Researchers have developed a new anaesthetic gel from the Acmella oleracea plant – a yellow flowering herb which is found deep in the rainforests of Peru.
They claim that the gel could replace the dentist’s needle, which would be welcome news to the many patients for whom injections can cause a great deal of anxiety.
The pain-relieving properties of the plant were discovered hundreds, possibly thousands, of years ago by indigenous tribes in Peru. The Incas used it as a natural remedy for toothache, ulcers and abscesses, and also used it for cleaning their teeth.
The potential for using the plant in Western medicine was discovered by Cambridge University researcher Dr Francoise Barbira Freedman, who has spent much of the last 30 years living with an Amazonian tribe called the Keshwa Lamas.
When she was trekking through the jungle with the tribe in 1975, her wisdom teeth were causing her pain. She was given some of the plant to bite onto, and the pain disappeared. She then forgot about the plant until a colleague asked her to bring back some medicinal plant samples many years later.
Dr Freedman has now established that the plant works by blocking nerve endings, producing a numbing effect which lasts for over an hour. Initial clinical trials have been successful, with no side effects being observed and patients giving positive feedback on the experience. Depending on the outcome of further tests, this natural painkiller could be available as soon as 2014.
Dr Freedman believes it could be beneficial for everything from dental root scaling to baby teething to irritable bowel syndrome, adding “we could be looking at the end of some injections in the dentist’s surgery.”Anaesthetic gel from the Peruvian jungle could replace the dentist’s needle,