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Is the key to anti-aging in YOUR backyard? Common weed shows promise in early study

Is the key to anti-aging in YOUR backyard? Common weed shows promise in early study

An invasive weed common in American backyards could help stave off signs of visible aging, a new study suggests.

The spiky fruit of the cocklebur plant was found to reduce damage caused by UV rays and speed up wound healing in lab studies on human cells.

Extracts from the fruit also appeared to boost the production of collagen, a feature common among many high-end skincare products that promise to preserve skin elasticity and prevent wrinkles.

Cocklebur, or Xanthium strumarium, is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and North America, primarily inhabiting open, often moist places such as river banks in agricultural land and other areas. 

It is used widely in traditional Chinese and Native American medicine to treat a wide range of maladies from stuffy nose and headaches to arthritis and tuberculosis. 

Compounds in cocklebur’s spiky fruits reduced damage from UVB exposure – rays that can cause sunburn, darkening and thickening of the outer layer of the skin – and sped up wound healing in laboratory tests using cells and tissues

The seeds of cocklebur fruit contain a chemical called carboxyatractyloside, which can poison and kill livestock when eaten. 

In humans, eating the prickly plant can cause mild symptoms including unpleasant taste and nausea or more severe symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting, low blood sugar, seizures, and severe liver injury.

Despite the risks that come with ingesting parts of the plant, its fruit and leaves have been fixtures in traditional medicine for a long time.  

The researchers at Myongji University in South Korea said their findings suggest extracts from the fruit could be an attractive ingredient for topical skin creams and other cosmetics.

Eunsu Song, a doctoral candidate at Myongji University who conducted the research said: ‘We found that cocklebur fruit has the potential to protect the skin and help enhance production of collagen.

‘It will likely show a synergistic effect if it is mixed with other effective compounds, such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, against ageing.’

The researchers studied the molecular properties of cocklebur fruit extracts and isolated particular compounds that could provide some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Then they conducted laboratory experiments in cells and on a 3D tissue model with properties similar to human skin to study how these compounds affect collagen production, wound healing and damage from UVB radiation – the type that causes skin aging, sunburns and skin cancers. 

Their findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society For Biochemistry And Molecular Biology in Seattle.

Native Americans have traditionally used cocklebur leaves to brew as a tea to help treat a wide range of conditions including kidney diseases, arthritis, and tuberculosis.

The plant was also once used to treat malaria, rabies, and leprosy.

The researchers found that fruits grown in South Korea had slightly higher antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and greater wound-healing activity than those grown in China. And they reinforced the fact that the plant can be deadly to animals and cause some nausea and discomfort in humans.

Ms Song said: ‘In its burrs, cocklebur fruit also has a toxic constituent, carboxyatractyloside, which can damage the liver.

‘Cocklebur showed a potential as a cosmetic agent by increasing collagen synthesis; however, it showed negative results with higher concentrations.’