(Natural News) The shrub-like tree known as akuamma or Picralima nitida has long been considered as a medicinal plant in Africa. Extracts from this plant, particularly the seeds nestled inside its fruits, are used in folk medicine for a variety of ailments, including respiratory and stomach problems. Early this year, researchers from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria reported that akuamma seed extracts have powerful antioxidant properties, which can help protect cells from oxidative damage. The extracts can also inhibit a-amylase and a-glucosidase, two enzymes that dictate postprandial glucose levels or blood sugar levels after a meal. These activities suggest that akuamma seed extracts can be used as an alternative medicine for managing diabetes.
Akuamma in traditional medicine
Akuamma trees can be found mainly in tropical West African countries like Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. Their seeds are used in those parts to treat a wide range of diseases, including gonorrhea, malaria, measles, pneumonia, and typhoid fever. Akuamma seeds are also used to relieve pain and diarrhea, and to relax tense muscles.
Scientifically, not much is known about the medicinal properties of akuamma seeds. The use of this folk medicine as an herbal supplement or complementary treatment has gained traction outside of Africa only recently, so literature about its effects is scarce. But some of the benefits associated with akuamma seeds include pain relief, anxiety relief, relief from muscle spasms, and blood pressure reduction.
So far, two main components of akuamma seeds have been confirmed by studies: akuammidine and akuamigine. These phytochemicals are now identified as opioid agonists, meaning they bind to opioid receptors within the nervous system to inhibit pain and produce mood-related changes. Reports suggest that due to these two compounds, akuamma seeds can provide pain relief as effectively as commonly used opioids like morphine. However, because of the natural bitterness of these seeds, addiction is not a problem associated with the use of akuamma seeds.
The potential of akuamma seeds to help manage diabetes
For their study, the researchers focused on the antioxidant potential of akuamma seed extracts and their ability to inhibit a-amylase and a-glucosidase. These two enzymes are known to break down starch (from food) into glucose and influence glucose absorption in the gut, respectively. Hence, these enzymes’ inhibitors are commonly used by diabetics to control their blood sugar levels, especially after meals.
To obtain extracts from akuamma seeds, the researchers used three different solvents, namely, 70 percent methanol, distilled water, and coconut water. They then tested these extracts using six assays commonly used in studies to determine their antioxidant potential. To evaluate their inhibitory activities and IC50 — half-maximal inhibitory concentration — values, they also subjected different concentrations of the seed extracts to a-amylase and a-glucosidase assays.
The researchers reported that all three akuamma seed extracts showed significant antioxidant potential across the six antioxidant assays used. Their inhibitory potential also compared favorably with acarbose, the standard used for the a-amylase and a-glucosidase assays. Acarbose is an anti-diabetic drug used by patients with Type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar. (Related: Herbal treatments for diabetes management: A look at how they work.)
Among the three extracts, the researchers found that the akuamma seed extract obtained using methanol showed the highest inhibitory activity toward a-amylase and a-glucosidase. It also had the highest antioxidant capacity and the lowest IC50 value.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that akuamma seed extracts have potent antioxidant properties and can be used as effective natural a-amylase and a-glucosidase inhibitors for the treatment of diabetes.