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Monday, 17 March 2014 00:00

Studies on the medicinal properties in the oil of endemic plants across Europe

Two Andalusian plants, Anchusa Puechii and Glandora Nítida are among the plants being analysed. Their seeds are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6, fatty acids useful in the prevention and treatment of disease
Researchers in the Campus of Excellence at the University of Almeria (UAL) analysed the properties of different plant oils of restricted distribution throughout Europe (from Spain to Russia), establishing their nutritional and therapeutic potential. More specifically, the team of experts found two species in Andalusia with high levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, fatty acids which are beneficial to our health, namely Anchusa Puechii and Glandora Nítida. In order to reach these conclusions, the researchers concentrated on the study of various species of the Boraginaceae family, as oils proceeding from the seeds of these plants are used both in the treatment and the prevention of pathologies such as cancer, hypertension, multiple sclerosis o cardiovascular illnesses.

In the article “Restricted-Range Boraginaceae Species Constitute Potential Sources of Valuable Fatty Acids”, published in the U.S.’s  “Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society” magazine , the research team describes the composition of the different endemic plant oils present in Europe, emphasizing the medicinal properties discovered in two Andalusian species which are found from Cádiz to Jaen.
“The Anchusa Puechii and the Glandora Nítida produce Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, with very similar levels to those of other commercialized oils, such as, for example, borage oil. We have also warned that the most vulnerable (in danger of extinction) are those that produce the oils with the best nutritional and therapeutic properties”, explains José Luis Guil Guerrero, Professor of Food Technology at Fundación Descubre.

To develop this research, the work team centered, initially, on undertaking a bibliographical search and on later deciding which species to look for, where and how to do so. ”We travelled throughout different parts of Europe for over four years to locate these endemic species. The collection of seeds was carried out with the appropriate precautionary measures, so as not to damage any of the plants. In fact, very few units were taken, in some cases only 4 or 5, as our analysis required only a minimum sample quantity,” explains the researcher.
And he adds, “Finally, in the laboratory, we extracted the oil, which, having been treated and analysed, conveniently allowed us to obtain the fatty acid profile of each species.”

A 'threatened' species

According to the researchers, this study brings to light the need to encourage environmental awareness and to protect those natural habitats where species which produce compounds useful to human beings exist.

“Oils obtained from seeds of the Boraginaceae family are used and commercialized for their nutritional and therapeutic properties. In this case, as we are dealing with a species of restricted distribution inhabiting environments that are very vulnerable to human action, if they disappear we will lose their potential usefulness forever”, adds José Luis Guil.

The study has also made it possible for the research team to follow other paths to find out if new therapeutic actions associated to some of these oils exist. “This study presents a marked social component in the sustainable development of economically depressed regions. Furthermore, we intend to look for more woodland species with similar or better oils than those which other already cultivated species produce, and which would be adaptable to cultivation in areas in little demand and therefore, constituting interesting agricultural options in wasteland or in land of little value,” he concludes.

Reference: Guil-Guerrero, JL; Gómez-Mercado, F; Ramos-Bueno, RB; Cervera MA; Venegas-Venegas, E. ‘Restricted-Range Boraginaceae Species Constitute Potential Sources of Valuable Fatty Acids’. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society 2014.

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