Study: Common plant used in Samoan traditional medicine dismissed as superstition could rival ibuprofen

Study says traditional samoan medicine could rival ibuprofen

New research offers scientific evidence on the healing properties of a common plant used in Samoan traditional medicine.

Beyond superstition: The matalafi plant, which has been used for generations in Samoan culture as a remedy for a variety of illnesses, can produce anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen, a new study spearheaded by an Indigenous Samoan scientist suggests, according to The Guardian.

  • Also called by its scientific name, Psychotria insularum, the small plant bears red berries and is commonly found in coastal and tropical forest environments.
  • Samoans have long used the leaves of the matalafi to treat inflammation that result in fevers, body aches and illnesses which traditional healers have attributed to supernatural causes.  
  • After conducting experiments on the plant’s extracts, the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa concluded that the plant reduces inflammation just as effectively as the popular anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.
  • Indigenous Samoan scientist Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni, who led the study, was quoted as saying: “There was a lot of superstition around this plant particularly, even in traditional medicine, but I was keen to find out if I could provide scientific merit to the traditional medicines of the Samoan people.”

Behind the research: The study, which acknowledges the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Samoans, was conducted as part of Molimau-Samasoni’s Ph.D. studies at Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, according to ScienceAlert.

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  • With some help from traditional healers, Molimau-Samasoni collected native Samoan plants, including matalafi, and then sent their extracts to a laboratory in New Zealand for chemical genomic analyses. 
  • Using certain yeast cultures with genes that resemble those of humans, Molimau-Samasoni determined that matalafi interacts with iron inside cells.
  • She then compared the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties to that of ibuprofen in immune cells cultured in the lab.
  • In the tests, the extract, along with its bioactive component rutin, helped to reduce fever and inflammation.
  • While its application in general pain relief needs further investigation, the findings have established scientific potential in traditional knowledge.
  • The researchers are now looking into matalafi’s potential anti-cancer properties and efficacy against other inflammatory diseases.

Scientists and traditional healers made a similarly significant discovery in 1992 when they identified prostratin, extracted from the bark of mamala plant, as a potential retroviral agent against HIV. The discovery resulted in agreements, enforced under international law, that ensured better access, protection and benefit-sharing between traditional healers and researchers.

Featured Image via Te Herenga Waka — Wellington Uni

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