Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Student Research Days: The healing powers of plants

Biology student Marina Kirincic is testing the medicinal
benefits of plants.
By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

Like many families, Marina Kirincic’s administered home remedies such as herbal teas when someone got sick. Marina, a third-year Biology student, says she has always been fascinated by the healing properties of plants. And now, she’s taken her interest to the next level by researching the anti-inflammatory effects of plants native to BC.

“Inflammation is good for infection, but when inflammation gets out of control, it can be a bad thing,” Marina explains. “There are lots of herbal remedies you hear about, and what we are trying to figure out is whether those plant extracts actually have a basis for reducing inflammation.”

So far Marina, along with her instructor Lois Schwarz, who provided her with the initial data, have prepared extracts from several different plants that exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, including some berries. “What we’ve been doing is testing stems, leaves, roots, fruits and flowers from various plants, some of which were also tested for dose-responsiveness,” says Lois.

The research could have implications for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory conditions. Marina says the plant extracts could potentially be sold as natural remedies, or blended with pharmaceuticals.

But the research isn’t over yet. Marina says it’s not enough to simply extract properties from plants, turn them into remedies and expect them to reduce inflammation.

“There are so many things that are unknown about plants, about how they work on their own. And sometimes by extracting certain things from the plants they don’t actually work in the same way as if you were to use the plant itself. One of the examples I use is eating an orange, which is a lot more beneficial for obtaining vitamin C than taking a vitamin C tablet.”

Still, she’s convinced of the healing powers of flora and is eager to pin down their science-based specifics. “The medicinal benefits of plants have been recorded for thousands of years. People wouldn’t have been using them for so long if they didn’t work.”