Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist February 2011 Contents Vol. 30 -- February #02
alcohol three times a day) and tincture
(1--4 mL/1:5 in 45% alcohol, three
times a day) preparations.2
Fumitory has long been used as an
astringent to clear and cleanse skin
blemishes, while the juice has been
used to rid Orkney children and foals
of intestinal worms!9 Leslie Bremness
suggests that fumitory is able to
clear 'blood toxins' (whatever they
are) and is also a mild diuretic and
laxative. She notes its hepatostimulant
action and regulation of the bile
system, as well as its external use
as an antiseptic. It is bactericidal
against Gram +ve organisms
such as Bacillus anthracis and
Staphylococcus,2 presumably due to
its astringent properties, as well as an
anti-inflammatory action against spots,
eczema, psoriasis1 and even freckles.11
Previous mention has been made
here of fumitory's alkaloid content,
and these are the obvious important
constituents, certainly relative to the
quercetin glycosides and phenolic
acids also present.2 The isoquinoline
alkaloids include the protopine-
type such as protopine (fumarine),
cryptopine, a series of protoberberines
including aurotensine, stylopine,
benzophenanthradines such as
sanguinarine, and indenobenzazepines
such as fumaritrine.2 I must admit
I was quite awestruck by such an
array of complex alkaloids present in
such an apparently insignificant little
plant! The related Corydalis species
are also replete in isoquinoline
alkaloids, such as the aporphines,
benzophenanthridines, some of which
exhibit characteristic sedative and
A number of Turkish Fumaria species
(but not including F. officinalis) and
other plants have been investigated
for acetylcholinesterase (AChE)
and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE)
inhibitory activity, and all of the
Fumaria species displayed highly
potent inhibition against both enzymes
at 1 mg/mL, but not at 10 mg/mL
against galanthamine as standard
compound.5 The motive of the search
was to identify plant extracts suitable
for treatment of Alzheimer's disease
(AD) and, in particular, those which
were BChE-inhibitory, a property
not exhibited by AChE-acting drugs
such as a tacrin, rivastigmin and
donepezil, currently used for the
treatment of AD.5 A later study by
Sener and Orhan demonstrated that
it was the isoquinoline alkaloids in
F. vaillantii which were the active
constituents inhibiting AChE.6 Even
though F. officinalis had not been
included in these studies, it is surely
self-evident that an investigation of its
potential AChE and BChE inhibitory
properties is warranted, on the basis
of it also containing a good variety of
Protopine, as the principal alkaloid
occurring in F. officinalis , is certainly
a compound of major importance,
since it and the related allocryptopine
exhibit a wide spectrum of reported
biological properties including
antiviral, antifungal and anti-parasitic
activities.12 It is little wonder that
many recent investigations have
examined the optimisation of
extraction and purification techniques
from the dried plant material.7, 1 3
Sanguinarine, a benzphenanthridine
alkaloid occurring in Fumaria sp.,
has attracted recent interest because
it is able to sensitise AGS human
gastric adenocarcinoma cells in
subtoxic doses to tumor necrosis
ligand (TRAIL)-mediated apoptosis
in a series of complex biochemical
interactions particularly involving
the activation of caspases.14
While Fumaria has found traditional
application in the treatment of
various gastrointestinal disorders,
a randomised, double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial of irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) patients, given
dried F. officinalis (1500 mg daily)
over a period of 18 weeks, importantly
demonstrated insignificant differences
in symptoms and psychological stress
in comparison with a placebo.15
Finally, fumitory leaf demonstrates
potential hypoglycaemic effects,
which supports the traditional Persian
folkloric use of fumitory in the
treatment of diabetes.16 Fumitory also
increased the number of pancreatic
islets per sq cm in that study.
Presumably due to the isoquinoline
alkaloids, large doses of fumitory can
cause diarrhoea and even respiratory
failure.11 In that regard, it is suspected
of being toxic to stock, again
probably due to its alkaloid content.17
The precautions normal to a herb
which has not been fully evaluated
in the modern sense apply to
recommendations that it not be used
by pregnant or lactating women.2
In conclusion, it would seem that
my initial description of fumitory as
a minor 'old' herb camouflaged it in
a smoke screen and hid its massive
potential as a future herb of note,
perhaps as a treatment for AD or as
a source of protopine, an exciting
alkaloid in its own right.
1. van Wyk B-E, Wink M. Medicinal Plants of the World.
Pretoria, South Africa: Briza Publications; 2004. p 148.
2. Barnes J, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal
Medicines. 3rd ed. London: The Pharmaceutical Press;
2007. pp 276--8, and references contained therein.
3. Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy.14th ed.
London: WB Saunders; 1996. p 39.
4. Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. London:
Readers Digest; 1981. pp 36--37.
5. Orhan I, Sener B, Choudhary MI, et al.
Acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase
inhibitory activity of some Turkish medicinal plants. J.
Ethnopharmacol. Mar 2004; 91(1):57--60.
6. Orhan I, Sener B. Molecular diversity in the bioactive
compounds from Turkish plants: evaluation of
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity of Fumaria
species. J Chem Soc Pakistan. Sep 2004; 26(3):313--5.
7. Suau R, Cabezudo B, Rico R, et al. Direct determination
of alkaloid contents in Fumaria species by GC-MS.
Phytochem Anal. Nov-Dec 2002; 13(6):363--7.
8. Robinson M. The New Family Herbal and Botanic
Physician. London: W Nicholson & Sons; (date
unknown). pp 117--8.
9. Allen DE, Hatfield G. Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition
-- An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Cambridge UK:
Timber Press; 2004. pp 80--1, 352.
10. Gay Gardener. North American Wildflower List [online].
11. Bremness L. Herbs. London: Dorling Kingsley; 1994.
12. Vacek J, Walterova D, Vrublova E, et al. The
Chemical and Biological properties of Protopine and
allocryptopine. Heterocycles. Aug 2010; 81(8):1773--89.
13. Rakotondramasy-Rabesiaka I, Havet JL, Porte C,
et al. Solid-liquid extraction of Protopine from
Fumaria officinalis -- experimental study and process
optimization. Mar 2008; 59(3):253--61.
14. Choi WY, Jin CY, Han MH et al. Sanguinarine sensitizes
human gastric adenocarcinoma AGS cells to TRAIL-
mediated apoptosis via down-regulation of AKT and
activation of caspase-3. Anticancer Res. Nov 2009;
15. Brinkhaus B, Hentschel C, Von Keudell C et al.,
Herbal medicine with Curcuma and fumitory in the
treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized,
placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Scand J
Gastroenterol. Aug 2005; 40(8):936--43.
16. Jelodar G, Maleki M, Sirus S. Effect of fumitory, celery
and lemon on blood glucose and histopathology of
pancreas of alloxan diabetic rats. J Appl Animal Res.
Mar 2007; 31(1):10-1-104.
17. Gardener CA, Bennetts HW. The Toxic Plants of
Western Australia. Perth: West Australian Newspapers
Periodicals Division; 1956. p 30.
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