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Invasive weed has anti-aging properties

Cocklebur is an invasive plant native to Southern Europe, Central Asia, and China that has recently spread worldwide and is frequently found in moist or sandy areas such as riverbanks or roadside ditches. Although many consider cocklebur to be nothing more than a noxious weed, a team of researchers led by the Myongji University in South Korea has found that its fruits have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory components, which could make it useful as a skin protectant and anti-aging product.

By performing a series of laboratory tests, the scientists discovered that compounds in this plants’ spiky fruits can reduce damage from UVB exposure, speed wound healing, and influence the production of collagen, a protein that gives skin its elasticity and prevents the appearance of wrinkles. Comparing the bioactivity of cocklebur fruits grown in different places, the experts found that those grown in South Korea had slightly higher anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as greater would healing activity, than those from China.

“We found that cocklebur fruit has the potential to protect the skin and help enhance production of collagen,” said Eunsu Song, a doctoral student at Myongji. “In this regard, it could be an attractive ingredient for creams or other cosmetic forms. It will likely show a synergistic effect if it is mixed with other effective compounds, such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, against aging.”

However, the scientists warn that high doses of cocklebur fruit extract could be dangerous. “In its burrs, cocklebur fruit also has a toxic constituent, carboxyatractyloside, which can damage the liver. Cocklebur showed a potential as a cosmetic agent by increasing collagen synthesis; however, it showed negative results with higher concentrations. Therefore, finding the proper concentration seems very important and would be key to commercializing cocklebur fruit extracts in cosmetics,” Song said.

In future research, the scientists plan to investigate in greater depth the biological mechanisms involved and conduct animal experiments to explore ways to safely adapt cocklebur fruit extracts for use in cosmetic products.

The study was presented at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (March 25–28 in Seattle). An abstract can be downloaded here.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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