The use of traditional herbs in treating ailments, especially in rural and poor areas, is becoming increasingly popular due to their efficacy in managing health conditions. Today, we take a look at the medicinal uses and health benefits of okpete (Costus afer).
One of the most common and popular herbs used by people to treat several ailments is Costus afer. Costus afer is one of the species of the perennial, rhizomatous herb of the genus Costus. The plant can be found in the forest belt of many parts of West Africa. In Nigeria, it is known as Okpoto or Okpete in Igbo language, kakii-zuwa in Hausa language and tete-egun in the Yoruba language. Costus afer is a herb commonly known as a bush cane, ginger lily or spiral ginger, which traditional healers use in the treatment of health problems like diabetes, stomach ache, inflammation, gout, and arthritis.
Nutritional Composition of Costus afer
According to medical research, the stem and leaves of the herb are rich in micro-nutrients and macro-nutrients. The Alps, the rhizomes, and the herb’s roots contain high amounts of flavonoid glycoside, paryphyllin C, and aferosides, essential in treating many health problems. The plant also contains saponins, alkaloids, anthraquinones, terpenoids, tannins, and cardiac glycosides.  
Health Benefits Of Okpete (Costus afer)
Costus afer or okpete are sought after due to their enormous medicinal properties and nutritional level. Parts of the herb, including the rhizome, stem, and leaf, are mostly used to prepare food by local people.
There are many uses of costus afer. For instance, the oil from the herb is used in treating cough, asthma, gas, dysentery, and cholera. The oil helps to stimulate digestion and can be used as a tonic also. Costus afer oil is also used in foods and beverages. The oil serves as a flavoring component. Here are some of the health benefits of Costus afer.
1. Protects the pancreas
A 2017 histopathological study of Costus afer stem extract on alloxan-induced damaged pancreatic cells showed that it can protect the pancreas. The leaf and stem extracts of this plant awere able to reverse histopathological damage of pancreatic β-cells in alloxan-induced diabetes mellitus. The result of the study indicated that Costus afer leaves and stem extracts have pancreatic islet cell protective and regenerative effect that could be useful in managing type I diabetes mellitus.
2. Anti-diabetic effects
Many research has strongly supported the anti-diabetic effects of Costus afer. Extracts from the plant help in managing diabetes by increasing the uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin. The herb is powerful and can help those with diabetes manage their high blood sugar levels. Numerous studies have shown that Costus afer acts as an antidiabetic agent via biochemical mechanisms
3. Improves digestion
Costus afer is a very efficient herb for our digestive system as it helps cures indigestion by easing stomach cramps and nausea. The herb also aids in clearing out gas from our bowels and fight against fermentation in our stomach.
4. Prevents and treats steatosis
Steatosis is a medical condition that occurs when there is abnormal retention of lipids within a cell because of an impairment in the normal synthesis and degradation of fats. When fats are retained and accumulated it can often lead to disorders and diseases such as diabetes mellitus, obesity, and hepatitis C. A study showed that Costus afer extract can help on treating steatosis. It improved the lipid profile as indicated by lowering serum total cholesterol, triacylglyceride and LDL levels to normal.
5. Enhances liver function
It has been established that costus afer contains high anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, making the herb a very efficient treatment for those with liver problems. A recent study demonstrated that the stem extract of Costus afer possesses the ability to protect the liver against alcohol-induced liver damage in rats. The study concluded that the plant possessed pharmacological activity against alcohol liver cirrhosis.
6. Helps cure acne
The oil from the Costus afer, when used to rub on the face, helps to smoothen the face and clear acne. The oil contains compounds that are antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.
6. Maintains kidney health
The leaves and stems of okpete help to removes toxins from the kidney and liver. The herb releases anti-inflammatory effects, which helps to reduce swelling and relieve pain in the kidney caused by infections. Two separate animal studies indicated that Costus afer leaves have nephroprotective properties on the kidneys.  
7. Fights oxidative stress
One study showed that extracts of Costus afer protect the cells from mitochondrial damaged. This study showed that the leaves could help prevent and manage oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Might have anti-parasitic and anti-bacterial abilities
Some research have suggested the efficacy of Costus afer in destroying parasites and bacteria. One study stated that the plant extract possessed moderate inhibitory activity against Staphylococcus aureus
Chewing the leaves of Costus afer has been reported to cure bad breath and prevent tooth decay. The herb contains a strong compound that releases saliva, which works by breaking down bacteria responsible for emitting a foul odor.
9. Analgesic properties
Studies have shown that the stems, juice and leaves of Costus afer have powerful analgesic properties. They contain phytochemical substances including alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, phenols, glycosides, and terpenoids, some of which have been shown to reduce pain.
10. Anti-inflammatory properties
The plant also show some anti-inflammatory properties in some studies. One study showed that oral administration of the plant extract reduce oedema in rats.
Side Effects of Costus afer
Long-term use might lead to anaemia: In one study done with Costus afer leaf extract on rats, there was a significant reduction of hemoglobin (HB) and total red blood cell (RBC) count, which shows that long-term use of extracts of the plant could result in anemia. However, further studies need to be done to establish the facts.
Abortifacient properties: One study on female pregnant rats showed that Costus afer can cause abortion. Thus, pregnant women are advised against the use of the plant, since it can induce abortion in the 3rd trimester.
Always talk to your physician before taking any herb for treatment.
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