Of all the illnesses that have afflicted humanity over millennia, few have left their mark quite like malaria, which infects 200 million people every year and kills at least 655,000, most of whom are children.
Falciparum malaria, which is the most common type in sub-Saharan Africa, starts as a debilitating fever that can progress in severe cases to convulsions, brain damage, and death. In this part of the world, it’s almost impossible to stay completely free of the parasites for long. Adults often have weakened immune systems, which makes each subsequent infection painful and unpleasant although usually not fatal.
This is where nature comes in. Scientists were recently stunned to find that 18 patients with malaria were able to recover after they were given dried plant leaves, rather than conventional medication.
The herb is the Artemisia annual plant that's commonly known as sweet wormwood. It's often used in artemisinin combination therapy, or ACT, which combines sweet wormwood with other drugs to help combat malaria.
Pamela Weathers, Ph.D., professor of biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, led an international team that studied the use of dried leaves from sweet wormwood in treating malaria. They treated 18 malaria patients in the Congo who were not responding to conventional treatment with dried leaves from the Artemisia annua plant.
All 18 patients, who ranged in age from 14 months to 60 years old, managed to make a full recovery within just five days of starting treatment. One of the patients was a five-year-old child who had fallen into a coma - after the ACT treatment failed, natural medicine proved to be superior.
The report stated: “As a last resort, doctors turned to dried-leaf Artemisia (DLA), a therapy developed and extensively studied by Weathers and her team at WPI. After five days of treatment with tablets made from only the dried and powdered leaves of Artemisia (which has been prepared and analyzed using methods developed by Weathers and postdoctoral fellow Melissa Towler), all 18 patients fully recovered. Laboratory tests showed they had no parasites remaining in their blood. (Weathers noted more than 100 other drug-resistant patients also have been successfully treated with DLA tablets.)”
According to Weathers, the superior performance and ability to evade resistance likely stems from the synergistic effects produced by the myriad of phytochemicals present in the whole plant’s dried leaves, which extracted artemisinin doesn’t offer. Synthetic medicines are frequently derived from medicinal plants like cannabis, kratom or sweet wormwood, but scientists may finally be starting to open their eyes to the world of natural medicine.