Compounds derived from the blue agave fruit, which is used to make the popular hard liquor tequila, may help deliver drugs to the colon to treat colon diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) and cancer, a new study reports.
Researchers from the University of Guadalajara in Mexcio explained that drug delivery to the colon is an ongoing challenge to physicians. Stomach acids destroy many drugs before they have had a chance to reach the intestine, where they usually are absorbed. According to the authors of this study, researchers have tried to circumvent this problem by inserting the drugs into carrier molecules that resist breakdown in the stomach. However, they have had difficulty finding a suitable carrier compound.
Scientists developed the fructans, a class of polysaccharides, into tiny microspheres capable of carrying existing drugs that are used to treat colon diseases. Researchers suggested that the compounds may allow more of the drugs to reach the colon intact and improve their effectiveness because the compounds resist destruction in the stomach.
Fructans, which are polymers of fructose, are resistant to acid degradation and may be a useful drug delivery vehicle. But only a few plant sources, such as agave, contain fructans in large amounts. According to researchers, fructans make up 80 percent of a ripe agave fruit’s weight.
The scientists extracted fructans from the blue agave, the base ingredient of tequila. They chemically modified the fructan compound to allow drugs to be encapsulated, making the drugs resistant to degradation in the digestive system.
The researchers then prepared microspheres of the compounds and filled them with ibuprofen as a model of drug delivery to the colon. In laboratory tests, the ibuprofen-filled microspheres were exposed to hydrochloric acid for an hour and appeared physically intact upon subsequent microscopic examination, according to the researchers.
The researchers suggested that if further studies show promise, human studies of the agave microspheres are anticipated. The Mexican National Science and Technology Council provided funding for the study.
Agaves are succulent plants from the family Agavaceae, which includes Beschorneria, Furcraea, Hesperaloe, Manfreda, Polianthes, Prochnyanthes and Yucca. Agave plants are common in the American southwest, Mexico, central and tropical South America, the Mediterranean and some parts of India. Plants in the Agavaceae family are recognizable by their distinctive rosettes, which are composed of thick, hard, rigid leaves often with marginal teeth and usually with a sharp terminal spine and flower spikes. There are over 200 known species of Agave. Many species produce musky odors that attract bats serve to pollinate them, while others produce sweet odors to attract insects.
A sweet liquid (sap) called agua miel (honey water) gathers in the plant if the stem is cut before flowering. This sap is collected over a period of about two months, and can then be fermented to produce the alcoholic beverage pulque (octili), which Native Americans use in religious ceremonies. Further distillation creates Mescal (mezcal). A form of tequila is made when Mescal is produced from the blue agave (Agave tequilana) plant within the Tequila region of Mexico. This is the most important economic use of agave, worth millions of dollars to the Mexican economy. Mescal is often sold with the caterpillar of the agave moth in the bottle.
For more information about blue agave, please visit Natural Standard’s Foods, Herbs & Supplements database.