African witch doctors have long used a certain tea to help pregnant women induce labor and delivery. The ingredients of that concoction are now being exhaustively studied by scientists. Could the secrets of the witch doctors save millions of lives?
Kalata-Kalata & Secrets of the Witch Doctors?
During the 1960s, a Norwegian doctor named Lorents Gran visited the Democratic Republic of Congo. While assisting with a Red Cross relief mission, he noticed that witch doctors used a medicinal tea named kalata-kalata. Made from the plant Oldenlandia affnis, it was used to help pregnant women speed up child delivery. He analyzed the tea and discovered that the active ingredient was a peptide, which reduced pain and caused the uterus to contract. This peptide has since been named kalata B1. It would take another twenty years before this peptide was “characterized as a macrocyclic peptide.”
Since then, the study of these macrocyclic peptides, now called cyclotides, has grown substantially. Recently, Dr. David Craik from the University of Queensland in Australia was interviewed on the subject for the American Chemical Society’s video series called Prized Science: How the Science Behind ACS Awards Impacts Your Life. In the video, entitled, New Drugs – From a Cup of Tea, Dr. Craik showed how his research could turn these cyclotides “into new drugs for treating health problems, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even AIDS, which affect millions of people worldwide.”
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Most peptides, which are really just small chunks of protein, cannot be taken orally since they are too weak to hold up to the digestion process. However, cyclotides have a powerful internal structure that allows them to withstand digestion. This is why the witch doctors were able to subject the kalata-kalata tea yo boiling while maintaining its healing powers.
Excitingly, the cyclotides show tons of medicinal promise. Someday soon, millions of people may find themselves taking life-saving drugs derived from cyclotides. And they’ll owe it all to modern science…as well as the mysterious and wonderful ingenuity of generations of African witch doctors.