Some Medicinal Values of Telfairia occidentalis: A Review
Several medicinal uses of the fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) in traditional medicine have been documented. Although, many of these claims are yet to be validated by scientific researchers, a review of some investigated therapeutic activities of the plant are highlighted in this article. Experimental works done on Telfairia occidentalis especially in the field of Biochemistry were retrieved via Google search on the internet and studied carefully to identify any therapeutic activity reported on Telfairia occidentalis. It can be inferred that the ability of the plant to combat certain diseases may be due to its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and its minerals (especially Iron), vitamins (especially vitamin A and C) and high protein contents. We therefore conclude that with further chemical manipulation and clinical investigations numerous drug designs could emerge from the plant. An effort to keep the plant protected and conserved is also advocated.
Received: May 23, 2010;
Accepted: June 02, 2010;
Published: August 21, 2010
Plants provide an alternative strategy in search for new drugs. There is a
rich abundance of plants reputed in traditional medicine to possess protective
and therapeutic properties. It is likely that plants will continue to be a valuable
source of new molecules which may, after possible chemical manipulation, provide
new and improved drugs (Shah et al., 2006). Traditional
medicinal plants are a therapeutic resource used by the population of the continent
specifically for health care, which may also serve as starting materials for
drugs (Sofowora, 1993). Iwu et al.
(1999) reported that infectious diseases account for one-half of all deaths
in the tropical countries. As a result, people of all continents have long applied
poultice and imbibed infusions of indigenous plants dating back to prehistory
for health purposes (Cowan, 1999). It comprises of therapeutics
practices in existence for hundreds of years before the development of modern
scientific medicine and is still in use today without any documented evidence
of adverse effects.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 1977)
a medicinal plant is any plant which in one or more of its organ contains substances
that can be used for the synthesis of useful drugs. This definition distinguishes
those plants whose therapeutics properties and constituents have been established
scientifically and plants that are regarded as medicinal but which have not
yet been subjected to thorough investigation. The term herbal drug determines
the part/parts of a plant used for preparing medicines (for examples: leaves,
flowers, seeds, roots, barks, stems, etc.). Furthermore, WHO
(2001) defines medicinal plant as herbal preparations produced by subjecting
plant materials to extraction, fractionation, purification, concentration or
other physical or biological processes which may be produced for immediate consumption
or as a basis for herbal products.
Medicinal plants contain biologically active chemical substances such as saponins,
tannins, essential oils, flavonoids, alkaloids and other chemical compounds
(Harborne, 1973; Sofowora, 1996)
which have curative properties. These complex chemical substances of different
compositions are found as secondary plant metabolites in one or more of these
plants. Tyler (1999) has reported that plants also contain
certain other compounds that moderate the effects of the active ingredients.
Telfairia is classified in the tribe Joliffieae of the subfamily Cucurbitaceae.
It comprises 3 species, of which Telfairia pedata (Sm. ex Sims) Hook.
(Oyster nut) is much cultivated for its seed oil in East Africa. The names Telfairia
pedata and oyster nut are often erroneously used for Telfairia occidentalis.
Cultivars of Telfairia occidentalis are distinguished by seed colour,
thickness of vine, size of leaf, growing vigour, days to flowering and succulence.
In Nigeria the two main cultivars are ugu-ala, characterized by succulent, broad
leaves, small black seeds, thick stem and slow growth and ugu-elu which has
a high growth rate, large brownish seeds with high viability and thin stem with
small leaves. The large succulent leaves of ugu-ala make this cultivar a commercial
vegetable in high demand, while the fast emergence and high growth rate of ugu-elu
is preferred by farmers because of quick returns. The seed is often polyembryonic,
which is useful for multiplication and in breeding (Akoroda,
Telfairia occidentalis Hook f. commonly called fluted pumpkin occurs
in the forest zone of West and Central Africa, most frequently in Benin, Nigeria
and Cameroon. It is a popular vegetable all over Nigeria. It is rare in Uganda
and absent in the rest of East Africa. It has been suggested that it originated
in south-east Nigeria and was distributed by the Igbos, who have cultivated
this crop since time immemorial. It is, however, equally possible that fluted
pumpkin was originally wild throughout its current range, but that wild plants
have been harvested to local extinction and are now replaced by cultivated forms.
It has different traditional names; among the Igbos, it is known as Ugu, iroko
or aporoko in Yoruba, ubong in Efik, umee in Urhobo and umeke in Edo (Akoroda,
1990a; Badifu and Ogunsina, 1991). In this article
we intend to only discuss the therapeutic potentials of Telfairia occidentalis
which by far outweighs the little possible toxicity in biological systems
that has been reported.
GENERAL HEALTH BENEFITS DERIVED FROM TELFAIRIA OCCIDENTALIS
Telfairia occidentalis is an important staple vegetable grown in Nigeria.
The plant produces luxuriant edible green leaves, which are rich in iron and
vitamins. Stems of the plants have branching, long twisting tendrils and the
leaves are divided into three to five leaflets with the terminal leaflets up
to 15 cm long, while the male plant is grown principally for leaves and seeds,
which are important soup condition. Recent studies have shown that Telfairia
occidentalis leaf is rich in minerals (such as iron, potassium, sodium,
phosphorus, calcium and magnesium), antioxidants, vitamins (such as thiamine,
riboflavin, nicotinamide and ascorbic acid, phyto-chemicals such as phenols.
Harvesting of fluted pumpkin takes place 120-150 days after sowing (Longe
et al., 1983; Okoli and Nyanayo, 1988; Akoroda
et al., 1990; Ladeji et al., 1995; Oboh
and Akindahunsi, 2004; Horsfall and Spiff, 2005;
Oboh, 2005; Fasuyi, 2006; Oboh
et al., 2006; Ajibade et al., 2006;
Kayode et al., 2009). The leaves contain essential
oils, vitamins; root contains cucubitacine, sesquiterpene, lactones (Iwu,
1983). The young leaves sliced and mixed with coconut water and salt are
stored in a bottle and used for the treatment of convulsion in ethno medicine
(Gbile, 1986). The leaf extract is useful in the management
of cholesterolemia, liver problems and impaired defense immune systems (Eseyin
et al., 2005a, b).The roots are used as rodenticide
and an ordeal poison (Gill, 1992). The essential amino
acids contents compared favorably with those of important legumes (Asiegbu,
1987). The amino acid profile of T. occidentalis had also been shown
to be very rich and includes alanine, aspartate, glycine, glutamine, histidine,
lysine, methionine, tryptophan, cystine, leucine, arginine, serine, threonine,
phenylalanine, valine, tyrosine and isoleucine (Tindall, 1968;
Fasuyi, 2006). Emeka and Obidoa (2009)
study reveals that the long term feeding of T. occidentalis-supplemented
diet caused a significant increase in weight of animals which may be due to
its content of rich nutrients.
The seeds are highly nutritious and are roasted or boiled and eaten like the
seeds of breadfruit (Treculia); they are also sometimes used as soup thickeners
(Okoli and Mgbeogu, 1983). The seed is very rich in
oil, especially unsaturated fatty acids which form 61% of the oil (Odoemena
and Onyeneke, 1998; Okoli and Nyanayo, 1988). Akubue
et al. (1980) and Taylor et al. (1983)
have documented that fluted plumpkin seeds are a good source of four minerals
required in human nutrition. There report showed that the seed contained 29%
oil and 30% protein. Asiegbu (1987) reported fluted
pumpkin seed contain 47% oil and 31% protein. The protein was said to be markedly
deficient in the sulphur amino acid. Longe et al.
(1983) reported that fluted plumpkin seeds had 53% fat, 22% protein, 3%
fibre, 15% carbohydrates and 2% ash. Oyolu (1980) observed
that vegetables will continue to remain the primary source of proteins, minerals
and vitamins in African countries, he noted that leaves and edible shoots of
fluted pumpkin together contain 85% moisture, while the dry portion of what
is usually consumed contains 11% crude protein, 25% carbohydrate, 3% oil, 11%
ash and as much as 700 ppm iron. The results of the study carried out by Christian
(2007) shows that the seed contained essential nutrients in significant
amount that can supplement other foods. The levels of crude protein (3.47%),
crude fat (31.38%), moisture (10.93), Ash (2.02%), carbohydrate (50.08%), fibre
(2.12%), calcium (280 μg g-1), phosphorus (2100 μg g-1),
iron (69 μg g-1), sodium (10.80 μg g-1), potassium
(1280 μg g-1), vitamin A (890 IU) and vitamin C (0.7 μg
g-1) detected in the seed were compared with nutritional composition
of some plant foods in Nigeria. The study shows that the seed of Telfairia
occidentalis Hook F. is high in carbohydrate, fat and phosphorus. The seed
also contained levels of vitamin A which can supplement other dietary sources.
The oil of Telfairia occidentalis seeds have a high iodine values compared
to palm oil which indicates that the oil has a high content of unsaturated fatty
acids relative to palm oil. This suggests that it may be used as edible oil
for cooking or manufacturing of margarine (Christian, 2007).
The high protein content in leaves of plants such as Telfairia occidentalis
could have supplementary effect for the daily protein requirement of the body.
The symptoms of protein energy malnutrition such as Kwashiorkor and Marasmus
were rarely observed among dwellers in region where adequate amount of protein
is obtained from fruits/seeds and leaves of plants rich in proteins such as
T. occidentalis (Dike, 2010; Kayode
et al., 2010; Kayode et al., 2009).
Fasuyi and Nonyerem (2007) investigations shows that
Telfairia occidentalis leaf meal caused increased growth in birds. Adaramoye
et al. (2007) reported that Telfairia occidentalis leaves
has hypolipdemic effect and may be a useful therapy in hypercholestolemia. This
confirms the research work of Eseyin et al. (2005a).
The vitamin A content and consumption pattern of some green leafy vegetables
(which includes Telfairia occidentalis) among pregnant women in Calabar,
Nigeria was investigated by Williams et al. (2009).
They observed that Telfairia occidentalis has the highest vitamin A content
which is adequate enough to sustain their vitamin A requirement (Williams
et al., 2009). The fruits of Telfairia occidentalis have been
utilized in the production of marmalade (Egbekun et al.,
1998). The use of Telfairia occidentalis in reproduction and fertility
in traditional medicine is gradually becoming a thing of interest in medical
science. A study carried out by Nwangwu and his colleague shows that Telfairia
occidentalis has the potential to regenerate testicular damage and also
increase spermatogenesis (Nwangwa et al., 2007).
However, more research work is required to establish this observation.
ANTIOXIDANT AND FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING PROPERTY
Almost all organisms possess antioxidant defense and repair systems that evolved
to protect them against oxidative damage, these systems are insufficient to
prevent them entirely. However, antioxidant supplements or foods containing
antioxidants may be used to help human body reduce oxidative damage (Yang
et al., 2002). In recent years, there has been a particular interest
in the antioxidant and health benefit of phytochemicals in food and vegetables.
This was as a result of their potential effects on human health (Wei
and Shiow, 2001). Many researchers especially in the field of medical sciences
have observed free radical scavenging ability and antioxidant property in Telfairia
occidentalis. The darkish green leafy vegetable leaves of Telfairia occidentalis
and extracts (such as aqueous and ethanol extracts) from the leaves have been
found to suppress or prevent the production of free radical and scavenge already
produced free radical, lower lipid peroxidation status and elevates antioxidant
enzymes (such as superoxide dismutase and Catalase) both in vitro and
in vivo (Oboh et al., 2004, 2006;
Nwanna and Oboh, 2007; Adaramoye
et al., 2007; Emeka and Obidoa, 2009; Kayode
et al., 2009; Kayode et al., 2010). Telfairia
occidentalis has also be found to protects and ameliorates oxidative brain
and liver damaged induced by malnutrition in rats (Kayode
et al., 2009, 2010). Nwanna
and Oboh (2007) reported the hepatoprotective property of polyphenol extracts
of Telfairia occidentalis leaves on acetaminophen induced liver damaged.
Oboh (2005) reported that both aqueous an d ethanolic
extracts of T. occidentalis leaves protect the liver cells against garlic-
induced oxidative damage. However, the aqueous extract is more effective than
the ethanolic extracts, which could be attributed to the higher antioxidant
activity of the aqueous extracts of T. occidentalis leaves. Hepatoprotective
effects of Telfairia occidentalis leaves have been reported by Eseyin
et al. (2005b), Emeka and Obidoa (2009) and
Kayode et al. (2010). The use of the leaves in
folk medicine in Nigeria in the treatment of certain diseases in which the participation
of reactive oxygen species have been implicated could be as a result of the
antioxidant and free radical scavenging ability.
ANTIPLASMODIAL AND ANTIMICROBIAL PROPERTIES
Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease in the tropics as it affects
over 400 million people yearly and is responsible for the deaths of an estimated
10,000 women of reproductive age and over 1 million infants and young children
each year (Barbin, 1989; Mishra
et al., 2003). Drug resistance, increases in the production and circulation
of fake drugs and high cost of newer and effective drugs have been a major factor
affecting the poor populace, thus making their choice of herbal remedies inevitable
and economical. A study has shown that the ethanol root extract of T. occidentalis
possess antiplasmodial potential. The blood schizontocidal activity of the root
extract is comparable to that of chloroquine (Okokon et
al., 2007). The ethanolic and aqueous extracts of Telfairia occidentalis
have been reported to show inhibitory effect on growth on some of the commonly
encountered Enterobacteriaceae in Nigeria, namely Escherichia coli,
Pseudomonas aeroginosa, Proteus sp. and Salmonella typhii.
However, both extracts did not inhibit the growth of the fungi tested, which
are Aspergillus favus, Aspergillus fumigatum, Peniccillium
italium and Geotrichum albidun (Oboh et al.,
2006). Antibacterial activity of the leaves was also reported by Odoemena
and Onyeneke (1998) while Oluwole et al. (2003)
reported Telfairia occidentalis anti-inflammatory activities. Antibacterial
activity of the root extract against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus
pyogenes, Shiegella dysenterae and Kliebsiella pneumoniae
has been reported by Odoemena and Essien (1995).
FLUTED PLUMPKIN BOOSTS BLOOD LEVEL AND BEAT DIABETES
In Nigeria, the herbal preparation of the plant has been employed in the treatment
of anaemia, chronic fatigue and diabetes (Alada, 2000;
Dina et al., 2006; AderIbigbe
et al., 1999). Anaemia constitutes a serious health problem in many
tropical countries because of the prevalence of malaria and other parasitic
infections. In anaemia there is decreased level of circulating haemoglobin,
less than 13 g dL-1 in male and 12 g dL-1 in females (Okochi
et al., 2003). In the tropics, where malaria is endemic, between
10 to 20% of the population presents less than 10 g dL-1 of Haemoglobin
(Diallo et al., 2008). Children are more vulnerable.
The leaves are rich in iron and play a key role in the cure of anaemia, they
are also noted for lactating properties and are in high demand for nursing mothers
(Okoli and Mgbeogu, 1983).
Type 2 diabetes is associated with increased oxidative stress, which probably
results both from excess generation of reactive oxygen species and decreased
antioxidant defenses (Baynes, 1991; Tribe
and Poston, 1996). In recent years, it has been known that, the most important
factor to increase the free radicals production in diabetes is the hyperglycemic
status, which can induce damage through overproduction of superoxide radical
in the mitochondria (Brownlee, 2001). Superoxide is
converted to hydroxyls, which can diffuse through membranes and initiate lipoperoxidation.
The oxidation of unsaturated lipids has implications not only for atherosclerosis,
but also for stability and integrity of the red cell membranes (Steinberg
et al., 1989). Increased levels of lipoperoxidation as evidenced
by breakdown products like malondialdehyde have been found in erythrocytes and
plasma type 2 diabetic patients. Supplementation with antioxidants is therefore,
an attractive potential therapy. Aqueous extracts of Telfairia occidentalis
had been reported to reduce blood glucose level and also have antidiabetic
effects in glucose induced hyperglycemic and streptozotocin (STZ) induced diabetic
mice (AderIbigbe et al., 1999), while it did
not alter the glucose levels in normoglycemic mice. Salman
et al. (2008) also reported reduced blood glucose level by Telfairia
occidentalis leaves in male rats. Hypoglycemic effects have also been reported
by many researchers (AderIbigbe et al., 1999;
Eseyin et al., 2000, 2005c,
2007; Nwozo et al., 2004).
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