Well-Being

Scientists say traditional medicine plant could be the natural ibuprofen—and treat cancer and diabetes

Story at a glance

  • The leaves of the Psychotria insularum plant, known in Samoa as matalafi, have been used to treat inflammation for generations.
  • In a new study published in the journal PNAS, researchers tested matalafi on mammalian cells and detailed how it produces its anti-inflammatory effects.
  • The anti-inflammatory activity was found to be strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen.

New research suggests a plant widely used in Samoan traditional medicine could be as effective at reducing inflammation as the popular anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen 

The leaves of the Psychotria insularum plant, known in Samoa as matalafi, have been used to treat inflammation associated with fever, body, aches, respiratory infections and other ailments for generations. The plant is native to South Pacific regions. 

“Matalafi is used in two ways in Samoa — to treat illnesses attributed to ghosts, and to treat various forms of inflammation,” Seeseei Molimau-Samason, the study’s author and researcher with the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa, said in a statement


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In a new study published in the journal PNAS, researchers tested matalafi on mammalian cells and detailed how it produces its anti-inflammatory effects. 

Researchers found that matalafi interacts with iron in the body. Compounds identified within matalafi bind to iron in a process called iron chelation, which is the removal of excess iron.

The anti-inflammatory activity was found to be strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen. 

Iron chelators like matalafi could also be potentially used to treat common diseases like cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. 

“This raises the possibility for applications of matalafi beyond traditional use,” Helen Woolner, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. 


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