The Californian ‘holy herb’ which could fight Alzheimer’s: Medicinal yerba santa may work by reducing swelling in the brain
- Shrub has long been considered a natural remedy for ailments such as fevers
- But scientists at a laboratory in La Jolla believe it could also treat dementia
- Specifically, they found that sterubin had a potent anti-inflammatory impact
A plant that grows in thew wilds of California may hold the secret to treating Alzheimer’s disease, scientists claim.
Yerba Santa, dubbed the ‘Holy Herb’ in Spanish, has long been considered a natural remedy for common ailments such as fevers and headaches.
But now experts at Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, La Jolla, hope that it could also reduce brain swelling in dementia patients.
If so, it could transform current treatment method for millions of people across the world. In the UK alone there are 850,000 people with dementia – a number that’s set to exceed 1million by 2025.
Powerful? Yerba Santa, dubbed the ‘Holy Herb’ in Spanish, has long been considered a natural remedy for common ailments such as fevers and headaches
Lab manager Dave Schubert and his team identified a molecule in the shrub’s flavonoids called sterubin, which they discovered is its most active component.
The researchers tested sterubin and other plant extracts for their impact on energy depletion in mouse nerve cells, plus other age-associated neurotoxicity related to inflammation seen in Alzheimer’s.
Specifically, they found that sterubin had a potent anti-inflammatory impact on brain cells known as microglia.
It was also an effective iron remover, which is potentially beneficial because iron can contribute to nerve cell damage in aging and neuro-degenerative diseases.
Overall, they concluded that the compound was effective against multiple inducers of cell death in the nerve cells.
‘This is a compound that was known but ignored,’ says Senior Staff Scientist Pamela Maher, a member of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, run by Professor David Schubert.
‘Not only did sterubin turn out to be much more active than the other flavonoids in Yerba santa in our assays, it appears as good as, if not better than, other flavonoids we have studied.’
Common affliction: Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, and around 127,000 people in the UK live with the condition
WHAT IS PARKINSON’S? THE INCURABLE DISEASE THAT STRUCK BOXER MUHAMMAD ALI
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, and around 127,000 people in the UK live with the condition.
Figures also suggest one million Americans also suffer.
It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.
Next, the lab plans to test sterubin in an animal model of Alzheimer’s, then determine its drug-like characteristics and toxicity levels in animals.
With that data, Maher says, it might be possible to test the compound in humans, although it would be critical to use sterubin derived from plants grown under standardized, controlled conditions.
She says the team will likely generate synthetic derivatives of sterubin.
‘Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of death in the United States,’ adds Maher. ‘And because age is a major risk factor, researchers are looking at ways to counter aging’s effects on the brain.
‘Our identification of sterubin as a potent neuroprotective component of a native California plant called Yerba santa is a promising step in that direction.’