Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Chimpanzees eat plants that point to new ways of treating diseases

Via May 20, 2018 article at The Conversation

As cancer and other non-infectious diseases continue to rise all over the world it’s become harder for scientists to find safe, effective treatments. In addition, bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to drugs and synthetic medicines have become harsher.

These challenges have led to searches for new solutions, including natural substances, like medicinal plants. Plant based medicines are known to have more benefits because they are less poisonous than synthetic versions. They also have compounds that compliment each other that help in disease prevention.

People have been using plants to make medicines for thousands of years. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 75% and 80% of the world’s population uses at least some plant based medicines.

Africa has its own store of medicinal plants, such as those used in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

I have been working with a group of scientists to find new ways to exploit plants for medicinal purposes. As part of the process we studied the eating habits and behaviour of some wild chimpanzees based at the Taï National Park in the south western region of Côte d’Ivoire. We identified what they ate, which included leaves, fruit and the stems of the plants. We then tested these in a laboratory.

Our idea followed on from a previous study on the park’s chimpanzees which focused on the energy and protein balance in their diets. Our study focused on the medicinal properties of what they ate.

Our results suggest that the diets of chimpanzees are made up of plants that are a rich source of compounds that improve their immune systems and protect them from certain diseases. Our findings have opened the door to exploring the properties of these plants to test their ability to treat disease in humans.

Tolerance to disease

Chimpanzees are the closest animal to humans genetically, sharing 98% of the human DNA. This genetic closeness means that these great apes share certain diseases with humans. These include yeast infections (candidiasis), Ebola and HIV/AIDS. Chimpanzees are also able to get cancer.

Our hypothesis was that some plants in the chimpanzees’ diet might be keeping them healthy and that this could be useful in developing medicine for humans too.

We tested about 132 extracts from 27 plants chosen based on:

  • how frequently they consumed the plants
  • the time of consumption
  • the quantity eaten

The plants were analysed for their ability to prevent the development of cancer and to inhibit cell damage, bacterial and fungal growth. Their nutritional benefits were also analysed.

The preventive diet

Some of the plants we analysed are already used by people as medicinal plants. But the parts extracted to make medicines are different to those eaten by the chimps. The plant Nauclea diderrichii is a good example. The fruits and leaves are eaten by chimps but the stem bark is used by people to treat fever and jaundice.

Promising plants such as Tristemma coronatum, whose leaf extract is known to induce sleep in humans, and Beilschmiedia mannii, which is already used to treat lung diseases, were identified.

The leaves of the Tristemma coronatum plant are known to induce sleep. Author provided.
Advertisements

May 23, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: