A Fruit in West Africa is Showing Promise for Epilepsy Treatment

Fruit grown on a tree native to parts of West Africa is showing promise as a treatment for epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures.

The Tetrapleura tetraptera tree, commonly known as the Aidan tree, is found in rainforests in West Africa. The tree stands about 80 feet tall and grows a fruit that belongs to the pea family. The fruit emits a strong odor and is often used as a spice in Nigerian and other West African dishes.

The fruit is commonly sold in markets for its medicinal properties. Aidan fruit is known for its antidiabetic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is widely used to treat ailments such as simple wounds, cardiovascular disorders, and even breast cancer.

The study published in the Official Journal of the Neuroscience Society of Nigeria concluded that consuming the fruit's extract reduced the risk of seizure as much as a popular anticonvulsant drug, sodium valproate.

"Epilepsy is a serious condition and it can be difficult to find the right drug to treat it," Moses B. Ekong, an author of the study, wrote. "Some commonly used antiepileptic drugs may show adverse effects. Most are expensive, and some may be ineffective. There's, therefore, a need to explore new alternatives."

Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder around the world. It is estimated that 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy at some time in their life and at least 1 million Americans have uncontrolled epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. While the disorder is common, conventional treatments do not work for everyone. Scientists estimate that 1 out of 1,000 people with epilepsy die from sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) each year in the US.

To study the effects of the Aidan fruit, researchers split 35 male Wistar rats into five treatment groups and induced sustained seizures. They found that the rats treated with extract from the Aidan fruit and sodium valproate were protected from the induced seizures.

Researchers also found the Aidan fruit extract protected the rats from brain cell degeneration more than the sodium valproate.

The cause of epilepsy is still unknown although the disorder is largely predisposed by changes in the cerebellum, temporal cortex, and hippocampus, the study stated. Epilepsy is a neurodegenerative disease which means it causes neuron loss as well as neurodegeneration over time.

"Our research into the plant found that an extract of its fruit could protect against seizure and prevent brain degeneration," Ekong wrote. "It could therefore be studied further for the development of a new antiepileptic drug."

Aidan Fruit Shows Promise For Epilepsy Treatment
Scientists in Nigeria discovered that the Aidan fruit, which grows on trees in West Africa, shows promise for epilepsy treatment. Although the cause of epilepsy is unknown the disorder is largely predisposed by changes in the cerebellum, temporal cortex and hippocampus. Nur Ceren Demir/Getty Images