Many marvels of modern medicine are discovered by accident. Some of these include:
The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming.
The use of saw palmetto to prevent benign prostate enlargement.
Digoxin to enhance cardiac function.
Gingko to reduce vascular viscosity and increase blood flow.
Recently, another ancient herb called artemisinin was discovered. History documentation showed that it was used to treat intestinal parasitic infections, hemorrhoids (its an anti-inflammatory) and malaria as early as 2000 years ago.
The Use for Malaria
This treatment for malaria was, however, lost over time. It was only rediscovered in an archeological dig in the 1970s where its medicinal use was found in a recipe inside a tomb. The formula was dated back to 168 B.C. where the Chinese chemist isolated the primary active ingredient from the leafy portion of plant called A. annua L.
In 1972, scientists in the West called this crystalline compound “qinghaosu” or “artemisinin”. Since then, studies in China and Vietnam have confirmed that artemisinin is a highly effective compound with close to 100 percent response rate for treating malaria. It has the ability to destroy the malaria parasite by releasing high doses of free radicals that attack the cell membrane of the parasite in the presence of high iron concentration. In fact, over one million malaria patients have been cured via this method. Their symptoms also subsided in a matter of days
However, the treatment using this herb to treat malaria is not approved for use in the U.S.A due to the concern that it has a 21 percent recrudescent rate. Scientists believe that this is more likely due to patients not taking the compound for a long period. Many of them actually stop taking it as soon as their symptoms subside.
Artemisinin comes in a few derivatives, including the oil soluble artemether, which has been found to induce neurotoxic symptoms in animals in high dose (but not reported in humans). For those who are technically inclined, the activities of all artemisinin derivatives are dependent on their internal endoperoxide bridge. It is therefore a close relative of hydrogen peroxide therapy. While the exact mechanism is still under intense research, it has been shown that this herb works via highly reactive oxygen-based free radicals that becomes activated in the presence of iron. Iron is an oxidant, and our body tries to protect us from excessive iron moving it to a binded state such as hemoglobin and enzymes. The malaria parasite accumulates iron by infecting iron-rich red blood cell. Excessive iron that is spilled onto the surrounding tissues will activate the artemisinin to generate a burst of free radicals that attack the iron rich cells, killing the parasite in the process.
In other words, this compound works well in an iron rich environment (remember that malaria lives in the red blood cell rich in iron) through the release of free radicals that serve to damage the malaria organism. It is also interesting to note that drugs known to work by enhancing oxygen radical effects such as doxorubicin can enhance the effects of artemisinin.
For malaria, there is no resistance nor toxicity at the dosage of 3 grams, (about 50mg/kg) administered over a 3 to 5 day period. It is especially useful in the treatment of drug resistant malaria.
Outside of the United States, artemisinin is the number one natural herb used for malaria treatment.