Snowdrops are one of the most recognisable flowers, even if you are not green fingered the sight of these dainty flowers in January are a welcome sight that winter will soon be ending and Spring is just around the corner.
Behind the beauty and daintiness of the snowdrop there lies within a powerful and much welcome medicine, produced from the compound called Galantamine, which is found in the bulb of the snowdrop (it is also found in daffodils and can now be made synthetically). Galantamine is an alkaloid compound that is now approved for use in over 70 countries for the management of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
So what is it about Galantamine that helps ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
To understand how Galantamine helps with Alzheimer’s we need to know a bit of science first. Our bodies produce chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are basically chemical messengers that pass signals to and from nerve cells to other cells in our body. One such chemical messenger is called Acetylcholine, which plays a vital role in maintaining the normal function of the brain and body. In the body it’s important for normal muscle contraction and in the brain it has a large role to play in memory and learning skills. When Acetylcholine is passed from a nerve cell to muscle tissue it binds to receptors on the muscle tissue and it is this that makes the muscle then contract. Once Acetylcholine has done this and passed its ‘message’ onto the muscle, an enzyme called Acetylcholinesterase breaks down any leftover Acetylcholine. If this didn’t happen it would cause our muscle to keep contracting.
This is where Galantamine comes in, because Galantamine inhibits acetylcholinesterase, which in turn stops it being able to break down acetylcholine. This of course would usually not be a good thing, however in the case of Alzheimer’s disease it is very beneficial. That’s because in Alzheimer sufferers the levels of Acetylcholine in the brain are much lower compared to people who don’t have Alzheimer’s disease. The lower the levels, the worse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are. The ability of Galatamine to physically block the breakdown of acetylcholine means that more can be preserved and its concentration levels in the brain can remain higher than what otherwise would be the case, meaning better communication between nerve cells. This leads to a general improvement in Alzheimer’s symptoms that are commonly impaired memory, confusion and impaired movement.
It’s important to point out though that snowdrops are in fact poisonous. Not usually enough to cause death, but they can make you very sick. So unlike other botanicals discussed on the pages of Natures Wild Medicine, snowdrops are not ones you can physically eat and consume from the garden. The fact the snowdrop has so much medicinal power for such an awful and upsetting disease, is a really a true reflection of the immense offerings that nature has for current and future medicine.
RESOURCES & FURTHER READING:
Galatamine for Alzheimer’s Disease, 2010.. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology
Galatamine in Alzheimer’s Disease, 2008. Expert Review in Neurotherapeutic