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“Holy Herb” Yerba Santa May Hold the Cure to Alzheimer’s Disease

Yerba Santa hold promises in effect treatment for Alzheimer's disease which affects nearly 6 million Americans

Many modern day medicines such as aspirin, artemisinin, and digoxin all get there healing properties from plants. Researchers at the Salk Institute have recently discovered a chemical called sterubin in the Yerba Santa plant that possesses potent neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, which may lead to a treatment for the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. Their research was published in the February 2019 issue of Redox Biology.

Age is a major risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease which is a leading cause of death in the United States. Because of this, many scientists are searching for ways to reverse the effects of aging on the brain. The identification of sterubin as a powerful neuroprotective agent is a promising step in that direction.

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon Californicum) is shrub naturally found in California. Native American tribes dubbed it “holy herb” and used its leaves to treat respiratory ailments, fever, headaches, wounds, sore muscles, and rheumatism.

Senior Staff Scientist, Pamela Maher, applied a screening technique used in drug discovery to a library of 400 plant extracts with known pharmacological properties in order to identify any natural components that may counter symptoms of neurological disease. Previously, the lab used this same approach to determine flavonoids in plants that have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective attributes. Flavonoids are a group of more than 6,000 known chemicals found in almost all fruits, vegetables, and plants.

Through screening, researchers at Salk Institute identified a flavonoid called sterubin as Yerba Santa’s main active component. Along with a few other components, sterubin was tested on the nerve cells of mice for its effect on energy metabolism, inflammation, and accumulation of deformed proteins known to accompany Alzheimer’s. It was found that sterubin was impactful against multiple causes of nerve cell death in that it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on brain cells known as microglia and was efficient at removing iron, which further contributes to nerve cell damage in aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

According to Maher, sterubin was a previously known compound but was largely ignored and turned out to be a much better active compound than other flavonoids studied in Yerba Santa. Their next steps would be to test the toxicity levels and drug-like characteristics in animals that display similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease. From there, plant-derived sterubin could possibly be tested on humans under controlled conditions until safe, synthetic derivatives could be lab generated.

Typical life expectancy after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is 4-8 years. These findings prove to be very promising, as Alzheimer’s currently has no available cure and affects almost 6 million people in the United States.

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