Every Tree seems to offer some unique ‘gift’ for humanity or the ecosystem. Especially, Trees from a certain geographical region understand the specific problems of life from that region – having to survive and thrive in the environment of that certain region for millions of years, they understand certain secrets. Trees are not part of a region; they became one with the region a long time ago. It is even possible to predict the coming future problems humans will face within a certain geographical region by analyzing the characteristics and features of the Trees of that region. Trees hold the secrets of both past and future and offer the potential to become one with the present.
Epilepsy and traditional treatments
Epilepsy is a chronic disease with a brain disorder that arises from the imbalances of neurotransmitters of the brain. This disorder usually outbursts as recurring seizures with momentary loss of memory and unconsciousness. These events are typically frequent and unpredictable. This is because neurons—the brain cells, either overwork or cannot balance the release of two chemicals (gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate) vital for normal brain function.
According to the World Health Organization, adults over 55 years of age typically have a higher risk of developing epilepsy because they are more likely to have a stroke or develop Alzheimer’s disease or brain tumors, and all of these can be the reason for epilepsy. But epilepsy may also occur in childhood. This is a serious condition, and it can be difficult to find the right drug to treat. Some commonly used pharmaceutical antiepileptic drugs have shown adverse effects for individuals, and some may even be ineffective, which suggests there is a need to explore new alternatives.
Epilepsy and the Aidan Tree of Nigeria
For a long time, Nigeria has been bearing the burden of epilepsy more than any other country in the world, with an estimated prevalence of 8 per 1,000 people. In 2006, Ngoungou and other collaborators estimated the prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa to be two or three times higher than the rate in other developed countries of the world.
Intriguingly, a native Plant in Nigeria shows promise as the source of new medicine for epilepsy. Tetrapleura Tetraptera, also known as “Uyayak” and “Aidan”, is a Tree widely found in Nigeria and around the West African Rainforest belt. It is a single-stemmed Tree, about 30m tall and around 22-27cm in width. The fruits of this Plant are the most utilized part, which is green when unripe and becomes dark red-brown when fully ripe. This fruit has a specific characteristic – an aromatic odor – making it a sought-after spice in some Nigerian dishes.
Based on the traditional holistic medical practices and international research reports, the potentiality of this Tree in epilepsy management captured the interest of a research team from the University of Uyo, Nigeria. Their research into the Plant found that an extract of its fruit could prevent brain degeneration by offering protection against seizures. It could therefore be studied further for the development of a new antiepileptic drug.
Research methods and findings
To test the Plant’s properties, the research team induced sustained seizures in laboratory animals and divided them into two groups. The research team provided the fruit extract to one group of animals while providing a standard pharmaceutical antiepileptic drug, i.e. sodium valproate, to another group of animals.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as epilepsy cause brain cell degeneration, which makes the brain and nerves deteriorate over time. And as a result, this can even change the personality of an individual. The research team observed that the Aidan extract prevented the outburst of seizures just like the sodium valproate, but most importantly, Aidan extract protected the animals’ brain degeneration better than the sodium valproate.
The authors of the study also mentioned that they found useful properties in the Plant’s phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are also known as secondary metabolites. And these active compounds of the Plant are— alkaloids, phenolics, saponins, steroids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. Besides protecting neurodegeneration and other important functions, these active compounds also help the body to overcome stress, cell injuries and fight against germs.
According to experts, the ratios of these phytochemicals to one another determine the unique properties of any Plant. Aidan is rich in alkaloids, phenols, and flavonoids, which are well-known for their antioxidant properties protecting against metabolic stress. It is observed that metabolic stress often leads to a spectrum of various disease conditions. Aidan is also a good source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins, making the Plant rich in nutrition and having medicinal qualities.
According to the authors of the study, these findings are important as the potentials of this Plant can be explored for antiepileptic drug development. As a natural medicine, this Plant does not only possess antiepileptic properties; but also has numerous constituents which may also serve as an alternative medication or addition to medications in other related conditions.
Earth is full of unique Trees, offering unique solutions to humans and animals. Understanding that every characteristic of a certain Tree is the reflection of a specific aspect of a certain geographical region is the key to unlock these hidden solutions for diseases and problems humanity may be facing.
This research is not only important for the findings, but also for suggesting that identifying and analyzing the locally consumed medicinal Trees from all over the world can provide humanity with more than medicine, and can also transform the traditional pharmaceutical, medical system towards a holistic approach.
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