Home Pharmacognosy Medicinal plants of Nigeria: Tribulus terrestris (Puncture vine)

Medicinal plants of Nigeria: Tribulus terrestris (Puncture vine)


This week, I want to start by thanking those who sent me text messages asking that the plants of Picralima nitida (Abere) be planted in their homes. This shows that my discussion of having orchards at home is bearing fruit. Do you know that the drugs commonly prescribed for men with low sperm count are called Manix capsules? Most men know this. Tribulus terrestris is one of its ingredients and it is the plant that I will be talking about today. It is one of the plants that I saw at the Medicinal Plant Gardens of the Department of Pharmacognosy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, when I went there last year. I don’t have the local names but among its many English names, I chose the vine puncture. If you Google Tribulus terrestris, you will see images of the plant.

Let me share a story with you before I continue. A person close to me had a pelvic scan during a medical exam in 2016 because they could not conceive for a long time. The result of the scan showed a cyst on her right ovary. I started a treatment on it with spices such as ginger, turmeric and other things found in nature. As they say, a prophet has no honor in his own country. Our closeness must have made her doubt the treatment and she had unprotected sex when she shouldn’t have. The next thing we saw was pregnancy! Yes, ovarian cysts are treatable without surgery!

Now back to Tribulus terrestris. It is a plant of the Zygophyllaceae family. In Ayurveda, the root and the fruits are used for male virility and general vitality. People with health problems and diseases such as hormonal imbalance, sexual problems, heart problems, and various kidney and skin diseases use the plant. There is something important that I would like to address here, despite the marketing claims, the plant does not appear to increase testosterone in humans. This conclusion is based on studies in men and women of different health states and ages. A review analyzed the results of 12 major studies on the effects of the plant in men and women aged 14 to 60 years. The studies lasted from 2 to 90 days, and participants included healthy people and people with sexual problems. Researchers found that this supplement did not increase testosterone. Other researchers have found that Tribulus terrestris may increase testosterone in some animal studies, but this result is generally not seen in humans. Some researchers have found that when men with reduced sex drive consumed 750 to 1,500 mg of Tribulus terrestris per day for two months, their sexual desire increased by 79%. In addition, 67% of women with low libido experienced an increase in sexual desire after taking supplements of 500 to 1500 mg for 90 days. So this means that Tribulus improves libido and sexual well-being without increasing testosterone. Athletes who use it to build muscle because they believe it increases testosterone levels may need to look more for other testosterone boosting supplements.

Tribulus is used for kidney stones, painful urination, a kidney disorder called Bright’s disease, and as a “water pill” (diuretic) to increase urination. It is used for skin disorders like eczema (atopic dermatitis), psoriasis and scabies. It is used for male sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, the involuntary release of semen without an orgasm (spermatorrhea), and to increase sexual desire. It is used for heart and circulatory problems such as chest pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and “tired blood” (anemia). It is used for digestive problems such as colic, intestinal gas (gas), constipation and to expel parasitic intestinal worms. It is used for pain and swelling (inflammation) of the tissues that line the mouth (stomatitis), sore throats and cancer, especially tumors of the nose.

Women use tribulus to tone muscles before childbirth, to induce abortion, and to stimulate milk production. Some people use tribulus for gonorrhea, liver disease (hepatitis), inflammation, joint pain (rheumatism), leprosy, cough, headache, dizziness (vertigo), chronic fatigue syndrome and improving athletic performance. It is also used to stimulate appetite and as an astringent, tonic and mood booster. The root and fruit of the plant have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.

Although people often take Tribulus terrestris for its potential effects on sexual function and testosterone, it has also been studied for other important effects. Animal studies have shown that Tribulus terrestris can lower blood sugar levels, help protect against damage to blood vessels, and help prevent increases in blood cholesterol. One study looked at the effects of taking 1000 mg of Tribulus terrestris per day in 98 women with type 2 diabetes. Some studies have shown that these extracts also have cytotoxic and antimicrobial activities.

In Bulgaria, the plant is used as a popular medicine to treat impotence. In addition to all these applications, the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India attributes its cardiotonic properties to the root and the fruit. In traditional Chinese medicine, the fruits were used for the treatment of eye disorders, edema, abdominal distension, emission, morbid leucorrhea, and sexual dysfunction. It is described as a drug of great value in the Shern-Nong Pharmacopoeia (the oldest known pharmacological work in China) in the restoration of depressed liver, for the treatment of breast fullness, mastitis, flatulence, acute conjunctivitis, headaches and vitiligo. In Unani medicine (traditional Arab medicine) it is used as a diuretic, mild laxative and general tonic. Tribulus is also marketed as a dietary supplement to improve sexual function and for bodybuilding due to the belief that it acts like testosterone in the body.

The leaves and shoots are eaten in East Asia. The stems were used as a thickener, added to diluted buttermilk to give it the appearance of undiluted buttermilk. The dried fruit of the herb is effective in most disorders of the genitourinary tract. It is an essential constituent of Gokshuradi Guggul, a powerful Ayurvedic medicine used to support the proper functioning of the genitourinary tract and to eliminate urinary stones.

In a phytopharmacological overview of Tribulus terrestris Chhatre et al, the different parts of Tribulus are said to contain a variety of chemical constituents which are medically important, such as flavonoids, flavonol glycosides, steroidal saponins and alkaloids. The plant has diuretic, aphrodisiac, antiurolithic, immunomodulatory, antidiabetic, absorption enhancing, hypolipidemic, cardiotonic, central nervous system, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic, anticancer, antibacterial, anthelmintic, larvicide and anticariogenic activities.

Cyclophosphamide is the most commonly used cancer and immunosuppressive drug that causes several toxic effects, especially on the reproductive system. In a study entitled “Tribulus terrestris Protects against Male Reproductive Damage Induced by Cyclophosphamide in Mice”, by Pavin et al, the study demonstrated the role of the dry extract of Tribulus in the improvement of the alterations induced by the administration of CP in the testes of mice.

You can buy Tribulus terrestris at major drugstores. I kept the shocking part until the end, Tribulus terrestris is a weed! Copyright PUNCH.

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