Although there is no simple cure for sickle cell disease, blood transfusion and hydroxyurea are two modifying therapies that can be used to manage the disease.
Now, in a new study, scientists have found three other plants that are safe, effective, and inexpensive therapeutic agents that could be an alternative to hydoxyurea in the treatment of sickle cell disease.
In the study, researchers investigated the sickling reduction of extracts of Cajanus cajan leaf and seed, Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides leaf, and Carica papaya leaf.
Cajanus cajan is pigeon pea in English or fio fio in Igbo. Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides is otherwise called Fagara in English, orin ata in Yoruba or uko in Igbo is chewing stick. Carica papaya is pawpaw.
The indigenous plants reduced percentage of sickled cells to 41.7 per cent, 32.8 per cent, 38.2 per cent, 47.6 per cent respectively from the initially 91.6 per cent in the control. For Hydroxyurea, it was 29.3 per cent.
The 2017 study, published in the journal, Molecular Pharmaceutics also found that they prevent easy breakdown of sickle red blood cells.
In Nigeria, research into herbal drugs for sickle cell anaemia led to the development of Niprisan. The drug now renamed Nicosan, contains Piper guineense, Pterocapus osun, Eugenia caryophyllum, and Sorghum bicolor. It had passed through clinical trials and health care safety standardisations. It is already approved for use.
Sorghum bicolor is commonly called guinea-corn, sweet sorghum or dawa in Hausa. Petiveria alliacea is commonly called guinea-hen weed in English and ojú sajú in Yoruba. Eugenia caryophyllata is clover or “kanunfari” in Hausa. Piper guineense is Uziza in Igbo and Ata Iyere in Yoruba.
Medicinal plants such as Cajanus cajan seeds, Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides (Fagara) root, unripe pawpaw fruit, and also Parquetina nigrescens whole plant extracts which boost blood volume are locally used by traditional healers in Nigeria for diverse herbal remedies.
Parquetina nigrescens is kwankwanin in Hausa, mgbidim gbe in Igbo, ewidun in Yoruba, inuwu elepe in Yoruba (Ife).
Traditionally in Nigeria, Sorghum bicolor is used as a blood builder and in the treatment of sickle cell crisis. A four to five day cold infusion of a mixture of Sorghum bicolor leaves and Carica papaya unripe fruit pulp is used by the Yoruba to alleviate bone pains.
Hydroxyurea has been used with increasing evidence in sickle cell disease for almost 25 years now. While hydroxyurea is not a cure, when taken regularly, it certainly has a massive impact on the quality of life of patients and families of those with sickle cell disease.
It mainly works by reducing the amount of sickle haemoglobin (HbS) and increasing the amount of the special haemoglobin called haemoglobin F (HbF) towards the levels seen in young babies.
This is nature’s natural protection against sickle problems. The HbF actually carries oxygen around the body releasing it to any sickle blood under stress, so preventing the fundamental process that causes almost all of the problems in sickle cell disease.
In 2011, three other anti-sickling herbs identified in the journal Anaemia are Entandrophragma utile, Chenopodium ambrosioides; and Petiveria alliacea.
Commonly called Indian wormseed, sweet pigweed, Mexican tea, Jesuit’s tea, Chenopodium ambrosioides is called ewe imí (leaf of excreter) in Yoruba.
Petiveria alliacea is commonly called guinea-hen weed in English and ojú sajú in Yoruba. Eugenia caryophyllata is clover or “kanunfari” in Hausa.
Nigerian researchers have also shown the anti-sickling properties of crude juice extracts of the edible portions of three commonly consumed tropical fruits namely Persia Americana (avocado), Citrus sinensis (orange) and pawpaw.
The study was published in African Journal of Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicines.
Also, scientists in the 2010 of the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy justified the use of Plumbago zeylanica and Uvaria chamae in folklore medicine for sickle cell disease.
Meanwhile, increased consumption of green leafy vegetables like spinach, a rich source of iron also help to building red blood cells. It not only rejuvenates the existing blood cells but also produces new healthy red blood cells which a sickle cell anaemia patient desperately needs.