(By Dr. Paul Nanna)
Phyllanthus Niruri (Phyllanthusamarus) is one of the wonders of God Almighty. It is one of the herbs that He gave to mankind in Genesis 1:29. Knowing that man would eat things that would eventually cause various diseases in him, God created this plant, along with other plants, and caused it to grow commonly in man’s environment. Sadly, we have all ignored it in search of expensive chemical drugs from other climes.
A research fellow from Europe, who visited Cross River State, Nigeria in the 70s, told somebody, “I know that you Africans do not have any business buying chemical drugs from abroad. All the medicines you will ever need in your lives are in your bushes.”
Phyllanthus Niruri is one of such medicines. It is a well-known, widespread tropical plant that grows wild in coastal regions all over the world, including Nigeria. Other names by which it is known are stonebreaker and seed-under-leaf. These are names given to it because it is a well-known remedy for kidney stones and gallstones. Also, the flower and the seeds are found under the leaves. The bark of the leaf and the main stalk that holds the simple compound arrangement of the leaves are both of a lighter shade of green, giving the plant a distinct appearance. The plant can grow to 40 to 60 centimeters in height and it is an all-year-round plant.
Phytochemical Properties of PhyllanthusNiruri
Perhaps no other plant contains the number of biologically active chemicals as Phyllanthus Niruri and the Phyllanthus genus. This explains the widespread use of this plant for so many different ailments in the body. In fact some chemicals found in P. Niruri and other related plants in the Phyllanthus genus, are not found in any other plants. These chemicals include flavonoids, alkaloids, lignans, glycosides, ellaginnins and phenylpropanoids. Common lipids and sterols are also found in these plants. These bioactive chemicals are found in the leaves, stem and root of the plants.
PhyllanthusNiruri(as well as its close relatives)has been used in the Indian traditional Ayurvedic medicine for a very long time in the treatment of ailments involving the genito-urinary system, stomach, kidney and the liver. It has also been used traditionally as herbal remedy for kidney stones in South American countries like Brazil and Peru.
Here in Nigeria, not much was known about this herb until recently. The reason being that traditional medicine practitioners always kept their knowledge of herbs and their modus operandi secret. Not only that, they created certain myths around these herbs that bordered on the diabolical, and so always discourage people who may have been interested in research.
Be that as it may, a team of Nigerian scientists, led by Dr. Charles O. Okoli, has done some work on the antidiabetic properties of P. Niruri. This team, which includes Obidike I. C., Ezike A. C.,Akah P. A., and Salawu O. A., studied the possible mechanism of the antidiabetic activity of extracts of aerial parts of Phyllanthus Niruri in 2011 (Pharmaceutical Biology (1388-0209) Okoli 49:248-255. They treated diabetic rats with aerial extracts of P. Niruri and checked their blood glucose levels. The blood glucose levels decreased and the absorption and storage of glucose also reduced.
Numerous studies carried out in different parts of the world have shown P. Niruri to possess hypoglycaemic properties and have been used even locally in Nigeria for the management of diabetes. Some other researchers have discovered substances that possess aldose reductase inhibition activity. Aldose reductases, in the presence of high blood sugar, act on exposed nerve endings, causing diabetic neuropathy and macular degeneration. Substances that have the ability to inhibit aldose reductases will therefore prevent these diabetic complications. The ellagic acid in P. Niruri is thought to be one of such inhibitors. So, we can safely say that a tea of P. Niruri leaves and seeds can be used to treat diabetes, and also as a prevention of certain diabetic complications as diabetic neuropathy and macular degeneration.
PhyllantusNiruri is highly indicated in the management of kidney and gallbladder stones, hepatitis and liver disorders. In a study carried out by Nishuira et al in 2004 and published in the Urological Research Journal, it was discovered that Phyllantus Nirurinormalises elevated urinary calcium levels in calcium stone forming patients. According to the researchers, P. Niruri interferes with different stages of stone formation in the kidney, and modifies the structure and composition of the crystals, and reduces their aggregation. It also alters the interaction of the crystals with tubular epithelial cells.
Another group of researchers led by Boim M. A.looked at P. Niruri as a promising alternative treatment of nephrolithiasis (kidney stones). In their findings published in the International Brazil Journal of Urology in 2010, they found the clinical beneficial effect of P Niruri to be the relaxation of the ureters (the tube through which urine passes from the kidneys to the bladder). This helps to expel the stones that would otherwise have been retained in the kidneys, or to clear fragments following lithotripsy (a medical procedure by which internal hardened masses can be physically destroyed).
Phyllantus Niruri is known to have a diuretic effect and therefore causes an increase in urine output. An increase in urine output leads to the elimination of stones. Not only that, there is increased excretion of sodium and creatinine, which reduces the risk of kidney failure. Regular consumption of the leaves, flower, seeds and stem of P. Niruri as ground powder or teais a sure prevention against kidney stone formation, in especially those that are prone to it. Phyllantus Niruri and other related plants are said to have analgesic effects that maybe 3 to 4 times more potent than morphine and indomethacin respectively. Together, with their antispasmodic action, they have been found to be very suitable remedy for both kidney and gallbladder stones.
The analgesic property of the Phyllantus Nirurih as proven to be very effective in dealing with the severe pain that is associated with stones in the kidney and gall bladder. The spasmolytic (relaxation of smooth muscles) action of this group of plants is specific to the smooth muscles of both the ureters and bile ducts. Doctors in Brazil, Peru and Germany have reported a 94 to 100 per cent success in the elimination of kidney and gall stones in their patients.
Extracts of Phyllantus Niruri and other related species have also shown marked anti-hepatitis B surface antigen activity. Studies have shown that P. Niruri may have the capacity to inhibit the genetic material of the virus. Even among carriers, P. Niruri reduces the virus titre and has completely reduced it to zero in some cases.
In summary, Phyllantus Niruri possesses the following properties: antiviral, antibacterial, antidiabetic, antispasmodic, antipyretic, diuretic and analgesic.
General medical uses of P. Niruri include diabetes, kidney and gallbladder stones, hepatitis, viral infections, liver diseases, jaundice and liver cancer. Other uses are bacterial infections like tuberculosis, inflammation of the bladder and the prostate, venereal diseases and urinary tract infections, malaria fever and all kinds of cellular protection. Conditions like hypertension, anaemia, colds and flu also respond to P. Niruri.
The leaves, stem, seeds and roots of P. Niruri can be dried and ground into a powder that can be sprinkled on your food. Alternatively, you allow the whole plant, leaves, stem and root to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and take in small amounts, 4 to 5 times daily, if you already have a stone in the gall bladder or kidney. A cup of tea with the plant can be taken once or twice for maintenance.