SEOUL, South Korea — Invasive weeds are the collective scourge of gardeners and landscapers far and wide, but new findings out of South Korea suggest one variety of intrusive weed may actually offer anti-aging benefits. Study authors report the fruit of the ubiquitous cocklebur, a plant considered to be a noxious weed growing all over the world, displays both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components that could be useful as a skin protectant.
The research team discovered that certain compounds in the species’ spiky fruits reduced skin damage due to ultraviolet light exposure and sped up wound healing in laboratory tests using cells and tissues. The extracts from cocklebur plants also displayed the ability to influence the production of collagen, a protein that helps give skin its elasticity and prevents wrinkles.
“We found that cocklebur fruit has the potential to protect the skin and help enhance production of collagen,” says Eunsu Song, a doctoral candidate at Myongji University, who worked with Professsor Jinah Hwang, in a media release. “In this regard, it could be an attractive ingredient for creams or other cosmetic forms. It will likely show a synergistic effect if it is mixed with other effective compounds, such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, against aging.”
The Cocklebur plant is native to Southern Europe, Central Asia, and China, but has spread all over the world. It typically resides in very moist or sandy areas like roadside ditches or riverbanks. The plant’s fruits, meanwhile, are covered in stiff husks and burrs, and have actually been an ingredient in traditional medicines for headache, stuffy nose, disorders of skin pigmentation, tuberculosis-related illness, and rheumatoid arthritis for centuries. Recent years have seen more and more scientists begin exploring its potential uses as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Weeds in certain areas have more anti-aging properties
This latest research is the first ever to analyze the fruit’s properties as a wound-healing agent and skin protectant. To start, the team studied the molecular properties of cocklebur fruit extracts, isolating particular compounds that could contribute to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Next, they used cell cultures and a 3D tissue model with properties similar to human skin to assess how these compounds affect multiple outcomes, including collagen production, wound healing, and damage from UVB radiation.
The results showed that cocklebur fruit extracts indeed encourage collagen production, speed up wound healing, and exert a protective effect against UVB radiation. When researchers compared the bioactivity of cocklebur fruits grown in different places, they found that fruits grown in South Korea had slightly higher antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and greater wound-healing activity than fruits grown in China.
Importantly, the research team cautions that high doses of cocklebur fruit extract can be harmful to humans. More research is necessary to determine how to use it safely across both cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications.
“In its burrs, cocklebur fruit also has a toxic constituent, carboxyatractyloside, which can damage the liver,” Song explains. “Cocklebur showed a potential as a cosmetic agent by increasing collagen synthesis; however, it showed negative results with higher concentrations. Therefore, finding the proper concentration seems very important and would be key to commercializing cocklebur fruit extracts in cosmetics.”
Moving forward, researchers plan on conducting further studies focusing on the biological mechanisms involved, as well as more experiments featuring animal alternatives in order to explore ways to safely adapt cocklebur fruit extracts for use in cosmetic products.
Song presented the study at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.