Forests and Human Health September-15-2011

New findings

Bioactive compounds obtained from natural raw materials are getting increasing attention from medical scientists nowadays. The clinical research has shown the value of many herbal or botanical medicines from e.g. plant’s seeds, berries, leaves, bark or even mushrooms, in treating and preventing diseases. In this issue of Newsletter, we present several recent studies from all over the world.

Hime-matsutake against allergies

Agaricus blazei Murrill (or Hime-matsutake) is an edible Brazilian mushroom that has been used in traditional medicine for a range of diseases. This mushroom was found to be rich in immune-modulating substances such as beta-glucan and proteoglycans, and it had anti-infection and anti-tumor effects in mice. Recently, a Norwegian research group has found that a mushroom extract which contained 82% Agaricus blazei Murill, 15% Hericium erinaceum and 3% Grifola frondosa, could reduce allergy responses in the mice. This new finding suggests that Agaricus blazei Murill extract may prevent the development of IgE-mediated allergy when given before allergen immunization, and vould possibly be used as a therapeutical substance against established allergy.

Linda K Ellertsen and Geir Hetland (2009) An extract of the medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill can protect againt allergy. Clinical and Molecular Allergy. 7:6 doi:10.1186/1476-7961-7-6

Berries for health

In FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, berries have been reported as the one of most important non-wood forest products in almost all European countries. Wild and cultivated berries are widely used as raw materials for food and drinks in Western and Northern Europe and the North America. Juice pressing is a common way of industrial berry processing. As a by-product, the process yields a pulp/peel fraction, which is recognized as a potentially interesting source of nutrients and farmaceuticals by scientists and nutrition authorities.

Recently, a study from Finland investigated the composition and the antioxidative activities of oils from the seeds and the soft parts of a range of northern berries extracted by supercritical CO2. It was found that the seed oils of the species of Rubus, Vaccinium, Empetrum, Fragaria and Hippophaë were rich in linoleic and α-linolenic acids. The seed oils of the species Ribes contained, in addition to linoleic and α-linolenic acids, γ-linolenic and stearidonic acids. In seed oils from European rowanberry (Sorbus aucuparia L.) and snowball berry (Viburnum opulus L.), linoleic and oleic acids together exceeded 90% of the total fatty acids. The sea buckthorn (Hippophae L.) pulp oil had palmitoleic, palmitic and oleic acids as the major fatty acids. Sea buckthorn seed and pulp oils showed clear antioxidative efficacies in multiple in vitro models, which indicated great potential of the oils as ingredients of functional foods, food supplements and nutraceuticals for supporting human health.

This study indicates that by-products of industrial berry process can have high value in health promoting. It also suggests that intervention studies are essential in order to evaluate the health effects of oils from seeds and soft parts of berries in future.

Baoru Yang, Markku Ahotupa, Petri Määttä and Heikki Kallio (2011) Composition and antioxidative activities of supercritical CO2-extracted oils from seeds and soft parts of northern berries. Food Research International 44:2009-2017. For the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, see:

Prototype library of plants and fungi

The use of plant-derived medicines in the treatment and prevention of disease has been documented over five millennia. Yet, whether and how plant based medicines predictably alter the natural course of human disease, has been a complex question for medicine for thousands of years. The efficacy of many herbal medicines, and their safety and mechanisms of action, potential as novel therapeutic agents, cost-effectiveness, or lack thereof, remain often poorly defined and controversial. Moreover, published clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of herbal therapies have often rightfully been criticized, post hoc, for their lack of quality assurance and reproducibility of study materials, as well as a lack of demonstration of plausible mechanisms and dosing effects.

Now US and Chinese co-investigators with expertise in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), botany, chemistry and drug discovery, have jointly established a prototype library consisting of 202 authenticated medicinal plant and fungal species that collectively represent the therapeutic content of the majority of all commonly prescribed TCM herbal prescriptions. Currently housed at Harvard University, the library consists of 2-3 kilogram quantities of each authenticated and processed species, as well as “detanninized” extracts and sub-fractions of each mother extract.

Each species has been collected at 2–3 sites, separated geographically by hundreds of miles, with precise GPS documentation, and authenticated visually and chemically prior to testing for heavy metals and/or pesticides contamination.

An explicit decision process has been developed whereby samples with the least contamination were selected to undergo ethanol extraction and HPLC sub-fractionation in preparation for high throughput screening across a broad array of biological targets including cancer biology targets. Sub-fractions in this artisan collection of authenticated medicinal plants will be tested for biological activity individually and in combinations consistent with traditional ethnomedical practice.

The article summarizes the rationale, methods and preliminary “proof of principle” for the establishment of this prototype authenticated medicinal plant library. It is hoped that these methods will foster scientific discoveries with therapeutic potential and enhance efforts to systematically evaluate commonly used herbal therapies worldwide.

Eisenberg DM, Harris RSJ, Littlefield BA, et al. (2011) Developing a library of authenticated Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) plants for systematic biological evaluation – Rationale, methods and preliminary results from a Sino-American collaboration. Fitoterapia 82:17-23.

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