Bitter vine is not a plant many would want in their garden. It grows very rapidly and is noted for damaging other plants. In some areas, it's even illegal to transport and grow.
In its natural habitat across the subtropical Americas, however, bitter vine has long been used in traditional medicine. Modern study is uncovering a surprising variety of ways this invasive plant may be beneficial.
The leaves of bitter vine are extremely toxic. In some cases, however, this is a good thing. One prime example is the effectiveness of the leaves against bacteria. Compounds in bitter vine leaves kill bacteria and inhibit their growth.
This makes bitter vine potentially valuable for healing infections.
When it comes to infection, prevention is often more important than treatment. Antimicrobial drugs can be tricky to create, since they need to target a wide range of potential bacteria, viruses, or fungi. This is another arena in which bitter vine excels.
The leaves of the plant are cytotoxic, meaning they can harm living cells. This means that compounds from the plant may be able to kill off infectious cells before they can take hold.
Many types of fungus can cause painful or embarrassing rashes. Fungi can also have a devastating effect on crops, causing blight that wipes out entire fields. This can do serious harm in the form of lost income, tainted food, and even famine.
While bitter vine is usually unwelcome in a food crop, compounds from the plant are actually extremely useful for killing detrimental fungi.
Bitter vine has been used in folk medicine to help ease stings and pains. One study found that the extract helped reduce pain in mice. This may be down to a specific chemical in the plant. More research is needed to see how extracts from bitter vine might enhance or complement modern pain medicine.
One key element of bitter vine is its cytotoxic activity. Killing living cells is not usually a good thing in medicine, but it can be very beneficial when those living cells are cancerous. Research has indicated that chemicals in bitter vine slow tumor growth and kill cancer cells with limited toxicity to healthy cells. This could make it a very useful cancer treatment.
Many people have high cholesterol, and some have an illness called hypercholesterolemia which puts them at risk for heart attack and stroke. An extract of bitter vine was extremely helpful in lowering the cholesterol of rats with hypercholesterolemia.
It seems that bitter vine helps limit the production of the fatty substances that make up cholesterol, preventing blockages before they can begin and helping reduce cholesterol in the blood.
Anti-inflammatory medication can help treat arthritis, allergies, and many autoimmune diseases. In a study, dried bitter vine was quite effective against inflammation. This could make it an effective treatment against fungal infections that cause inflammation, inflammation as a result of injury, or chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis, lupus, and Chron's disease.
Viruses are often harder to kill than bacteria, as they aren't technically alive. In most cases, doctors simply treat the symptoms of a virus and let the immune system work to eradicate it. Bitter vine may be able to help.
One study found that bitter vine extracts are effective at keeping respiratory viruses like influenza from spreading. Considering that the flu kills thousands of people in the US every year, bitter vine may become an important antiviral medicine.
In one study on rats, researchers found that extracts of bitter vine significantly reduced stress. Researchers looked at the physical results of stress, testing the animal subjects' physical endurance with a swimming test and taking samples from their liver.
Bitter vine seemed to improve the rats' endurance and even reverse some effects of stress on their organs. This may have implications for anti-anxiety and life-extending medications.
Indigenous peoples in Central America and the Caribbean have used the leaves of bitter vine in folk medicine for centuries. It's often used as part of a poultice for snake bites and insect stings, easing the pain and preventing infection.
People in Jamaica use bitter vine to dress wounds because it seems to help sores and cuts heal more quickly.
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