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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Copalchi*


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Copalchi

Scientific Name:

Croton guatemalensis

Botanical Family:

Rubiaceae

Other Common Name:

Copalchí, Copalche, Copalchile, Jutitió, ta’ kusisha (Quattrocchi, 2012; Wieresma and León, 2012; Gispert-Cruells and Rodríguez-González, 1998; Martínez, 1994).

Common names in Spanish:

Árbol amargo, Amargo, Campanilla, Clusia, Copalchí de Jojutla, Corteza de jojutla, Falsa quina, Palo de quina, Palo amargo, Palo amargoso, Palo de bolsa, Quina amarilla, Quino, Quino de Michoacán (Quattrocchi, 2012; Wieresma and León, 2012; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Argueta, 1994; Schoenhals, 1988).
*In Mexico, aside from Hintonia latiflora and H. standleyana, various species of medicinal plants are known as “copalchí” or “coplaquín”, but can belong to very different plant families and could have very different uses and effects. For example, various species of the genus Exostema (e.g. E. caribaeum) are also commonly known as “copalchi” and posses similar medicinal properties as Hintonia. However, other plants with the same common name may have very different chemical constituents. For example, Croton tiglium and C. guatemalensis, are two species of plants also commonly known as “Copalchi” or “Copalquín”, belonging to the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. Both are very drastic cathartics (purgatives).

Where is it found?

This small to medium-sized tree is found from northern Mexico to El Salvador (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Argueta, 1994; Martínez, 1994).

Parts of the plant used:

The bark of the trunk and the leaves.

How is it used?

In Mexico and parts of Central America, the barks of two closely related trees, H. latiflora and H. standleyana, are decocted in water to make a very bitter-tasting tea. Capsules containing the pulverized bark or extracts obtained from it for treating type 2 diabetes are also commercially available in Mexico and certain European countries (Vanaclocha and Cañigueral, 2003).

What is it used for?

The bark of the tree is usually decocted in water to make a tea principally against Type 2 diabetes, fevers, and malaria. However, this plant is also used to treat the following ailments: gastroenteritis, intestinal parasites, gall bladder problems, venereal infections, stomach ulcers, as a diuretic, to treat kidney diseases and gall bladder stones. Externally, the decoction of the bark can be used as a body wash to treat malaria, skin problems, and infections (Quattrocchi, 2012; Argueta, 1994).

Experiments undertaken in Mexico with laboratory rats have shown that extracts obtained from the leaves can also have hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) properties (Cristians et al., 2009).

Extracts obtained from the bark of several Mexican plants known as “copalchi”, belonging to the Hintonia and Exostema genera showed significant hypoglycemic and antihyperglycemic (against high blood sugar levels) effects in laboratory rats. The results of the study showed that the extract obtained from H. latiflora regulated hepatic glycogen and plasma insulin levels. The authors of the study suggested that the plant’s anti-hyperglycemic effect was due in part to the stimulation of insulin secretion and regulation of hepatic glycogen metabolism (Guerrero-Analco, et al. 2007).

A clinical study by Korecova and Hladikova (2014) evaluated the effects of a dry concentrated extract from the bark of H. latiflora in capsule form on 41 dietetically stabilized Type 2 diabetic patients. Its effects on various parameters related to blood glucose levels (glycemia) control were documented over a period of six months. The results of the study showed that fasting and postprandial glucose, as well as HbA1c values were significantly reduced. For HbA1c, there was a reduction of the absolute value from 7.49 ± 0.72% to 6.82 ± 0.67%. Additionally, both cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels were slightly reduced. Tolerance to the extract was very good and no side effects were noted.

A study undertaken with laboratory animals and animal cell cultures by Vierling et al. (2014) showed that an extract of H. latiflora , commonly used to treat diabetes mellitus, is not only capable of decreasing blood glucose levels, but also possesses a vasodilating effect. For this reason, the plant extract could have a positive effect on dysfunction of blood vessels related to diabetes. The authors of the study opined that a combination of the blood glucose lowering effect with a vasodilating action could be helpful for diabetic patients, by reducing certain typical long-term complications related to this disease, such as angiopathies, for example.
Certain proprietary herbal supplements containing extracts obtained from the bark of H. latiflora have been shown to lower blood glucose levels in laboratory animals (Pinto et al., 1997).

Among various medicinal plant species used in Mexican traditional medicine to treat type 2 diabetes, only 38 have been analyzed for their inhibitory activity of α-glucosidases. Most of the research studies have centered on assessing the different types of extracts on the activity of α-glucosidases from various species. H. latiflora and H. standleyana are two of four species of medicinal plants that have been thoroughly analyzed in order to discover novel α-glucosidase inhibitors as hypoglycemic phytochemicals (Mata et al., 2013).

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of using products made from this plant (either internally or externally) during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
  • Avoid taking this plant during pregnancy and lactation.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider first before taking this plant if you are currently taking anti-diabetic prescription medications, to avoid a possible herb-drug interaction.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!

References:

Argueta A. Atlas de las Plantas de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana Vol.1.
Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista; 1994; pp. 516-517.

Cristians S1, Guerrero-Analco JA, Pérez-Vásquez A, Palacios-Espinosa F, Ciangherotti C, Bye R, Mata R. Hypoglycemic activity of extracts and compounds from the leaves of Hintonia standleyana and H. latiflora: potential alternatives to the use of the stem bark of these species.
J Nat Prod. 2009 ;72(3):408-13. doi: 10.1021/np800642d.

Gispert-Cruells M, Rodríguez-González H. Los Coras: Plantas alimentarias y medicinales en su ambiente natural. Mexico City: CONACULTA; 1998; p. 33.

Korecova M, Hladikova M. Treatment of mild and moderate type-2 diabetes: open prospective trial with Hintonia latiflora extract. Eur J Med Res. 2014;19:16. doi: 10.1186/2047-783X-19-16.

Johnson T. CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1999; p. 410.

Mabberley D. Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
London: Cambridge University Press; 2008; pp. 300, 407.

Martínez M. Catálogo de Nombres Vulgares y Científicos de Plantas Mexicanas.
México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica; 1994; pp. 214-215.

Mata R, Cristians S, Escandón-Rivera S, Juárez-Reyes K, Rivero-Cruz I. Mexican antidiabetic herbs: valuable sources of inhibitors of α-glucosidases. J Nat Prod. 2013;76(3):468-83. doi: 10.1021/np300869g.

Pinto A, Capasso A, Sorrentino L. Experimental animal studies on the hypoglycemic effects of a Copalchi extract. Arzneimittelforschung. 1997;47(7):829-33.

Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (Vol. 3).
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; p. 482.

Sánchez-Monge E. Diccionario de Plantas de Interés Agrícola Vol. 1.
Madrid: Ministerio de Agricultura; 2001; p. 333.

Schoenhals L. A Spanish-English Glossary of Mexican Flora and Fauna.
Mexico City: Summer Institute of Linguistics: 1988; pp. 32, 35, 140.

Vanaclocha B, Cañigueral S. Fitoterapia: Vademécum de Prescripción 4ª ed.
Barcelona: Masson; 2003; pp. 199-200.

Vierling C, Baumgartner CM, Bollerhey M, Erhardt WD, Stampfl A, Vierling W. The vasodilating effect of a Hintonia latiflora extract with antidiabetic action.
Phytomedicine. 2014; 21(12):1582-6. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2014.07.009.

White R. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Names of North America Including Mexico.
Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003; pp. 96, 273.

Wieresma J H., León B. World Economic Plants, a Standard Reference 2nd ed.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2013; p. 449.