Herbs for Health: Capsules

Newsbreaks in herb research

| January/February 1997

  • A derivative of the horse chestnut tree may protect human skin from aging.
    Steven Foster
  • Fenugreek seeds hold potential to help diabetics lower ­cholesterol levels.
    Steven Foster
  • Lemon eucalyptus, a relative of Eucalyptus globulus (shown above), holds a constituent that may be used in natural ­insect repellents.
    Steven Foster
  • An extract from ginkgo leaves is ­helping Alzheimer’s patients.
    Steven Foster
  • In tests, prickly pear extracts lowered blood sugar and insulin levels in noninsulin-dependent diabetics.
    Steven Foster
  • Woolflower may protect the liver from exposure to harmful chemicals.
    Steven Foster
  • A derivative of the horse chestnut tree may protect human skin from aging.

Horse Chestnut As Skin Ally

A compound made from the horse chestnut tree may be a more potent skin protectant than vitamin E, according to recent research in Italy.

In laboratory tests, proanthocyanidin A2 (PA2), a derivative of the fruits and inner bark of the horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum), showed an intriguing ability to soothe the skin. PA2 scavenged cell-damaging free radicals ten times as well as vitamin E, a potent ­antioxidant. It was also thirty-one times as effective as vitamin E in inhibiting lipid (fat) peroxidation, which causes scaly skin. PA2 was found to preserve the top layer of skin by protecting ubiquinol, glutathione, and ascorbic acid, the skin’s own free-radical scavengers. It also preserved the skin’s key protective components, such as catalase and superoxide dismutase, and elasticity compounds such as elastin and collagen.

The researchers expect PA2 to be used in suntan lotions and lipsticks to protect skin from accelerated aging caused by sun exposure and to maintain the skin’s natu­ral resilience and elasticity.

Horse chestnut should not be confused with the European chestnut (Castanea sativa) or the American chestnut (C. dentata), sources of the familiar roasting chestnuts. —Kenneth Jones

Fenugreek and Cholesterol

In the search for nonsynthetic remedies for diabetes, preliminary studies in India indicate that diabetics can lower cholesterol levels by eating the seeds of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum).

Diabetics have two to three times the risk of ­cardiovascular disease as non­diabetics, which has been attributed to diabetics’ tendency to overproduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Bedouin and Yemenite desert tribes have long used an extract of fenugreek seeds to treat ­diabetes. Researchers interested in this tradition conducted a pilot study on fenugreek and diabetics in parts of India where fenugreek seeds are commonly eaten as a condiment. This led to a more thorough follow-up study at the S.N. Medical ­College in Agra. For twenty-four weeks, sixty Type II diabetics, none of whom were taking cholesterol-lowering medication, ate 12.5 g of ­powdered fenugreek seeds in a soup fifteen minutes before lunch and dinner. Significant changes in cholesterol levels were noted after four weeks, and by the end of the study, total mean cholesterol levels had dropped by 14 percent. Levels of triglycerides (which at high levels may increase the risk of heart disease) and LDL and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) each dropped by 15 percent. High-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, increased by 10 percent. In patients who initially had the highest levels of total cholesterol, triglyceride levels decreased as much as 17 percent and levels of LDL and VLDL, as much as 23 percent. Side effects were minimal: a few ­patients experienced mild flatulence and diarrhea.

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