Ridlo Aryanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta
The chayote (sechium edule), a pear-shaped, light-green squash with lengthwise furrows, is commonly used for cooking as it is good for lodeh, a vegetable dish cooked in coconut milk, or oseng-oseng, a stir-fried dish with chili peppers. In Central Java the chayote is called jipang, in East Java, manisah and in West Java, waluh siem.
It is interesting to know that chayote is not good only for dishes but may also be effective in combating hypertension.
Many people with hypertension claim to have benefited from chayote. The late noted man of culture Umar Kayam was one of them. Before he died of stroke last March, he ate chayote to lower his blood pressure. Once he jokingly told his colleague at Gadjah Mada University, short-story writer Bakdi Sumanto, that he should changed his name to Raden Mas Haryo Jipang because he ate a dish containing chayote every day.
There have been many stories about how chayote can lower blood pressure.
Bardono, 50, a resident of Pogungrejo, Yogyakarta, was diagnosed with hypertension as far back as 2000. A batik vendor at Beringhardjo market, Bardono once had his blood pressure soar to as high as 240/130 mm Hg, far above the normal level.
With his hypertension at that level, he not only suffered some pain in the nape of his neck but his heart beat faster and his entire body felt painfully stiff.
""When he first came here, he could not walk by himself,"" said Dr Setiawan Susamto, head of the hypertension clinic of Sardjito General Hospital, Yogyakarta. This doctor has treated him in the past year.
When he first came to the clinic, Setiawan gave him anti-hypertension drugs such as captopril, propanolol, HCT and diazepam. Although Bardono took the medicine regularly, when he came back to the clinic a month later and had his blood pressure taken, it was still quite high: 160/100 mm Hg.
Then some day in early 2002, after quite a long absence, he returned to the same clinic and had his blood pressure taken. Surprisingly it showed only 140/80 mm Hg.
""At first I was afraid he had a heart failure. An early symptom of this illness is a drastic drop in the blood pressure. After some checking, I found everything normal and he was in a really healthy condition,"" said Setiawan.
What medicine has Bardono taken?
""A friend of mine in the market suggested that I drink chayote juice twice a day for a week. I grated one whole piece of chayote and then squeezed it to get one glass of its juice. Every day I drank two glasses of this chayote juice. After three consecutive days, I felt my body light and after I went to see a doctor, it was found that my blood pressure had returned to normal,"" he said.
He added that he could now eat the beef satay, a dish that he had avoided for quite a while, and felt all right. The question is what chemical substance does chayote contain which lowers hypertension?
In Traditional Concoction for the Treatment of Hypertension, a book written by Hembing Wijayakusuma and Dr Setiawan Dalimartha, it is mentioned that a patient of hypertension must urinate a lot to lower his/her blood pressure. He or she will need the kind of medicine with a diuretic property.
Juice made of chayote or star fruit is good for hypertension because both chayote and star fruit have diuretic effects.
""However, the diuretic effect of the chayote stays longer than that of the star fruit, which lasts only some time after it is eaten. That's why if you eat star fruit for your hypertension, it will be under control only after you eat star fruit. As for the chayote, its efficacy as a diuretic stays more permanently,"" writes Hembing in his book.
A more academic explanation came from Dr Suwijio Pramono, a pharmacist of the School of Pharmacy of UGM.
""The chayote juice contains flavonoid, saponin and polifenol, three chemicals which can effectively function as diuretics. Then the chayote also contains alkaloid, which helps break through obstructed blood vessels.
""Therefore, I'd rather believe that the chayote is good for hypertension because of its alkaloid content. This substance is good to take with the chayote being eaten raw. Unlike other traditional medicinal herbs which need boiling, the chayote, or its juice, can be taken without being boiled first,"" Suwijio said.