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Despite lack of medical evidence, many Cambodians believe in health benefits of cobra blood

Published: 04-Mar-12 10:06AM

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PHNOM PENH (Cambodia Herald) - Cobra blood is popular among Cambodians who believe in its health benefits. Despite the expense, some people buy cobras and remove the blood to mix with alcohol as they believe it is an effective remedy for joint pain and also boosts sexual drive.

Medical doctors, however, say there is currently no research that confirms the benefits of using cobra blood to cure joint pain, which is also known as arthralgia.

Cobras usually cost up to $30 a kilogram when bought directly from vendors but often between $45 and $60 a kilogram when sold in restaurants, so profit margins for eateries can be considerable.

One cobra restaurant owner in Phnom Penh, who asked not to be named, says most of his customers are businessmen, entrepreneurs, other wealthy people and government officials. They order cobra meat and other foods together with the snake's blood mixed with imported drinks such as Johnnie Walker whisky and Hennessy cognac, unlike people in rural areas who mix it with local rice wine.

Popular dishes include boiled and chili-fried cobra as well as cobra salad and bean porridge with cobra. But some customers order only the blood. Given the strong demand, customers must make advanced bookings by phone, the restaurant owner said.

However, he also admitted he had no idea what kinds of medical conditions could be treated by eating the snake or its blood mixed with alcohol. "I also don’t know how it helps drinkers’ bodies. But I heard customers saying that it can be used for treating lumbago as well as ankle and wrist joints."

Piseth, one of the customers at this restaurant, said he mixed cobra blood with alcohol but noted that it reacted with intravenous treatment he received when ill.

He asserted that cobra gallbladder could also be used to treat eye disease by dropping the gallbladder fluid into the eye, adding that it was effective within minutes. The gallbladder can also be used to cure infected wounds and is "even more effective if we swallow it," he said.

Another customer, who identified himself as Veasna, said he drinks wine mixed with cobra blood to ease his lumbago as well as painful ankle and wrist joints. He also said that the concoction especially helped him to boost his sexual drive, and that he often goes to a cobra restaurant in suburban Phnom Penh, especially at the weekend.

Thai Kim, a former chef, said inexperienced chefs usually extracted blood from the cobra tail but that experienced ones normally removed blood from the throat. He said Chinese people like eating cobra meat because they believe it helps keep them looking young, healthier and more powerful.

Sek Thirak, a doctor specializing in bones, dismissed such beliefs as “rumors”, noting the absence of conclusive medical research. He also stressed that drinking uncooked cobra blood could expose people to disease. “We don’t know what kinds of infectious diseases are contained in cobra blood,” the doctor said. Moreover, arthralgia is caused by many factors and there are many conventional drugs that can be used for treatment, he said, adding that treatment options depended on the cause.

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