Author Topic: Betel leaf for a healthy heart  (Read 5856 times)

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Betel leaf for a healthy heart
« on: October 10, 2008, 04:27:15 PM »
Hong Kong, China — There are millions of betel-leaf chewers in Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Malaysia. A recent experimental study conducted in Taiwan shows that a novel component in the betel leaf, hydroxychavicol, has properties that can be used in the treatment of atherosclerosis (thickened and hardened arteries) and even heart diseases.
Betel leaf, or piper betel leaf, is often consumed in a betel quid. A betel quid is a combination of slaked lime, catechu, areca nut and even tobacco. This may be wrapped in a betel leaf and placed under the tongue.

Previous studies have proved that the combination of tobacco, areca nut and slaked lime is carcinogenic -- that is, it can cause cancers. Hence, cancers of the tongue and mouth are very frequently observed in people who are habituated to chewing a betel quid. The quid is also notorious for increasing the risk of hypertension and diabetes.

But researchers proclaim that betel leaf per se is not harmful. For thousands of years it has been used in traditional medicine in India, China and other Asian countries as a digestive, a stimulant, an aphrosidiac, an antiseptic, a pain killer in joint pains and to promote lactation. Traditional medicine practitioners believe that the betel leaf has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Perhaps that is what prompted these scientists to delve deeply into the chemistry of this plant. They discovered that the component, hydroxychavicol, has anti-platelet and anti-inflammatory properties. This means that the betel leaf has the potential to prevent and treat those heart diseases where platelets and inflammation have been implicated.

Platelets are the tiny cells in the blood that are vital in stopping bleeding. They are the cells that initiate the clotting process and work with other factors in the blood to form clots. This clot seals off an injury to an artery or vein. It is attached to the wall of a blood vessel and is called a thrombus.

However, clots can be fatal sometimes. A clot that completely blocks the bore of an important artery, like that in the brain, will cause a stroke. A clot in the artery that supplies blood to the heart will result in a heart attack. This happens in individuals whose arteries have thick and hard walls or atherosclerosis. Such life-threatening clots may also occur in patients with long standing hypertension. Patients with artificial or defective heart valves also suffer from this risk.

It is a well-established fact that these incidents occur due to inflammation and clot formation. And platelets are the prime suspects, accused of orchestrating the damage and forming clots. So, further studies have been ongoing to research whether there is some way of stopping these culprits from creating blocks in the wrong areas. This is a tough challenge. Much as we need them to stop occluding arteries in the heart and brain and other organs, we still do want them to stop a bleed when we get that nasty shaving cut.

Platelets act by secreting a variety of different chemicals and bringing about a complicated cascade of events. Scientists now know that there are thousands of proteins on the surface of these tiny platelets. They are called receptors. Injuries or chemicals in the environment of the platelets will awaken or activate the receptors. The beauty of the receptors is that each one is programmed for a particular task.

So, if we can find a drug that will silence the undesirable receptors, we can get the platelets to do the desired task while preventing them from doing the harmful ones. Such a drug is called an anti-platelet drug.

But the matter is much more complex than it sounds. A perfect drug is yet to be discovered. Aspirin is one such anti-platelet drug. Many patients who have suffered from an attack of stroke before are prescribed this drug to prevent the occurrence of such events in the future. But there is always a risk of an unstoppable bleed, somewhere. It might go unnoticed and undiagnosed if it occurs inside the body and that can cause death. So, using anti-platelet drugs is treading on very delicate ground.

Dr.Jiiang-Huei Jeng and his team from the Department of Dentistry in Taipei, Taiwan, thoroughly investigated the anti-platelet effect of hydroxychavicol and its mechanisms in laboratory animals. Their findings were most encouraging. They found that hydroxychavicol has the potential to prevent thrombus formation and the progression of hypertension and stroke. While HC prevented clot formation by injury and chemicals associated with diseases, it did not prevent the "normal" clotting process. HC also showed anti-inflammatory effects that could potentially be used to prevent heart diseases. COX1 and COX2 are the enzymes involved in promoting inflammation. HC was found to suppress them both.

Thousands of chemical processes in our body give rise to the formation of harmful chemicals called free radicals or reactive oxygen species. ROS have been implicated in a plethora of diseases from heart attacks to diabetes to cancer. Jeng's study found that HC was able to scavenge these ROS and even suppress their formation.

This is encouraging news for scientists. However, we are far from declaring HC a panacea. Dr.Tsung-Yun Liu and his team from the Developmental Center of Biotechnology in Taipei, Taiwan do not agree with the benefits of HC. In fact their findings go to suggest that HC exerts damage through formation of free radicals. Still, the findings of Jeng and his colleagues are certainly a step in the right direction. Future studies will tell us whether HC will evolve into a wonder drug or just another "me too."

Millions of people around the globe suffer from various heart diseases and die from them. Modern researchers now emphasize the role of platelets in the development and progression of these diseases. Anti-platelet drugs, therefore, form the mainstay in the prevention program. So, the quest must continue to find the perfect anti-platelet drug. Perhaps the humble piper betel leaf might provide the right answer!