Deadly weed may actually help us look younger, heal faster
If you’re on a hike, you’d be best steering well clear of the cocklebur weed. While the stalky green plants with curious-looking spiky burs don’t appear particularly deadly, this noxious plant is a killer.
In 2007, 76 villagers fell ill in northeastern Bangladesh after consuming the plant’s seedlings, and a quarter of those died. The toxin present in the seedlings and burs (also often called their fruit and their seeds), carboxyatractyloside, can cause nausea, palpitations, drowsiness, hallucinations and multiple organ dysfunction leading to death.
It can also cause acute liver failure in pigs, cattle, sheep, poultry, horses and other ruminants.
However, the deadly plant is of increasing interest to scientists for its array of potential health benefits. Already studied for cancer-fighting and arthritis-treating properties, researchers have also discovered compounds with anti-aging and wound-healing potential.
New research has found that the fruit of the cocklebur plant – scientifically, Xanthium strumarium – has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that could be used by humans as an effective skin protectant.
Research out of Myongji University in South Korea detailed how in clinical trials on tissues and cells, compounds extracted and isolated from the burs reduced damage from UVB exposure, accelerated wound healing and stimulated collagen production.
“We found that cocklebur fruit has the potential to protect the skin and help enhance production of collagen,” said Eunsu Song, a doctoral candidate at Myongji University. “In this regard, it could be an attractive ingredient for creams or other cosmetic forms. It will likely show a synergistic effect if it is mixed with other effective compounds, such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, against aging.”
The plant has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese herbal medicine, treating everything from headaches to fungal infections. Scientists have since identified around 170 of its compounds for use in medical research.
Cocklebur proliferation, its hardiness and the rate at which it grows could provide an economical and sustainable source of cosmetic and pharmaceutical skincare development. However, the researchers caution that their results are preliminary and that more studies are needed to evaluate safety.
“In its burrs, cocklebur fruit also has a toxic constituent, carboxyatractyloside, which can damage the liver,” said Song. “Cocklebur showed a potential as a cosmetic agent by increasing collagen synthesis; however, it showed negative results with higher concentrations. Therefore, finding the proper concentration seems very important and would be key to commercializing cocklebur fruit extracts in cosmetics.”
The research was presented at the ASBMB annual meeting #DiscoverASBMB in Seattle.