Phytotherapeutic potential and pharmaceutical impact of Phoenix dactylifera (date palm): current research and future prospects
Researchers: Abdul Qadir, Faiyaz Shakeel, Athar Ali, and Md. Faiyazuddin
Many modern-day medicines are the evolved forms of plant extracts known by ancient civilizations to aid ailments. Over time, scientists have studied various plants and herbs to understand their pharmaceutical properties and phytotherapeutic uses. Date palm fruits are eaten and included in the diet to help individuals improve their iron intake. There also serve as sweeteners instead of sugar. Now, they are being studied to understand and determine if they have medicinal properties.
Studies show that date palm fruits may have a high level of phytochemicals in them. These phytochemicals are used in treating different ailments and diseases. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds from plant-based sources. They fight off infections (viral, bacterial, and fungal infections), protect against cancer, and have other medicinal properties.
One study showed that date fruits have a high content of phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds have significant antioxidant properties. Antioxidants fight free radicals which are present in the body. If the presence of free radicals is too high, it can cause a lot of irreversible damage and harm. High levels of free radicals have been linked to developing certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. Date fruits also contain carotenoids. They are the precursors to vitamin A. These have antioxidant properties. Date fruits contain lutein and beta-carotene forms of carotenoids.
Lipid, or fatty, parts of the date fruit contain phytosterols known to be good for the heart. The chemical structure of phytosterols is like that of cholesterol. However, phytosterols are absorbed better in the intestine than cholesterol. Phytosterols also reduce LDL (low-density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol) levels in the body. It is useful for people who have dyslipidemia. They are advised to reduce cholesterol levels for their health. Dyslipidemia occurs when there is abnormal cholesterol level and certain other fats in the body. These are essential in limited amounts for health. But when there is an excess, this can result in several health issues.
Phytosterols also have anticancer activity and are being studied for potential use in oncology. One study stated that plant sterols bind to estrogen receptors. Thus, it affects estrogen levels which have a significant role in treating breast cancer.
Another group of compounds called flavonoids is in date fruits. Flavonoids are found in many fruits and vegetables and have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. They also protect cells against oxidative damage and free-radical-induced stress.
Several plant-derived compounds contain medicinal and pharmaceutical properties. Newer studies show date palm fruits contain compounds with medicinal and pharmaceutical properties.
One study done in 2014 on rats showed that extracts from the fruit provided hepatoprotectivity from oxidative damage. It means certain compounds in the fruit protect the liver from getting damaged due to free radicals. While the study was conducted on rats and in a laboratory setting, it provides the basis for further research into the pharmaceutical properties of date fruits.
In another study, researchers found date fruits hold key components that help diabetics. Individuals living with diabetes are unable to make insulin. Insulin helps break down glucose from the foods we eat. It is then utilized for energy for the body. If someone’s body is unable to produce insulin or does not use it, their blood glucose (sugar) levels increase. It can then lead to many other health issues. Studies on rats have shown that the date palm fruit has potential anti-hyperglycemic activity. The studies indicated that date fruits reduce blood glucose levels and increase insulin activity in the body. While these are promising conclusions, more research is required on humans.
While date fruits provide minerals and nutrients to the body, newer studies show that the fruit may hold lots of phytotherapeutic properties. From protecting against heart disease, aiding the diabetics, and even possible cancer-fighting compounds, date fruits have medical and pharmacological potential that must be studied and observed. The date fruit extract also has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. While clinical studies are kept to minimal or non-human populations, the results are promising.