In both bottles and sachets across most parts of Nigeria, alcoholic bitters are readily available as the demand for this array of potent beverages, boasting claimed health benefits, never seems to wane.
Indeed, newer brands emerge almost weekly, making it challenging for aficionados to keep tabs on the names and flavors of the latest introductions.
It appears that the more exotic the producers claim their drinks to be, the higher the demand. For instance, enthusiasts of alcoholic bitters are particularly drawn to those that producers assert are blended with bark from Osun State, Ondo State, or even Ghana.
The appeal for alcoholic bitters
The perception that bitters are starting to rival traditional beers is increasingly prevalent. Godwin Olaleye, who runs a drinks joint in the Isheri area of Lagos, observes that bitters seem to be competing with beers on an even footing.
Consequently, he remains vigilant to ensure he doesn’t run out of stock, given the soaring demand for these beverages.
A bus driver, who stopped for a drink at Godwin’s joint, shared with Nairametrics the perceived advantages of bitters over beers. He explained that just three or four sachets of his favorite bitters get him “gauged”, while it takes three or four bottles of beer for him to feel tipsy.
“With the cost of one bottle of beer, I can buy four sachets of my preferred bitters. It’s a clear choice for me,” he noted.
Nosa, a furniture maker, echoed this sentiment. He believes that just a few sachets of alcoholic bitters achieve the desired effect. Moreover, he attributes medicinal properties to these bitters. Before he started consuming his chosen beverage, he often suffered from malaria.
However, he hasn’t fallen ill in the past three years, and he attributes this resilience to his regular consumption of bitter drinks.
Similarly, a vulcanizer mentioned that he prefers alcoholic bitters as they aid him in combatting a pot belly, which he believes developed from drinking lager beers. For him, the solution to maintaining his physique is through these bitters.
The appeal of bitters isn’t restricted to men. Miriam, a middle-aged woman, also believes in the medicinal properties of bitters. She even purchases specific brands for her husband’s “night shift”.
For many, the appeal of bitters extends beyond taste. Some attest that these beverages help maintain alertness and vigor during their workday. For instance, Moses Kilanko, a trailer driver, confided in Nairametrics that his preferred bitters drink ensures he remains alert during extended driving stints.
Interestingly, a significant portion of the respondents, particularly men in their 40s and 50s, confess to consuming alcoholic bitters primarily for their perceived aphrodisiac effects.
One man, preferring to remain anonymous, expressed, “I need to keep up with my wife’s pace. I can’t let her outpace me. I ensure I’m fortified for every intimate encounter.”
This belief is evident in some of the product names dotting the market landscape, including Gagnaire Man Power, Minister For Man Power, Almenjou For Lazy Men in Bed, Nisan Zango Karfin Maza, Shagalin Ka Man Power, Dakan Jia Man Power Enhancement, Wuff Male Sexual Performance, and Afafata For Sexual Drive, among many others.
The allure of alcoholic bitters isn’t restricted to any particular socio-economic class in Nigeria. Joseph, a branch manager at a prominent bank, revealed to Nairametrics his transition to alcoholic bitters five years prior, prompted by concerns about developing a pot belly. Since making the switch, he claims to feel healthier and more energetic, attributing this vitality to his newfound beverage preference.
Response from the medical community
Yet, the escalating enthusiasm for alcoholic bitters has not gone unnoticed by the medical community, who approach this trend with marked apprehension.
As these bitters tantalize the palates and intrigue of many, securing a distinct spot in the market and enticing many away from conventional alcoholic beverages like beer, health professionals are quick to emphasize the potential risks associated with consuming beverages that haven’t been scientifically vetted.
While market leaders in this burgeoning sector are quick to sing praises of the purported benefits of alcoholic bitters—citing improved blood circulation, anti-malarial properties, fever combatants, and the often-cited aphrodisiac effects—health experts point to potential dangers.
They express concerns that certain ingredients, unmonitored in their production, might silently escalate the rate of liver conditions.
Dr. James Omotehinse, a seasoned physician, warned of the hazards of many local herbs integral to these bitters, pointing out their exclusion from requisite lab testing. He confided in Nairametrics that numerous such herbs, in their natural state, contain toxins that have pronounced detrimental effects on the liver.
He elucidated that when herbs undergo thorough lab analyses, these harmful toxins are identified and extracted, rendering the herbs suitable for consumption. This crucial step also helps determine the correct dosages. Yet, this due diligence is conspicuously absent in the unrefined method of amalgamating herbs with alcohol, resulting in a surge of conditions like liver sclerosis and failure.
In tandem with this sentiment, Dr. Paul Okorie urges the government to implement stringent regulations, subjecting the production of alcoholic bitters to comprehensive lab scrutiny nationwide.
From his vantage at Ace Medical Center, Dr. Moses Olatubosun candidly shared his observations, finding it challenging to dismiss the correlation between the spike in liver and kidney ailments and the influx of crudely concocted alcoholic mixtures.
“The absence of lab validations for these concoctions makes consuming them a high-risk gamble,” he opined.
So, against this backdrop of growing popularity, questions proliferate. Are these alcoholic bitters genuine health elixirs, bolstering general health and reproductive prowess? Or is this all a well-orchestrated marketing stratagem? The discourse intensifies with manufacturers unwavering in their defense, even as medical experts underscore serious concerns about these acclaimed benefits.
Unquestionably, the primary apprehensions associated with alcoholic bitters revolve around the absence of standardization and rigorous quality checks. The deluge of brands flooding the market poses a dilemma for consumers trying to discern the safety and efficacy of individual products.
The specter of counterfeit or tampered products remains ever-present, threatening unsuspecting consumers with potentially detrimental substances.
Exacerbating this issue is the widespread belief that alcoholic bitters function as therapeutic beverages.
Pharmacist Gloria Atuma highlights how this prevailing view stymies initiatives to enforce effective regulation. Key regulatory bodies, such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), grapple with the intricate challenge of instating protective guidelines for consumer safety, all while honoring the cultural and historical significance of these drinks in traditional medicine.
Nairametrics, in its investigative pursuit, approached the registration department of NAFDAC to glean insights into the safety standards and the extent of surveillance over the burgeoning alcoholic bitters sector. However, our efforts were met with silence.
It bears mentioning that a sizable portion of the alcoholic bitters on the market shelves does boast NAFDAC certification.
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