An undergraduate student at Kenyatta University has successfully treated diabetic mice with a herbal extract from wild pepper.
The development is crucial because it provides scientific evidence of the plant’s effectiveness in treating diabetes.
Wild or black pepper, botanically known as Piper capense, or mdeka in Kiswahili, is a common plant found in most wet highland areas and traditionally used as medicine.
“This is not news since the herb is widely used in treating diabetes by local herbalists,” says Lucy Njeri Kimani, a science student.
She adds: “But the study provides scientific evidence supporting the traditional use of the plant in treating diabetes, hence validating its folkloric usage.”
After successfully treating a group of mice, Kimani now proposes similar experiments on primates such as apes to further understand how the extract works in humans.
Kimani, who graduated last year, worked on the study closely with her supervisor, Eliud Njagi, at the School of Pure and Applied Sciences. She says their work proves that wild pepper has a strong action against diabetes.
Njagi and Kimani attribute this not to a single component but what they say is possibly a host of compounds in the plant acting together to normalise sugar activity in the body.
The demonstrated anti-diabetic activity, Kimani says, could be due to several chemicals in this particular plant.
She told The Standard that she had worked on about 40 mice, some of which were induced with diabetic conditions. These were then treated with a root extract from the herb using different doses.
All the treated mice, the study reported in the April 30 online issue of the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolism, recovered without any side effects.
Traditionally, says Dr Shadrack Moimett of Koibatek Herbal Clinic, Piper capense has been used to cleanse the human pancreas and kidneys to maximise their efficiency.
The treatment, Moimett explained, improves chemical activity in the body or what is called metabolism, hence minimising conditions that sustain diabetes.
“It also strengthens the body's immunity, eradicating the need for a diabetic person to stay on medication for life,” he said.
Ideally, Kimani says, her next step would be to work towards a standardised treatment from the wild pepper but this is far into the future.
“The most important thing to learn from this study is that in wild pepper we have an effective, relatively inexpensive anti-diabetic, especially for drug-resistant patients,” says Kimani.
She adds that prior knowledge that Piper capense was widely used in the treatment of diabetes around Gilgil in Nakuru Country had pricked her curiosity to find out whether the medicine really worked. Around Gilgil, the plant goes by the name 'muruya'.