Plants with a long history of use as topical analgesics by Native Americans may also be helpful against diarrhea. The corresponding study was published in Frontiers in Physiology by researchers led by the University of California, Irvine in the US.
Native Americans are known for their proficient use of plant medicine to treat a variety of conditions. Now, in collaboration with the US National Parks Service, researchers are screening native plants in the US for their molecular potential to treat different medical conditions.
In the first paper published from this effort, researchers have found that some of these plants activate the KCNQ2/3 potassium channel, which is thought to ease pain by inhibiting pain signals. They also found that the same plant extracts have an inhibitory effect on an intestinal potassium channel known as KCNQ1-KCNE3. Previous studies have found that inhibition of this channel prevents diarrhea.
The researchers say that their findings are still some time away from becoming drugs available to the public. The next step is to use biochemical approaches to ensure their safety and optimize them to treat pain and diarrhea.
Such naturally-derived drugs may one day provide alternatives to opioid-based analgesics. They may also offer alternative treatment options for those suffering from diarrheal diseases, which account for 1 in 9 child deaths worldwide.
“Done in collaboration with the US National Parks Service, this study illustrates how much there is still to learn from the medicinal practices of Native Americans, and how, by applying molecular mechanistic approaches we can highlight their ingenuity, provide molecular rationalizations for their specific uses of plants, and potentially uncover new medicines from plants,” said Geoffrey Abbott, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
“I personally am very excited about the paper; it was my lab’s first published collaboration with the National Park Service, and it shines a light on the incredible ingenuity and medicinal wisdom of Californian Native American tribes,” he added.