New Study Reveals the Molecular Mechanism for the Therapeutic Effects of Cilantro

Cilantro and other herbs have a long
history of use as anticonvulsants.  Now,
many of the underlying mechanisms of how the herbs worked remained
unknown.  A new study uncovered the molecular action that enables cilantro
to effectively delay certain seizures common in epilepsy and other

The study, published in FASEB Journal, explains the
molecular action of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) as a highly potent
KCNQ channel activator.  This new understanding may lead to improvements
in therapeutics and the development of more efficacious drugs.

“We discovered that cilantro, which has been used as a
traditional anticonvulsant medicine, activates a class of potassium channels in
the brain to reduce seizure activity,” said Geoff Abbott, PhD, professor of
physiology and biophysics at the UCI School of Medicine and principal
investigator on the study.  “Specifically, we found one component of
cilantro, called dodecenal, binds to a specific part of the potassium channels
to open them, reducing cellular excitability. This specific discovery is
important as it may lead to more effective use of cilantro as an
anticonvulsant, or to modifications of dodecenal to develop safer and more
effective anticonvulsant drugs.”

Researchers screened cilantro leaf metabolites, revealing
that one – the long-chain fatty aldehyde (E)-2-dodecenal – activates multiple
potassium channels including the predominant neuronal isoform and the predominant
cardiac isoform, which are responsible for regulating electrical activity in
the brain and heart.  This metabolite was also found to recapitulate the
anticonvulsant action of cilantro, delaying certain chemically-induced
seizures.  The results provide a molecular basis for the therapeutic
actions of cilantro and indicate that this ubiquitous culinary herb is
surprisingly influential upon clinically important potassium channels.

Documented use of botanical folk medicines stretches back
as far as recorded human history.  There is DNA evidence, dating back
48,000 years, that suggests the consumption of plants for medicinal use by Homo
.  Archaeological evidence, dating back 800,000 years,
suggests a non-food use of plants by Homo erectus or similar
species.  Today, evidence of the efficacy of botanical folk medicines
ranges from anecdotal to clinical trials.  In many cases, these
“medicines” are currently consumed, often on a large scale, as foodstuffs or
food flavoring.  Cilantro, known as coriander in the UK, is one
example.   Cilantro has been consumed by human beings for at least
8,000 years.  It was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and is thought to
have been cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. 

“In addition to the anticonvulsant properties, cilantro
also has reported anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial,
cardioprotective, gastric health and analgesic effects,” said Abbott. 
“And, the best part is it tastes good!”