Artemisinin derivatives and combined artemisinin therapy (ACT) may have advantages over quinoline drugs for treating severe malaria since they are fast acting and effective against quinine resistant malaria parasites. Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra show efficacy against drug-resistant malaria and schistosomiasis,
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 212 million people contracted malaria in 2015 and some 429,000 died, with young children and pregnant women being particularly vulnerable. Caused by a mosquito-borne parasite, the illness is reported in nearly 100 countries and threatens nearly half of the world’s population. ACT, the current recommended therapy, is expensive to produce and is in short supply in areas hit hardest by the disease. In addition, while the combination therapy is designed to be less prone to the drug resistance that has rendered previous antimalarial agents ineffective, increasingly the malaria parasite is showing signs of resistance to ACT, particularly in Southeast Asia.
Prof. Pamela Weathers’ research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) focused upon use of Artemisia annua DLA (whole dried leaf) as an alternative to conventional antimalarial drugs. Noting that Artemisia annua, which is classified as a generally regarded as safe (GRAS) herb, has been consumed by humans and used as an herbal therapy for thousands of years, often in the form of a tea, she became intrigued by the potential for using the dried plant, rather than just a chemical extract, as a malaria treatment. A study she published in Photochemistry Reviews in 2011 was the first to demonstrate that dried leaves of the Artemisia annua plant delivers 40 times more artemisinin to the blood than does the drug based on the chemical extract of the plant. Further trials demonstrated that patients with ‘drug-resistant malaria’ were cured with Artemisia annua DLA therapy.
Schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasitic flatworms, affects nearly 210 million people worldwide, primarily in Africa, Asia, and South America, and is responsible for about 200,000 deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Infecting the intestines and urinary tract, it causes a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain and diarrhea, and in more severe case can lead to liver damage, kidney failure, and even bladder cancer. The only cost-effective treatment is praziquantel, or PZQ, a drug used to treat a number of parasitic worm infections.
In a study conducted by researchers in Africa, Europe, and the United States and published in the journal Phytomedicine (“Effect of Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra tea infusions on schistosomiasis in a large clinical trial,” December 2018), 800 patients from Maniema Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who exhibited signs of schistosomiasis infection were assigned to one of three groups. One group was treated with PZQ, while patients in the other two drank about a third of a liter of a tea infusion made from the dried leaves and twigs of either Artemisia annua or Artemisia afra (another member of the wormwood genus) three times daily. Patients were considered cured when no more parasite eggs were found in their stool samples.
The results showed that both of the Artemisia tea infusions were just as effective in eliminating the parasite as PZQ, but that they achieved that result in two-thirds of the time—14 days, vs. 21 days for PZQ. And while many of the patients receiving PZQ suffered adverse side effects (more than 18 percent experienced abdominal pain, for example, and more than 26 percent had headaches), no side effects were reported among those who consumed the teas.
Published Study Summaries Coming Soon!
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