Before you start thinking that I might as well have just written as my title, “Blue crumpet jumps around miniature splodge”, or something equally jabberwocky, let me explain.
Researchers at the University of Hanoi, Vietnam, have been studying ancient remedies and their most recent work has been upon the plant Cibotium barometz, otherwise known as the Vegetable Lamb. Why is it called this? Because scientists of the 16th and 17th Centuries, clearly very learned folk, believed that the plant’s fruit ripened into a live baby sheep, which would then nibble on the weeds around the plant (of course).
Hopefully it hasnt taken them several hundred years to work out that this metamorphosis is impossible, but what they have been finding out is that the rhizomes of the plant, which have been eaten for centuries by Vietnamese hill tribes to ward off rheumatic disorders, may prove useful in the treatment of the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, which affects millions of people around the world, has several causes, but is characterised by an imbalance in the activity of two key cell types: osteoblasts that build bone, and osteoclasts that break down bone. When osteoclast activity outruns osteoblast activity, the calcium in bones can become depleted, leading to weak, brittle bones that are prone to breakage and crumbling.
Dr. Young Ho Kim and his team have identified several compounds found in the Vegetable Lamb plant that, in cultured cells, block the activity of osteoclasts by up to 97%. While still in the very early stages of experimentation, this is a potentially very exciting discovery that could have important implications for the future of osteoporosis treatment and drug development.
Reference: Cuong NG et al., Inhibitors of osteoclast formation from rhizomes of Cibotum barometz, J. Nat. Prod., 2009, 72 (9), pp 1673–1677
Press release: Fabled ‘vegetable lamb’ plant contains potential treatment for osteoporosis