Nigerian researchers have found that a local plant commonly used to reduce blood sugar level in diabetics, stimulate the immune system in people living with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), protect the liver from damage, reduce cholesterol, treat viral infections and malaria could offer protection against radiation, boost bone marrow growth and decrease sperm count. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.COMMONLY called stonebreaker, Phyllanthus niruri also known as 'Chanca piedra' belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. Phyllanthus niruri is similar to Phyllanthus amarus, which also belongs to the same family. It is a widespread tropical plant commonly found in coastal areas that grows 40 to 70cm tall.In Nigeria, it is called enyikwonwa and ngwu in the Ibo, oyomokeso amanke edem in Efik, geeron-tsuntsaayee (bird's millet) in Hausa, ehin olobe and yin-olobe in Yoruba.Before now, all parts of this herb have been proved to have a wide range of therapeutic effects. Phyllanthus niruri has been reported to reduce significantly blood sugar level. Adedapo et al in 2005 reported the immune stimulating effect of this herb. Phyllanthus niruri has been reported to play hepato-protective and antioxidant role. Hepato-protection or anti-hepatotoxicity is the ability to prevent damage to the liver.Phyllanthus niruri has also been shown to act as a hypo-lipemic agent, anti-lithic agent, anti-viral and anti-malarial properties. Hypo-lipemic is an agent that lowers the concentration of fats in the blood. Anti-lithic means preventing the formation of calculi, or an agent that so acts. Calculi are mineral deposits that can form a blockage in the urinary system.However, new findings suggest that the aqueous crude extract of Phyllanthus niruri could be used to protect humans from the effect of radiation and has antifertility activity.According to a study published in Indian Journal of Experimental Biology by researchers at the Department of Research, Jawaharlal Nehru Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, India, Phyllanthus niruri protects against radiation clastogenecity in mouse bone marrow.Clastogenic is an adjective that describes the ability of an agent or process to act as a clastogen'an agent or process giving rise to or inducing disruption or breakages of chromosomes.The researchers studied the effects of aqueous (PnAq) and alcoholic (PnA1 extract (50-250 mg/kg) of P. niruri on in vivo gamma radiation induced chromosome aberration and in vitro antioxidant activity (50-500 microg/ml). The antioxidant activity was studied by measuring inhibition of hydroxyl radicals generated by the fenton reaction along with pro-oxidant and iron chelating ability.PnA1 showed highly significant in vitro free radical scavenging ability when compared to DMSO above 250 microg/ml concentration. Dimethyl Sulphoxide (DMSO) is a colorless liquid, which is an important polar aprotic solvent that dissolves both polar and nonpolar compounds and is miscible in a wide range of organic solvents as well as water. It penetrates the skin very readily.PnAq showed significant pro-oxidant activity while PnA1 was devoid of it at the tested concentrations. Exposure to gamma radiation caused 29.10 per cent increase in the frequency of chromosomal aberrations. Administration of PnA1 (250 mg/kg) showed highly significant decrease in chromosomal aberrations compared to radiation treated group.The radio-protective potential of alcoholic extract was found to be more effective than the aqueous extract. Qualitative phytochemical investigation of PnAq and PnA1 revealed the presence of sugars, flavonoids, alkaloid, lignans, polyphenols, tannins, coumarins and saponins.'Higher radio-protective effect of the alcoholic extract may be attributed to rich presence of antioxidant polyphenolic compounds,' the researchers concluded.According to another study published in online academic student journal, Student Pulse, the observation of progressive weakness and reduction in agility across the group may be as a result of a parameter that did not form part of this research.The study is titled: 'Antifertility Effects of Aqueous Extract of Phyllanthus niruri in Male Albino Rats.'According to the lead researcher, Valentine U. Ezeonwu, the decrease in fertility potentials reported after the treatment of male rats with dihydroarteminisinin has been attributed to impairment in sperm motility and viability. Treatment of animals with antimalarial drugs usually result in reducing the sperm counts, motility, viability and visible alteration alters the morphology of the sperms, such impairment of male fertility has been reported with chloroquine and halofantrine treated rats. Similar reports have been reported in herbs that have anti-malarial activity.The study reads, 'the findings of the present study showed that the aqueous extract of P.niruri could significantly alter the fertility potential of male rats. The mere fact that there was lack of effect on the body weight on treated animals does not rule out the possibility of a systemic toxicity at the doses treated due to behavioral alterations observed within the treated group. The treated groups showed progressive decrease in agility.'Furthermore the significant increase indicates that the extract may have toxic effect on this organ. Simons et al (1995) noted that increase or decrease in weight of an organ after the administration of a chemical agent is an indicator of a toxic effect of such agent.'The significant depletion of the fructose level of the seminal fluid and reduction of sperm viability, sperm motility and sperm counts shows that the extract has the potential to penetrate the blood-testis barriers. Baddessarini (1980) reported that effect of chemical agents on sperm composition is attributed to their ability to penetrate this barrier.'This depletion of seminal fructose across all the treated groups (p<0.05) invariably affects the sperm motility and viability since fructose serves as the driving energy of the sperm and since fructose is androgen-dependent may indicate reduction in circulating androgen levels.'Similarly, the decrease in sperm qualities points to reduction in the circulating androgen level. I would take caution in suggesting that the near absence of fructose is an indication of an obstruction either in vas deferens or the epididymis (Zhu et al 2006; Gonzales 1997) due to the technique used in collection of the sample.'Any chemical agent that can affect reproductive activity will as well affect the quality and quantity of the sperm. The sperm counts, motility and viability of the treated samples were significantly decreased in groups D and E (p<0.05) when compared to the control, such decrease can be attributed anti-androgenic property of the extract. Animals fed with 100mg/kg showed no significant change in all the parameters tested except the fructose level, which indicates that at this concentration the extract may not be toxic.'Summarily, these observations show that the aqueous extract of Phyllanthus niruri may have antifertility effects in albino rats at doses above 200mg/kg. But since there has been no such documentation of the plant with respect to humans research should be directed towards this area to assess the effect of the extract on man. Click here to read full news..