For centuries, Nigerians have been using extract from a small shrub or tree known as "cattle stick" to treat genitourinary infections, gingivitis and waist pains. Interestingly, a new study revealed that this traditional medicine from Nigeria could pave way to a new drug that could potentially treat Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology, showed that extracts taken from the roots, stems and leaves of cattle stick could help protect the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the chemical messengers in the brains associated with memory and learning.

"As a population we are living longer, and the number of people with dementia is growing at an alarming rate," said study lead author Dr Wayne Carter, from the University's Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine, in a press release. "Our findings suggest that traditional medicines will provide new chemicals able to temper Alzheimer's disease progression."

It has been previously observed that the activity of acetylcholine is reduced in patients with Alzheimer's disease and other diseases such as Parkinson's and myasthenia gravis. Decreased activity of this neurotransmitter may lead to problems with memory attention.

At present, a drug known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors is used to lessen the normal breakdown of acetylcholine. Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's, present a huge health burden worldwide. Due to this, scientists and drug companies are searching for novel approaches in developing potential drugs that could treat these disorders without serious unwanted side effects.

Scientifically known as Carpolobia lutea, cattle stick's extract also have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-arthritic, antimalarial, antimicrobial and analgesic properties. The anti-inflammatory property of the plant's extract could be very significant in Alzheimer's disease as previous studies showed that patients with Alzheimer's have inflammation in their brain.

The researchers noted that the extract taken from cattle stick was able to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. Additionally, the beneficial antioxidant properties of the plant extract could help fighting unstable atoms known as free radicals, which causes damage to cells and contribute to aging and disease.