x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai spice souq selling 'natural Viagra' made from powdered lizard

In addition to saffron, cardamon and various herbs, the windows of dozens of shops in the market in Deira advertise 'natural viagra' in bold, handwritten signs.

'Natural viagra' on display at one of the shops in the spice souq area in Deira, Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
'Natural viagra' on display at one of the shops in the spice souq area in Deira, Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Traditional Middle Eastern remedies are being used to make what traders claim is “natural Viagra”.

Dozens of shops in the spice souq are advertising the supplements via handwritten signs in the windows.

“We have many different types of natural Viagra,” said one shopkeeper, Mahmoud. “They are popular.”

One such product, named Alraheeq, contains honey and black cumin seed – a remedy for boosting the immune system. Black cumin seed is called “Habbatul Barakah” in Arabic, or the “blessed seed”.

“It is known in Islam and locally as a cure for all diseases,” said Dr Carina Huwari, the head pharmacist at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre. “It’s certainly good for boosting immunity, but we don’t recommend it specifically for enhancement. It’s not as specific as ginseng, for instance, in its action.”

Another product, labelled “Natural Viagra” contains “sandfish paste” – powder from a desert lizard.

Johannes Els, head of reptiles at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, said Bedouin used to eat the lizard.

“People who lived in the desert caught it and ate it, apparently for its medicinal properties,” he said.

Sara Al Rawi, from the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan, has studied traditional medicines from the developing world and said such herbal remedies were often used in over-the-counter supplements. “This is absolutely a common practice and most notably in cultures where traditional practices are very much embedded in the culture,” she said.

Prof Bashar Saad, an expert on alternative medicine in the region, said many could be harmful.

“Toxicity depends on the concentration or dosage,” he said. “Medicinal plants, for instance, contain active compounds that are chemical molecules and if taken at high dosage they will lead to toxic effects.”

Prof Saad said many traditional remedies had a psychosomatic effect. “If people believe in the therapeutic effect of a medicinal plant or a natural product they will feel better.”

Redha Salman, director of the public heath and safety department at Dubai Municipality, said people should not take a product if it seemed in any way suspicious.

“They should ask if it’s a medicine or a food supplement and if it’s approved and registered by the municipality,” he said.

Mr Salman said the department had not received any complaints about “natural Viagra”, and that inspectors mostly focused on assessing wholesalers for the spice souq, rather than the market itself.

Khalid Mohammed Sharif, director of the food control department at the municipality, said if a product claimed to have medicinal effects, monitoring it was the responsibility of health officials. A food with pharmaceutical effects may not be regulated as a medicine. “Even honey can be like Viagra, so should we stop selling honey?” he asked.

mcroucher@thenational.ae