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Erythrina mulungu (E. mulungu) is a large tree whose bark and roots have been used by natives of South America and Africa for centuries. Many plants, including E. mulungu, have medicinal properties that are still being discovered and evaluated in a formal fashion. Research has shown that many of the suggested medical benefits of this plant are supported by scientific studies.
One of the primary uses for Erythrina mulungu is as a treatment for anxiety. As a tincture or liquid extract of the roots and bark, it has a sedative effect on the central nervous system. Other anti-anxiety properties may be due to the plant's effects on unconscious processes, as it seems to regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Certain chemicals called erythrinian alkaloids have identified by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. These erythrinian alkaloids have been linked to the sedative effect.
One of the ways in which contemporary anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals work is by affecting cells that produce or receive messages from the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA activity seems to play a role in mood and anxiety disorders. Analysis of Erythrina mulungu has shown that it not only contains the compound GABA, but also other compounds that may affect GABA systems in the brain. The net effect was judged by researchers publishing in a 2002 edition of the journal Molecular Neurobiology to be akin to the anti-anxiety drug diazepam.
Free radicals are charged particles that can react with the molecules that make up cells, potentially damaging the genetic content of the cells and altering their function. Compounds called antioxidants help to neutralize these free radicals and protect the body's cells. Some of the many chemicals found in Erythrina mulungu, including flavanoids and alkaloids, are antioxidants, and can help improve the function of the liver. Cristamidine was an alkaloid found to be unique to this plant that assisted liver operation, in particular.
Several other systems in the body seem to be affected by different compounds produced in Erythrina mulungu, giving it many possible uses in medicine. These functions affected the heart, by lowering and regulating its rate, as well as the immune system, by acting as an anti-inflammatory. The substance erysodine found in the Erythrina genus of plants was shown to temporarily paralyze muscles, suggesting a possible role in surgery for chemical extracts made from this plant. Future research may reveal even more medicinal uses for this versatile plant.
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