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Folk cure shows promise in modern medical fight

Traditional medicine may be just what the doctor ordered to combat a modern pandemic.

Dr. Scott Fuller, an assistant professor in UL Lafayette’s School of Kinesiology, was among researchers who found that extracts from the groundsel bush’s stems and leaves reduce inflammation in fat cells. The shrub was once used in folk remedies.

The conclusion holds promise in the battle against metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that includes obesity, increased blood sugar and high blood pressure. These factors affect one in three Louisiana residents and heighten their risks for Type 2 diabetes, strokes and heart disease.

“Healthy fat cells are indispensable for healthy blood sugar maintenance and proper metabolism in general. This research shows that the groundsel bush can alter the function of fat cells in a beneficial manner and could support its use as a dietary supplement,” Fuller said.

Researchers from Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU and Rutgers University in New Jersey also conducted the study.

The perennial, semi-evergreen groundsel bush is ubiquitous in Louisiana. So are metabolic syndrome and its associated ailments. A Louisiana Department of Health report issued in 2018 indicated that more than 36 percent of the state’s residents were obese; nearly 14 percent of adults were diabetic. Rates of heart disease and stroke exceeded the national average by almost 25 percent.

Illustration by Courtney Jeffries

“Our health care system is simply buckling under the strain. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are the public health crises for the 21st century,” Fuller said.

Like Fuller, Dr. C. Ray Brassieur, a UL Lafayette anthropologist, has investigated the use of botanicals in folk medicine. He said a well-documented Creole remedy involved making tea infused with groundsel leaves, called manglier in Louisiana French. Native Americans, Acadians and other ethnic groups used the plant similarly.

“It was used a lot for cases where mucus congestion had occurred either in the lungs or bronchial tubes – flu, pneumonia or heavy colds,” Brassieur explained.

Folk medicine began to fall out of favor by the early 20th century, but as rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity continue to rise in Louisiana and elsewhere, patients today are seeking relief in natural medicaments once considered “bunk,” he said.

“Traditional people tended to have a very close relationship with nature” that enabled them to identify the curative power of plants such as the groundsel bush, Brassieur added.

“It wasn’t an option. It was absolutely necessary. They had to heal themselves, so they had to notice nature. If you didn’t, you would die.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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