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An African plant extract could greatly improve Alzheimer’s treatment


Extracts from a plant native to West and Central Africa could form the basis of a new, improved treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study shows.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most prevalent neurodegenerative diseases, associated with memory loss, problems with cognitive function and dementia. The disease affected around 46.8 million people in 2015 – a number which is expected to rise to over 74.7 million by 2030. Several drugs currently exist to help treat patients of Alzheimer’s, but given their potential for unwanted side effects such as nausea, insomnia and weight loss, the hunt is on for new medicines free of this risk.

Researchers from The University of Nottingham may have taken a vital step towards this goal after isolating extracts from Carpolobia lutea, more commonly known as ‘cattle stick’, a plant which has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, owing to several beneficial qualities.


In work published in Pharmaceutical Biology, the researchers found that stem, leaf and root extracts of C. lutea were able to exert protective effects towards an important chemical messenger found in the brain, acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is associated with functions such as memory and attention. However, in Alzheimer’s disease, this messenger is broken down by an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AchE).

By screening the extracts, the team showed that they were able to reduce the activity of this enzyme. At higher concentrations, some of the extracts were even able to inhibit AchE 90-100% more efficiently than eserine, a drug commonly used in Alzheimer’s treatment.

What’s more, the extracts even showed the ability to lower the levels of free radicals, dangerous molecules capable of damaging cells, which appears exacerbated in Alzheimer’s patients.

C. lutea extracts also appeared to have several other beneficial qualities, such as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and analgesic properties.

While the exact component that inhibits AchE is unknown at the moment, the paper says that this study has highlighted where further purification of the extracts could be used to answer this question.

“As a population, we are living longer, and the number of people living with dementia is growing at an alarming rate,” says lead researcher Dr. Wayne Carter, from the Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine. “Our findings suggest traditional medicines will provide new chemicals able to temper Alzheimer’s disease progression.”


Luc Bourne