Obscure Herbal Remedy May Lead to New Alzheimer’s Treatment
The aging Baby Boom generation faces a looming crisis: Growing numbers of these people will be diagnosed with mind-robbing Alzheimer's disease in the years to come. Despite decades of research, there are still no effective cures for this neurological disorder, which gradually robs its victims of memories and the capacity to think clearly. Certain medications have been developed that can slow or delay the onset of symptoms, but there's a glaring need for more effective treatments to prevent or halt the progression of the disease.
Some day you may be able to say you read it here first: An obscure herbal remedy used for centuries by African folk medicine practitioners may hold the key to potent new drugs to combat the dreaded disease. According to scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a plant called Voacanga africana contains powerful chemicals that have long been used to protect patients from brain disorders and inflammation. Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder characterized by inflammation.
São Tomé e Príncipe is a former Portuguese colony located on an island off the coast of Africa. Healers there have long prescribed cata-manginga leaves and bark. Antonio Currais is a scientist who collaborated with Maria do Céu Madureira, an ethnopharmacology researcher at the University of Coimbra. Madureira has been researching herbal medicine practices on the island for two decades. Together, the scientists developed a method for rapidly testing the active properties of local remedies.
They tested several plants for their ability to reduce inflammation, protect against oxidative stress, and block the build-up of beta amyloid peptides. The accumulation of toxic beta amyloid peptides in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Even in its most dilute form, one sample performed exceptionally well on all the assays. That plant was Voacanga africana.
In a press release issued by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Maher said, "There are still a lot of potential sources of drugs in plants that are native to countries around the world and most of them haven't been tested to any extent. You can't test everything, so the best way to approach plant research for drugs is to use the knowledge that's been around for thousands of years to help you pick and choose what to study with modern techniques."
Could this ancient remedy, newly "discovered" by modern science, one day lead to a cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other neurodegenerative diseases? It's still too soon to tell, but the discovery is an exciting reminder that the plant kingdom may still hold some healing surprises for us.
Antonio Currais, Chandramouli Chiruta, Marie Goujon-Svrzic, Gustavo Costa, Tânia Santos, Maria Teresa Batista, Jorge Paiva, Maria do Céu Madureira, Pamela Maher. Screening and identification of neuroprotective compounds relevant to Alzheimer׳s disease from medicinal plants of S. Tomé e Príncipe. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2014; 155 (1): 830 DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.06.046