An ancient heart drug that's inspired the work of herbalists and poets for centuries may treat a condition that plagues millions of overstressed and overweight Americans today.
Since the 13th century, the herb Foxglove has been used to cleanse wounds and its dried leaves were brewed by Native Americans to treat leg swelling caused by heart problems.
In an article published online today in Molecular Pharmacology, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System reveal that digoxin, the active ingredient in digitalis, or Foxglove, can enhance the body's own protective mechanism against high blood pressure and heart failure.
High blood pressure can be prevented by reducing salt intake, being active and keeping a healthy weight, but about 1 in 3 Americans has high blood pressure, also called hypertension, which can damage the body in many ways.
Most current treatments prevent excess hormone and stress signals that can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure.
But recent studies have found that the body has the ability to keep excess stimulation in check through production of a family of inhibitors called RGS proteins.
Researchers looked for ways to "re-purpose" old drugs to tap into this protective mechanism which is lost among some individuals with high blood pressure and heart failure.
"We tested several thousand known drugs and bioactive molecules for a potential role in enhancing RGS2 and/or RGS4 expression and function and have identified a novel mechanism for digoxin," says lead study author Benita Sjogren, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan.
Case histories collected by Dr. William Withering in 1775 determined that Foxglove contained the active ingredient, digoxin, now an important drug for treating patients with congestive heart failure.