Etlingera hemisphaerica, also known as helani tulip ginger or black tulip torch ginger, is a herbaceous plant known for its tulip-shaped, maroon flowers. It is native to Southwest Asia but also grows in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Helani tulip ginger is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant, but it is also used by locals as a source of food and pulp for making paper. In fact, the eye-catching flowers of helani tulip ginger are often used as a condiment in Asian countries.
In a recent study, researchers from Indonesia explored a possible medicinal application of helani tulip ginger. Specifically, they looked at the protective effects of its ethanolic leaf extract against mercuric chloride toxicity in mice. According to a previous study, helani tulip ginger can lower blood glucose and triglyceride levels in mice with hyperglycemia and hypertriglyceridemia. The plant also exhibits hepatoprotective properties against mercuric chloride poisoning.
The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements.
Helani tulip ginger can reverse the negative effects of mercuric chloride
Mercuric chloride is a chemical that can be found in various modern products, such as disinfectants, wood and paint preservatives and fungicides. It is also used as an intensifier in photography, for tanning leather and for separating gold from lead. Because of the chloride in it, mercury chloride can denature microbial proteins, making it an excellent ingredient for disinfectants.
Despite its many uses, however, mercuric chloride is highly toxic. This mercury salt can also cause serious problems when ingested. The fatal dose of mercuric chloride is said to be between one and four grams. Although mercuric chloride poisoning is rare, it is potentially life-threatening. Symptoms associated with mercuric chloride toxicity include a combination of kidney, gastrointestinal and central nervous system damages that ultimately result in death.
For their experiment, the researchers gave 95 male mice food and drink ad libitum while administering different concentrations of the helania tulip ginger extract (0.13, 0.26, 0.39 mg/g body weight) by gavage. Mercury chloride (5 mg/kg body weight) was also administered by gavage or through intraperitoneal injection.
Imunos (0.2 mg/g body weight), a nutritional supplement that stimulates the immune system, served as the positive control and was also given by gavage. The researchers then took blood samples from the tails of the mice to determine the number of blood cells left after mercuric chloride treatment. Eventually, they also took blood samples from the hearts of the animals for protein electrophoresis.
The researchers reported that mice treated with 0.39 mg/g helani tulip ginger extract had the same number of leukocytes (white blood cells) as those given the positive control. On the other hand, administration of mercuric chloride increased the number of leukocytes and decreased the number of erythrocytes, or red blood cells. Subsequent treatment with 0.39 mg/g helani tulip ginger extract reversed the toxic effects of mercuric chloride, suggesting a protective effect on red blood cells.
Protein electrophoresis results also revealed that mercuric chloride caused the expression of a new 125 kiloDalton (kDa) protein and the overexpression of a 48 kDa protein. Treatment with 0.39 mg/g helani tulip extract also reversed these two events. (Related: Study shows Spirulina fusiformis reduces damaging effects of toxic mercuric chloride on kidneys.)
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the ethanolic leaf extract of helani tulip ginger exerts protective effects against mercury chlolride toxicity in the blood.