Healing compound found in plant could hold key to treating Alzheimer’s: Study

Yerba santa has long been used for its medicinal properties. Source: Getty

A healing compound found in a native Californian plant could give new hope to Alzheimer’s research, scientists have claimed.

Each year thousands of people across the world are struck down with Alzheimer’s, the terrible disease that steals memories and causes significant behavioural changes. Over the years medications have been created, claiming to ease symptoms of the disease and give patients the ability to hold onto their lives for a little longer.

Now, scientists have discovered a powerful neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory chemical found in a native Californian shrub named yerba santa, which may lead to a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a study has claimed.

Yerba santa has long been known for its medicinal properties. The herb is used for respiratory conditions including coughs, colds, asthma and chronic bronchitis, as well as fever and dry mouth.

But now scientists from the Salk Institute in the US – who set out to identify natural compounds that could reverse neurological disease symptoms – have identified a molecule called sterubin as yerba santa’s most active component, according to their findings in the journal Redox Biology.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of death in the United States,” scientist Pamela Maher, a member of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, said.

“And because age is a major risk factor, researchers are looking at ways to counter ageing’s effects on the brain. Our identification of sterubin as a potent neuroprotective component of a native California plant called yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) is a promising step in that direction.”

In the study, researchers tested sterubin and other plant extracts for their impact on energy depletion in mouse nerve cells, as well as other age-associated toxins directly related to the reduced energy metabolism, aggregated proteins and inflammation seen in Alzheimer’s.

Researchers discovered sterubin had a powerful anti-inflammatory impact on brain cells known as microglia. It was also an effective iron remover, which Maher said is potentially beneficial because iron can contribute to nerve cell damage in ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.

Overall, the compound was effective against multiple inducers of cell death in the nerve serves, according to Maher.

“This is a compound that was known but ignored,” she added. “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.”

The scientists plan to test sterubin in an animal model of Alzheimer’s next, then determine its drug-like characteristics and toxicity levels in animals. With that data, Maher said it might be possible to test the compound in humans.

Globally, as many as 44 million people are living with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. It typically impacts one in ten people over the age of 65, although that number increases to one in three for people over 85.

Do you know someone living with Alzheimer’s, or has it impacted your own life in any way?

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