In the 16th and 17th centuries, one plant stirred the imaginations and wonder of scientists with its fabled mythology that extends as far back as 425 B.C. The myth claimed that the Vegetable Lamb plant, Cibotium barometz, actually contained fruit that ripened into a live baby sheep. The sheep, tethered to the plant by its umbilical cord, would graze nearby.
Despite the mythology, the plant itself is real, and scientists have discovered a potential new use for it, as a treatment for osteoporosis.
Strong, healthy bones require a balance between two types of bone cells. The first type is that of osteoblasts, which build up bone, and the second type is that of osteoclasts, which break down bone. Because osteoporosis is a bone-thinning disease, scientists like Young Ho Kim and his group of researchers are hoping to find treatments to even the balance, and enhance the bone-building process. The vegetable lamb plant shows promise in this area. By isolating compounds from the plant, they were able to block the formation of osteoclasts, which break down bone, without causing harmful effects on other cells.
The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products in September, 2009. The plant is abundant in China, NE India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan, and has been used in Vietnamese folk medicine to treat many ailments. Although further study is needed, this plant could be used in the development of therapeutic targets for osteoporosis.