Researchers prove effectiveness of herbal medicine grapple plant in spinal stenosis

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : October 18, 2022, 09:38 Updated : October 18, 2022, 09:38

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SEOUL -- The roots of harpagophytum procumbens known as grapple plants or as Devil's Claw, native to southern Africa, are used in folk medicine as a traditional treatment for a variety of illnesses, including fevers, skin complaints, arthritis and diseases of the digestive tract as well as an appetite stimulant.

Although there is no accepted clinical evidence of its efficacy and bioavailability, limited effects were noted for treating lower back pain and osteoarthritis. Through experiments on mice, South Korean herbal medicine researchers found that grapple plants are effective in treating spinal stenosis which takes place due to the small amount of space inside the backbone. 

A research team led by Hong Jin-young at the Jaseng Spine and Joint Research Institute (JSR) administered grapple plant components to mice with spinal stenosis by removing part of the lumbar spine and inserting bio-silicon. As a result, inflammatory macrophages were reduced in proportion to the concentration of injection. 

The macrophage is a type of white blood cell which is the human body's first line of defense. It engulfs cell debris, cancer cells, microbes, and anything else that does not have proteins specific to healthy body cells. 

"It is meaningful that we revealed the treatment mechanism of grapple plant-based medicine used in treating spinal stenosis in oriental medicine," Hong said in a statement on October 17. "A herbal treatment that utilizes grapple plants for various spinal diseases, as well as spinal stenosis, can be considered as an effective option."

The new strategy holds promise for the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis, Hong's team said in a research paper published on the website of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, a peer-reviewed journal.

The team said that harpagophytum procumbens treatment significantly reduced necrotic cell death and improved cells' antioxidative capacity via the NRF2 signaling pathway in iron-treated neurons. NRF2 is a transcription factor that regulates the cellular defense against toxic and oxidative insults through the expression of genes involved in oxidative stress response and drug detoxification.  

Lumbar spinal stenosis rats treated with harpagophytum procumbens showed gradually reduced mechanical allodynia and amelioration of impaired behavior for three weeks. "We demonstrated that (harpagophytum procumbens) administration can maintain iron homeostasis within neurons via activation of NRF2 signaling and can consequently facilitate functional recovery by regulating iron-induced oxidative stress," the team said. 
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