Plant-based medicines continue to be utilised to treat several pathological illnesses or as substitutes for contemporary medications
Sometimes, we come across claims and statements made by manufacturers or researchers of specific products or supplements. They may go along these lines:
- Two compounds in coffee may team up to fight Parkinson’s
- A compound derived from turmeric essential oil has neuroprotective properties
- Licorice extract may help prevent and treat Parkinson’s
- Sesaminol, a chemical by-product of sesame seed shells, has neuroprotective properties against Parkinson’s disease.
So how true or accurate are such statements? After all, there is an age-old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
Pharmacognosy is the study of natural drug substances and several related substances. Emerging dangers to human health need a coordinated effort in search of both preventative and therapeutic techniques, with natural products at the core of attempts to gain novel medicines and limit the spread and death associated with illness.
The medicinal efficacy of plant-based substances has been recognised for centuries, resulting in their use to treat a variety of maladies ranging from minor headaches to severe disorders such as wounds. Despite the observed progress in the globe, plant-based medicines continue to be utilised to treat several pathological illnesses or as substitutes for current medications.
In most instances, these natural items or plant-based medications are used as crude extracts. Many studies are being conducted to discover and purify the healing-active chemicals.
Lack of standardisation poses problems
The true difficulty is in discovering medications with little or no adverse effects. Innovative and novel approaches to drug discovery are required. In addition, the “wonder drug” techniques in which a single medicine may treat several illnesses and all individuals must be rethought. Nature already gives choices for drug development, while many molecules are yet to be identified.
Paclitaxel and Morphine are two examples of currently-approved medications that are derived from plants. In fact, a substantial proportion of medications accessible in the previous two decades are derived from natural compounds or synthetic analogs.
In addition to tetracycline, artemisinin, and doxorubicin, several more pharmaceuticals have been derived from natural ingredients. Since ancient times, plant extracts and mixtures have been used as medicines, but they are not refined, and it is unknown which components within the extracts have curative properties.
Over time, it has been recognised that the healing potential of these extracts is due to the synergistic actions of the many substances inside them. The lack of standardisation and the unprocessed nature of these plant-based extracts provide difficulty for drug research experts.
Sometimes, the purification of plant components results in losing their curative and therapeutic properties. In many instances, these extracts have varied effects on biological systems, necessitating clarifying their biological mechanisms of action. Natural product and plant-based chemical research is difficult since these combinations are complex and may lose their medicinal properties once extracted from plants or microorganisms.
Most medication development is predicated on the analysis of single molecules, despite the complexity of many illnesses. Thus, the research of specific chemicals for some disorders will fail to provide viable treatments.
Paradigm change needed
When analysing candidate compounds, contemporary drug development methodologies also include combinatorial approaches. Using combinatorial techniques, new technologies enable scientists to evaluate candidate compounds’ medicinal qualities and molecular impacts in more precise biological systems.
Although it is feasible to extract all components from natural goods, it is impossible to determine the impact of each ingredient in an extract since specific effects may be negligible. In addition, some chemicals in extracts may conceal the actions of other substances.
Thus, it has been claimed that eliminating some chemicals, such as tannins, may aid in exposing the influence of other compounds in extracts. Utilising new extraction techniques and pre-fractionation are two options that may be used to attain this goal. These tactics have been demonstrated to generate more promising hit leads for medication development.
To stop the increase of Parkinson’s disease, medication design and development must undergo a paradigm change. Innovative methods are required to produce new curative medications.
Innovative methodologies based on natural product inspiration have assisted in creating and developing many prospective medicinal molecules. In this context, technical advancements have enabled the study of profiles of complex molecules, culminating in the design and synthesis of several substances.
Many chemicals and blockbuster medications have been produced from natural sources or compounds derived from natural materials. This places natural products at the centre of drug development, and current technology improvements will assist in boosting the success rate of novel therapeutic molecules. Overall, natural products will continue to play a significant role in medication development and our efforts to combat global health concerns and achieve health-related sustainable development objectives.
Now, our International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) research team is assessing the neuroprotective benefits of Thymoquinone (TQ) and Edible Bird’s Nest (EBN) against Parkinson’s disease. Our research slogan at IIUM BMS is “I may not have been able to help everyone live, but at least I saved this one life.” – The Health
Dr Wael MY Mohamed is with the Department of Basic Medical Science, Kulliyyah of Medicine, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).