With the help of some London primary school children, scientists have discovered that certain soup broths passed down from generation to generation might aid in battling malaria by interrupting the life cycle of the deadly parasite.
British researchers tested the activity of homemade soups children brought to school and found that some of the broths, which had a reputation for bringing down fevers, could actually block growth of the malaria parasites, according to a report in Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The new findings affirm that “we should be open to the idea of new treatments finding their origins in traditional medicines,” said coauthor Jake Baum, a professor of cell biology and infectious diseases at Imperial College London. “Kids, and hopefully adults too, can grasp that what separates natural remedies from medicine is evidence.”
It was important to the researchers to share credit with their young colleagues, so first on the author list of the new study are The Children of Eden Primary School.
“If you can show me evidence under controlled conditions that something ‘works’ then we can start to call it a medicine,” Baum explained in an email. The soup experiment, Baum said, grew out of an effort to get kids thinking about “the difference between herbal remedies/alternative therapies and conventional medicine. It came down to the word ‘evidence.’”
One caveat, Baum allowed, is that he and his colleagues have yet to determine which soup ingredient is active against malaria.
To learn whether traditional broths had any effect against malaria, Baum and his colleagues asked students at the Eden School in North London to bring soups that had a reputation for bringing down fevers to the classroom. The students brought samples of homemade clear soup made with recipes from across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Of the 56 broths tested, five were found to exert greater than 50% growth inhibition against asexual blood stages of the parasite, with two having comparable inhibition to that seen with a leading antimalarial drug, the researchers report. Four other broths were found to have greater than 50% transmission blocking activity, preventing male parasites from maturing sexually.
“We wanted to include the kids every step of the way that we could,” Baum said. “The sampling, processing, etc., was done in the school classroom, testing on parasites in my lab. Given the results were surprising we thought we’d write it up as a paper.”
Although the researchers didn’t ask children for their family recipes, they note that discussion with the kids about the constituents of the soups did not reveal any particular ingredients the antimalarial broths had in common.
Future studies will need to isolate the active ingredients in the soups and then test those compounds for safety and effectiveness, Baum said.
The possibility of a natural remedy for malaria is “great,” especially if “it’s one you could cook up in your own kitchen,” said Dana Hunnes of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a senior dietician at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
“However, since the authors weren’t clear on what the specific compounds were that fought malaria in these broths, it’s hard to suss out from this study what exactly was in them that was responsible for attenuating the malaria,” Hunnes said in an email. “I am all for natural remedies that fight off illness, especially ones I can cook up myself and for something as widespread as malaria, but I think the study would be more robust if they had been able to identify the exact compounds responsible.”