The South African-produced moodenhancing, anxiety-reducing and cognitive function enhancing plant extract, Zembrin, received the 2013 Most Sustainable Ingredient Award in March at the Engredea show, in Anaheim, California.
The patented product is a standardised extract of a cultivated selection of the Namaqualand plant Sceletium tortuosum. It has been used by the indigenous San huntergatherers and Khoi Khoi pastoralists for medicinal, social and spiritual purposes for hundreds of years.
“Zembrin has been researched and developed for more than a decade and is being marketed in South Africa and the US as a safe, over-the-counter remedy for healthy people to enhance mood and reduce anxiety and stress,” says botanist, ethnopharmacologist and Zembrin cofounder Dr Nigel Gericke.
He explains that the extract has been clinically tested for safety and efficacy in three placebo-controlled clinical studies.
Preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the extract’s effects can typically be felt two hours after oral ingestion, as opposed to the two to three weeks of some well-known pharmaceutical antidepressants.
“Prozac and newer mainstream antidepressants, such as Cymbalta and Effexor, are routinely supplied to about 40-million patients by doctors in the US, South Africa and Europe for a variety of mood disorders, including major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and severe premenstrual syndrome,” says Gericke.
He adds that Zembrin’s team of developers is not marketing Zembrin as a pharmaceutical, but as a low-dose natural health supplement for people who are not clinically depressed or anxious.
A clinical study using functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans, led by University of Cape Town Psychiatry and Mental Health Department head Professor Dan Stein, reveals that a single 25 mg dose of Zembrin has effects on neural circuits involved in processing emotions.
“This study, due for peer review and publication later this year, focuses on activity in the brain’s amygdala, and its connected neuro-circuitry is important in understanding exactly how Zembrin exerts its effects,” notes Stein.
Two earlier randomised studies with groups of healthy adults, one in Cape Town and the other in Canada, showed Zembrin to be safe and well tolerated by test subjects.
“The first study, purely a safety study, reported unsolicited positive effects on the wellbeing of the subjects, who took one daily dose continuously for three months, including improved coping mechanisms for stress and improved sleep patterns.
“The second study, presented at the World Psychiatric Association Congress, in Prague, in 2012, concluded that Zembrin significantly improved cognitive flexibility and executive function, suggesting that the extract may also have therapeutic potential in cognitive ageing,” explains Gericke, noting that Canadian principal investigator Professor Simon Chiu believes that Zembrin should be studied as a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In South Africa, Zembrin is sold in the form of tablets called Elev8, which contain 25 mg of Zembrin.
Elev8 has been available at most pharmacies in South Africa, as a complementary medicine, since September 2012.
“We are promoting the use of Zembrin as a botanical supplement for self-medication for healthy people suffering from stress, low mood and mild anxiety, who need a clinically studied product with a rapid onset of tangible activity.
“However, our pharmacological research and clinical studies have been so encouraging that we believe Zembrin has the potential to be developed into a botanical medicine for treating serious mental health conditions,” explains Stein.
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