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I K Gujral uses it, but is Memory Plus safe?

George Iype in New Delhi

Memory Plus It may not be the skirmishes between the partners of his 13-party United Front that may give Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral high blood pressure.

But Memory Plus, a drug that the 77-year-old Gujral regularly takes to vitalise brain cells, could lead to mild depression and high blood pressure.

The enormously popular drug, developed by the government-owned Central Drug Research Institute, has become a subject of heated debate between India's top scientific and medical institutes.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has questioned CDRI claims that Memory Plus helps improve memory substantially.

"There is no scientific evidence to prove that the drug has any memory-enhancing effect on humans," says Dr Ranjit Roy Chaudhary, chairman of the ICMR's scientific advisory committee.

"We are studying a few medical reports which showed that Memory Plus could lead to high blood pressure and slow depression," he told Rediff On The NeT.

Other regular users of the drug include former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Chandra Shekhar, chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, former chief election commissioner T N Seshan and a number of members of Parliament.

But Rao reportedly stopped taking the capsules, after his doctors found his blood pressure too high.

The tiny green-and-yellow capsules at Rs 3 a piece was launched last year as an enhancer of 'alertness, briskness, freshness and non-tired-someness.'

'I trust Memory Plus,' beams Anand from outdoor hoardings, television advertisements and the 30-capsule pack.

I K Gujral But the allopathic scientist-led ICMR is far from convinced. Dr Roy Chaudhury says Memory Plus did not go through the checks and trials that an allopathic drug would have had to undergo.

They argue that even a plant derivative, when developed for use in allopathic medicine, has to go through extensive tests before being cleared by the Drug Controller of India.

"People are being misled by the huge publicity to buy the drug," says an ICMR researcher.

The drug is an extract known as Brahmi of Bacopa Monniera, a plant found in eastern India. CDRI began isolating and identifying the molecules and becosides of the plant in the 1960s.

The scientists then extracted an active ingredient of Brahmi and conducted trials on animals to test its safety and toxicity.

"Our research proved that this standardised extract improves protein activity and protein synthesis, especially in the brain cells," says A R Marshelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. CDRI is one of the 40 laboratories under the CSIR's aegis. CSIR is India's apex scientific research agency.

The CSIR chief says clinical trials on humans are not generally conducted for herbal preparations like Memory Plus.

According to a technical report from CSIR, the preliminary experiments conducted on mice have been very encouraging. 'Brahmi, the crude extract derived from the indigenous plant Bacopa Monniera, has been used for the treatment of cognitive disorders of ageing in Indian medicine since ancient times,' it says.

The scientists have also tabulated the results of complicated experiments which prove the memory and alertness-enhancing aspect of the drug.

Vishwanathan Anand Though Brahmi is known for its potency, Delhi-based neurophysician Dr Samiran Bhargava says, "successful clinical trials on mice does not necessarily mean success with humans."

According to him, the CSIR should conduct a series of clinical trials on humans before making claims of memory enhancement.

CSIR scientists, however, claim that Memory Plus strictly follows the clinical guidelines of the World Health Organisation.

CDRI now plans to launch Memory Plus globally. CSIR scientists believe walking billboards like Gujral, Seshan and Anand will make Memory Plus a winner in the world market.

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