from each party to lobby on their behalf,” he claimed.
Herbal supplements would also play a major role in preventive medicine, Menteşe argued, saying the government could very well save half of its $20 billion social security expenditure. “The most important thing is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. Unfortunately, the government spends huge amounts of money on the treatment bit, not enough on preventive medicine. If you take herbal drugs like reishi on a daily basis, you will build your immune system and your chance of getting sick will diminish considerably,” he explained.
He predicted that with 4,800 different endemic plant varieties, Turkey could very well be the number one agro export country in Europe.