It is more news that fluted pumpkin is a good blood tonic. Now scientists have shown the efficacy of fluted pumpkin also in reducing the incidence of sickle cell crisis in infants and adults.
In a new study, Nigerian researchers found that fluted pumpkin reduces the incidence of sickle cell crisis in infants and adults by preventing and reversing red blood cells that are sickled, stabilises the red blood cells and reduces sickle haemoglobin red blood cell density.
The researchers studied the anti-sickling properties of ethanol extract of fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) and its mode of action in blood collected from confirmed sickle cell anaemia patients between ages 12 and 30 years in the steady state, who attend regular haematology clinic at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife.
The 2018 study, published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine involved Mojisola C.Cyril-Olutayo; Joseph M.Agbedahunsi and Norah O.Akinola, all from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Its anti-sickling effect was compared with Ciklavit concentrate, a nutraceutical used for the management of sickle cell anaemia with Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea) as the basic component and phenylalanine the active constituent.
Initially, the researchers had carried out a survey in Ondo and Osun states on the herbs used locally in the management of sickle cell anaemia. Fluted pumpkin was selected based on its frequency of use as blood tonic in the treatment of anaemia in sickle cell management.
Commonly called fluted pumpkin, Telfairia occidentalis is called Ugwu in Ibo; Aworoko, Eweroko in Yoruba, Ikong or Umee in Efik and Ibibio, and Umeke in Edo
Fluted pumpkin is a palatable and nutritious vegetable that is cultivated in various parts of Nigeria. It is cooked as soup or squeezed in water or alcohol and administered to patients with low blood volumes to boost blood in southwest Nigeria.
Its herbal preparation has also been employed in the treatment of chronic fatigue and diabetes. The infusion of the leaves is given as blood tonic to help convalescents, in the treatment of malaria and loss of appetite.
Fluted pumpkin leaves are good sources of K, Cu, Fe, Mn and essential amino acids; and moderate sources of Mg and Zn, which are essential in human and animal nutrition.
The researchers found that fluted pumpkin extract at 4 mg/mL gave a significantly higher inhibitory and reversal antisickling activities than Ciklavit, positive control at the same concentration.
Considering that fluted pumpkin gave much higher anti-sickling activities at a lower concentration, they said that its extract can be used as a prophylactic drug in offsetting sickling crisis as well as be administered during a crisis to reduce the pain.
According to the researchers, amino acids, iron and vitamin C, had been implicated for anti-sickling activities, and these together with the antioxidant contents of fluted pumpkin might be responsible for the high anti-sickling property.
In addition, they declared that its high anti-sickling property can also be attributed to the effects of fluted pumpkin extract on the density of red blood cells.
The deformability of red blood cell decreases progressively with increasing cell density. Any drug that reduces the density of red blood cells thereby increasing cell deformability.
They reasoned that the use of fluted pumpkin extract as an anti-sickling agent will promote flexibility of sickle red blood cells and prevent loss of cellular deformability which can compromise the ability of the red cell to optimally perform its function of oxygen delivery to the tissues.
According to them, a treatment using this vegetable that prevents and reverses sickling of red blood cell stabilises the red blood cell membrane and reduces sickled red blood cell density will be most desirable.
Medicinal plants have been used traditionally in Africa, especially Nigeria, in the management of sickle cell disorder whose treatment has been mainly palliative.
Palliative care includes rehydration, pain management, blood transfusion, and prevention of complications. The use of hydroxyurea revolutionised the management of sickle cell disease, but it is not without its side effects and complications.
These medicinal plants include Zanthoxyllum xanthoxyloides, Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea), pawpaw, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (efo Iyana Ipaja or tree spinach) amongst others.
About 150 000 children are born annually in Nigeria with sickle cell disease and 50 per cent of these children will die before their 10th birthday. Approximately seven per cent of the world’s populations are healthy carriers of a gene for sickle-cell disease or thalassaemia.