Hydnocarpus wightiana or Chaulmoogra is a tree in the Achariaceae family. The oil from its seeds has been widely used in Indian medicine and Chinese traditional medicine for the treatment of leprosy. It entered early Western medicine in the 19th-century before the era of sulfones and antibiotics for the treatment of several skin diseases and leprosy.[1]

Physical characteristics and composition

The oil is semi-solid at room temperature and does not have a strong odor. Gas–liquid chromatography analysis has shown the oil to contain the following fatty acids – hydnocarpic acid, chaulmoogric acid, gorlic acid, lower cyclic homologues, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid.[2]

Medical use

The Molokai island in Hawaii once the "Land of the Living Death," where lepers were treated with remarkable success by the then new chaulmoogra oil. Photo from 1922

The active ingredient that produces antimicrobial activity has been identified as hydnocarpic acid, a lipophilic compound. It acts by being an antagonist of biotin.[3] The oil was used intravenously or intramuscularly in the early part of the 20th-century against leprosy. An ethyl ester of the oil was developed by Alice Ball in 1916[4] which led to the preparation and marketing of it by Burroughs Wellcome (modern GlaxoSmithKline) in the early 1920s. The oil preparations were used intravenously for leprosy patients, often producing local reactions. The oil was often obtained directly from trees in India, Sri Lanka or Africa. Doctors would locally prepare ethyl esters to treat their patients. In June 1927, Burroughs Wellcome released the commercial preparation, sodium hydnocarpate marketed as Alepol, which produced lesser disagreeable symptoms of pain, swelling, irritating cough and blocking of the veins. In May 1928, doctors reported cure of leprosy in some patients after treatment with alepol.[5] In the 1940s chaulmoogra oil was replaced by the more effective sulfones.[4]

The oil contains 5′-methoxyhydnocarpin, an amphipathic weak acid.[6] Although a minor component in the oil with no antimicrobial activitiy on its own, it plays a role in preventing multidrug resistance among some bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. It enhances the action of berberine (which is not found in chaulmoogra oil) by preventing its removal from within Staphylococcus aureus bacterial cells. Thus using the oil or an extract of the hydnocarpic acid in combination with extracts from other plants could help increase antimicrobial activity due to synergistic effects.[7]

In view of its anti-mycobacterial activity, in 1922 it was also experimentally tried on other conditions caused by mycobacteria such as tuberculous laryngitis.[8]

Collection and preprocessing − processing − extraction

Fruits are plucked by climbing the tree or using long sticks with a sickle tied to it. The fruits are peeled by knife and the seeds are washed in water and then dried in sun. Seeds are decorticated (dehusked) by mallet, hand hammer, or decoricator. They may also be crushed in an expeller and rotary. The kernels yield 43% oil. The extracted oil is stored in zinc barrels until exported.[9]

Properties and fatty acid composition

The crude oil is of pale greenish-brown tinged. The oil can be easily into white, watery oil. The oil contains three cyclopentene fatty acids.

Table: fatty acid composition of oil[10]

Acid H. kurzil H. wightiana H. odorata
Hydnocarpic acid 23.0 22.9 ..
Chaulmoogri acid 19.6 35.0 ..
Gloric acid 25.1 12.8 ..
Lower cyclic homologs 0.3 4.6 ..
Myristic acid (C14:0) 0.6 0.8 0.4
Palmitic acid (C16:0) 8.4 5.6 11.8
Stearic acid (C18:0) 1.6 4.7 ..
Palmitoleic acid (C16:1) 6.0 0.5
Oleic acid (C18:1) 5.4 3.6 21.8
Linoleic acid (C18:2) 1.6 1.8 29.3
Linolenic acid (C18:3) .. .. 31.2

Table of physical properties of oil[11]

Property Range
Refractive index, at 400C 1.472-1.476
Iodine value 98-103
Saponification value 198-204
Acid value Max. 25.0%
Melting point 20-25 °C
Specific gravity (at 25 °C) 0.950-.960

See also


  1. ^ Norton, SA (October 1994). "Useful plants of dermatology. I. Hydnocarpus and chaulmoogra.". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 31 (4): 683–6. doi:10.1016/s0190-9622(08)81744-6. PMID 8089304. 
  2. ^ Sengupta, A.; Gupta, J. K.; Dutta, J.; Ghosh, A. (1 June 1973). "The component fatty acids of chaulmoogra oil". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 24 (6): 669–674. doi:10.1002/jsfa.2740240606. PMID 4737104. 
  3. ^ Jacobsen, PL; Levy, L (March 1973). "Mechanism by which hydnocarpic acid inhibits mycobacterial multiplication". Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 3 (3): 373–9. doi:10.1128/aac.3.3.373. PMC 444418Freely accessible. PMID 4799554. 
  4. ^ a b Mendheim, Beverly (September 2007). "Lost and Found: Alice Augusta Ball, an Extraordinary Woman of Hawai`i Nei". Northwest Hawaii Times. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Simpkin, Alice (December 1928). "The Treatment of Leprosy". British Journal of Nursing: 313–4. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Ranganathan, KR; Seshadri T R (1974). Indian Journal of Chemistry. 12: 993.  Missing or empty title= (help)
  7. ^ Stermitz, F. R. (3 February 2000). "Synergy in a medicinal plant: Antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 97 (4): 1433–1437. doi:10.1073/pnas.030540597. PMC 26451Freely accessible. PMID 10677479. 
  8. ^ Lukens, RM (1922). "CHAULMOOGRA OIL IN THE TREATMENT OF TUBERCULOUS LARYNGITIS". JAMA. 78 (4): 274–275. doi:10.1001/jama.1922.02640570018009. 
  9. ^ SEA HandBook, 2009 by the Solvent Extractors' Association Of India
  10. ^ "The component fatty acids of chaulmoogra oil". J Sci Food Agric. 24: 669–74. Jun 1973. doi:10.1002/jsfa.2740240606. PMID 4737104. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  11. ^ Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Bio-Medecine - Rita Singh - Google Books. Books.google.co.in. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 

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