Fingerroot: From Traditional Medicine to Wonder Drug?

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New studies has indicated that Boesenbergia rotunda displayed various therapeutic properties. Commonly referred to as fingerroot, this plant is part of the Boesenbergia genera under the Zingiberaceae family. In other words,it is the distant cousin of the common ginger plant. With a wide distribution in tropical climates from Southeast Asia to Latin America, it is regularly used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

B. rotunda is commonly used  in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, India and China.Traditionally, it is regularly applied as a spice condiment for food such as soup and curry to enhance flavor and scent. This plant is used as a aphrodisiac among Thai folks. The plant’s medicinal application is more broad. Fingerroot juice produced via boling of the rhizome can treat gastrointestinal disorders, stomach ache, diarrhea and peptic ulcer. Consumption of its leaves has been shown to alleviate food allergies.Other than that, it can also treat muscle pain, inflammatory diseases, skin disorders and dental complications such as caries.

This wide application of B. rotunda has prompted the scientific community to carried out studies to verify its medicinal properties and determine whether its metabolite can further exploited for drug development.

Fingerroot plant.PNG

Over the years, researchers have isolated several bioactive compounds which have displayed significant medicinal potential using various procedures. These compounds include pinocembrin, pinostrobin, panduratin A, alpinetin and cardamonin. Toxocity test shows that the plant extract does not produce any adverse effects regardless of the dosage.

Combination of various bioactive compounds has been determined to possess anti-mutagenic properties which inactivates chemical agents that can alter or disrupt DNA replication. A subsequent study indicated that pinocembrin and other compounds can inhibit replication of human promyelocytic leukemia cells in an in vivo study model, deeming the compound as anti-leukemia.

Fingerroot extract has also displayed anti fungal activities and modern technology has enabled researchers to determine the compound’s mechanism of action in inducing such an effect. A study has shown that inhibition of calcium ion signalling in fungi’s physiological pathway can lead to abnormal morphology and growth disruption.

                               Boesenbergia_rotunda_Flower_2

Extracts of fingerroot plant can potentially solved bacteria related problems due to its proven antimicrobial properties. Pinostrobin  derived from the roots inhibits growth of Helicobacter pylori which is linked to gastric and colon cancer. A subsequent study also indicated that the plant extract can inhibit growth of food spoiling bacteria such as Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus, making the plant a potential source of phytochemicals which can be further processed to develop antimicrobial drugs and food preservatives.

The antioxidant properties of the extract of fingerroot rhizomes involved reducing the amount of highly reactive and unstable group of atoms called free radicals, reducing the risk of heart complications and high blood pressure. Fingerroot extract also exhibited the highest inhibition rate towards breast cancer cells and colon cancer cell growth compared with extracts of other plants in the Zingiber species. The study by Kirana et al. shows that the phytochemicals in the plant extract can be potentially utilized to treat cancer.

While the results are promising, there is still much to be done to validate these findings in terms of identifying the exact compound which induce these therapeutic effects and accurately determining the safe dosage to avoid any adverse effects to the human body. Positive preliminary findings and the advance in molecular technology will no doubt motivate scientists in thoroughly study the plant’s molecular pathway, biochemical and genetic properties in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the plant’s wide inhibition on multiple diseases and accelerate the development of modern drugs to combat these illnesses.

Author: Zakwan Zainal Abidin

Biomedical science researcher turned science journalist, communicator Strives to turn scientific achievements into public understanding

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