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Ethnomedical investigation of plants from Central America for women's health
Many developing countries have restricted access and use of prescription drugs to treat common health conditions. In Guatemala, for example, it is estimated that between 65–80% of the people use traditional, complementary or alternative medicines as part of their primary health care. In terms of women's health, many of these plant-based medicines have little or no supporting in vitro, in vivo or clinical data. As part of an NIH funded grant AT002831–02, we have been collecting plants from Central America used to treat a wide range of women's health issues. To date, 63 plant species have been collected, extracted and assayed, with 23 plant species having biological activities corresponding to their traditional use. The plant extracts were active in COX-2 inhibitory, serotonin agonist, SERM, and anti-yeast assays. For example, a 95% ethanol extract of the fruit peel of Ananas comosus (L.) Merr., collected in Costa Rica was active in the serotonin receptor 1A (5HT-1A) binding assay, with an IC50 of 22.1µg/ml. A methanol extract of the dried powdered leaves of Citrus aurantium (Christm.) Swingle was active in the 5HT-1A binding assay (IC50 of 45.5µg/ml and inhibited the activity of COX-2 with an IC50 of 10.8µg/ml. A methanol extract of the rhizomes of Dioscorea bartlettii, collected in Guatemala were active in estrogen binding assays (α and β). The extract had an IC50 in ERα of 33.5µg/ml, and ERβ 30.1µg/ml. The results suggest a plausible mechanism of action for the treatment of common women's health conditions.