Ancient herbal remedies used for centuries in Indian cooking and in preparing dishes in the far east have the potential to control diabetes and treat cancer, according to a team of London scientists.
Researchers from the department of pharmacy at King’s College London say they have found scientific justification for the use of alternative medicine.
Scientists believe that the Indian curry leaf – an ingredient in many curry dishes and used in traditional Indian healing, may contain agents that slow down the rate of starch-to-glucose breakdown in people with diabetes. The tree’s leaves could control the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream.
Professor Peter Houghton, who headed the research team of 20, told the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester yesterday that plants used in traditional Thai and Chinese medicine appeared to have cancer-fighting properties.
During the research six plants used in Thai cancer remedies were extracted according to traditional methods and showed “promising activity” against lung cancer cells.
The best results were found in the aquatic weed known as Ammannia baccifera from Thailand and star anise, a plant extract which tastes of licorice and is often used in Chinese cooking.
The findings also revealed that common cattle feed might contain anti-fungal properties and could be used in a cream to treat athlete’s foot.
Prof Houghton said the findings from three years of research were the first step in the discovery of new drugs based on plant extracts, but warned against people with diabetes or cancer taking the plant extracts immediately.
“This is the first time many of these plants have been looked at scientifically, but it is a long way from saying they will be placed on a doctor’s prescription pad,” he said. “Pharmacists believe herbs are of value, but they are not completely safe. There is now a rapidly diminishing number of doctors who believe they are old wives’ tales, and now see that herbal remedies must be treated with respect.”
He said although it was quite possible that people who ate curry leaf regularly as part of their diet could help control their diabetes, sufferers should first consult their doctors.
“When people find a new chemical of interest, there is a one in 10,000 chance of it becoming a good medicine,” he said.
“Obviously if someone is eating the curry leaf regularly and is known to be diabetic there is no harm in carrying on taking it, but if someone is going to start taking it in conjunction with other medicines they should definitely check first.”
Researchers also interviewed traditional healers in Ghana to identify plants that are used to help wounds heal. The Ashanti, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana used a plant known as the climbing flower which was shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities and prevented infections.
But Professor Edzard Ernst, who researches complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said it was important for people to realise clinical trials had not yet been carried out on the plant extracts.
“This research needs independent confirmation, and even if it all goes like a flash of lightning, which it never does, we could see something in five years,” he said.
“I think it’s very encouraging but I think any claims of a cancer cure or a diabetes cure are misleading to patients.”
I find this all to be so very interesting. It makes you wonder sometimes how many cures are just out there waiting to be discovered.