Therapeutic sorghum?

In terms of production, sorghum is one of the nation’s top grains. Most of it now goes to feed livestock. A team of university scientists says that’s a mistake because sorghum bran can fight inflammation almost as well as a prescription drug for arthritis does.

In test-tube experiments, sorghum bran significantly reduced white blood cells’ production of several inflammation-linked chemicals, including the immune-system activators tumor-necrosis-factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1-beta (IL-1-beta).

Amy Burdette and her colleagues at the University of Georgia in Athens first stimulated the white blood cells—called macrophages—with an inflammatory agent and then incubated cells with various concentrations of black-sorghum-bran extract. Some of the treatments reduced the production of TNF-alpha by 80 percent and IL-1-beta by more than 99 percent, compared with the production of those compounds by cells free of sorghum bran.

Burdette’s team also wounded the ears of mice with a toxic chemical that induced swelling and substantial inflammation within 6 hours. Applying a sorghum-bran extract to the area 30 minutes after the chemical exposure reduced swelling by 60 percent, the researchers found.

The bran treatment also cut by 70 percent the number of neutrophils—another type of white blood cell—sent to the wound as part of the immune response. This effect was comparable to what the researchers achieved by treating the wounded animals with the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin, often used to treat arthritis. Burdette reported her findings in Washington, D.C., on April 29 at the Experimental Biology ’07 meeting.

She says that the preliminary data suggest that enriching diets with sorghum might offer a good alternative to some pain medications.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine

From the Nature Index

Paid Content