According to a new study in the ACS monthly Journal of Natural Products, the charming “vegetable lamb” plant (once believed to bear fruit that ripened into a living baby sheep!) produces substances that show promise in laboratory experiments as new treatments for the bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis. Many plant-derived substances have been used as drugs for the treatment of various diseases since ancient times, and traditional oriental therapies are rich in phytotherapeutic regimens. These medications typically have fewer side effects and are more suitable for long-term use as compared to chemically synthesized medications.
Researcher Young Ho Kim and colleagues also point out that osteoporosis is a global health problem, affecting up to 6 million women and 2 million men in the United States alone. Fractures, the most important consequence of osteoporosis, are associated with enormous costs and substantial morbidity and mortality.
Doctors know that the secret to strong bones involves a delicate balance between two types of bone cells: Osteoblasts, which build up bone, and osteoclasts, which break down bone. The substances “could be used in the development of therapeutic targets for osteoporosis,” the article notes.
According to legend, the “vegetable lamb” is represented as springing from a seed like that of a melon, but rounder, and supposedly cultivated by natives of the country where it grew. The lamb was contained within the fruit or seed capsule of the plant, which would burst open when ripe to reveal the little lamb within it. The wool of this little lamb was described as being “very white!”