Ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus) is indigenous throughout Central and South America along with many tropical regions around the world. Its pink, purple and white flowers can often be seen grown along roadsides and dormant fields. In the U.S. the plant can be found growing primarily in Florida.
The plant has been used medicinally for centuries in South America and Asia. It is popular in Malaysia, as Malaysian and Thai food will often serve this leafy green as a garnish – or even as a salad ingredient. In fact, the literal translation of the word Ulam raja is “king’s salad.”
A plant with many uses
This medicinal herb, also called Wild Cosmos, has been used for centuries for numerous metabolic disorders. These uses have been authenticated over the last couple of decades as the plant has been found in laboratory research to reduce blood pressure and bone loss. Ulam raja has been found to increase HDL-c and reduce LDL-c. It also has antibacterial and antifungal effects and is a strong antioxidant. C. caudatus has also been shown to reduce inflammation.
More recently, however, Ulam raja’s ability to treat at type-2 diabetes has become increasingly evident.
Ulam raja and diabetes
The interest in Ulam raja as a treatment for diabetes has grown as it has graduated from laboratory research. Now researchers from Malaysia’s Putra University School of Medicine have put the plant medicine to the test on human type-2 diabetes patients.
The researchers tested Ulam raja with 101 type-2 diabetes patients in a hospital setting. The researchers separated the patients into two groups. For two months, they gave one group 15 grams of fresh Ulam raja every day. The other group, the control group, did not have the Ulam raja, but both groups were otherwise given the same standard lifestyle advice.
After the eight-week period, the researchers found that the group that ate the Ulam raja improved significantly. The patients who ate the Ulam raja had significantly lower blood insulin levels after the eight weeks. The control patients’ circulating insulin levels increased by nearly 4 microunits per milliliter (12.73 to 16.64). But the group treated with the Ulam raja had a reduction in circulating insulin by minus 1.16 microunits per milliliter.
This is a significant improvement. Less circulating insulin indicates greater insulin sensitivity and less insulin resistance. It means the body’s available insulin is being bound to receptors – allowing the cells to utilize circulating glucose.
The hallmark symptom of type-2 diabetes is increased insulin resistance and thus more circulating insulin.
The group treated with the Ulam raja also had significantly lower levels of HOMA – which stands for homeostatic model assessment. This is also an indicator of insulin resistance, but it is more precise as it utilizes both serum glucose and insulin levels and includes beta-cell function.
Once again, HOMA levels dropped among the group treated with Ulam raja – from 4.46 to 3.56. Meanwhile, HOMA levels increased in the control group, from 3.94 to 6.28.
HbA1C levels went slightly down for the group treated with Ulam raja. This reduction was greater than the control group, which nudged down slightly. While any improvement in HbA1C levels is good, we must remember this is only after eating 15 grams of a type of leafy green for two months.
Inflammation markers also improved by Ulam raja
The treatment with the Cosmos caudatus herb also resulted in a significant reduction of hs-CRP among the diabetes patients. Hs-CRP levels went down from 4.48 milligrams per liter (mg/L) to 2.95 mg/L. Meanwhile, the control group had only a very minor drop, from 4.03 to 3.79 mg/L.
The patients treated with the Ulam raja also had a fairly significant reduction in the AST liver enzyme – a marker for liver inflammation. AST levels went down from 25.71 U/L to 23.63. Meanwhile, the control group’s AST levels went slightly up, from 25.44 to 25.63 U/L.
ALT liver enzymes also decreased in the Ulam raja group, from 33.32 to 30.97 U/L. Meanwhile, ALT liver enzymes increased from 31.82 to 33.51 U/L in the control patients. ALT is also a marker for liver inflammation.
As we’ve discussed among other medicinal herbs, Ulam raja acts synergistically to influence different metabolic activities within the body.
One of these is inhibiting alpha-glucosidase. Alpha-glucosidase is an enzyme that breaks down larger carbohydrates into smaller glucose molecules.
By inhibiting alpha-glucosidase, the body will release glucose more slowly into the bloodstream. This acts to time glucose availability with insulin. And this in turn allows the cells to utilize glucose while not leaving too much free glucose in the blood – resulting in hyperglycemia. Free glucose in the blood is also easily oxidized. This produces free radicals that damage blood vessels.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Food Science, researchers found that Ulam raja contained not one but several constituents of Ulam raja actively inhibited alpha-glucosidase.
A lack of side effects
The patients treated with the Ulam raja medicinal herb reported no side effects. The reduction of liver enzymes also indicated to the researchers the lack of potential side effects over a longer period of treatment with Ulam raja. They concluded that the drop in liver enzymes left the Ulam raja more than a safe treatment.
Multiple medicinal constituents in Ulam raja
The reality of multiple medicinal constituents within Cosmos caudatus relates specifically to its ability to affect metabolism from different aspects.
And like many other medicinal plants, Ulam raja is complex. It contains up to a hundred or more constituents. These include caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, catechins, ferulic acid, kaempferol, epicatechin, quercitrin, apigenin, valine, choline, alanine, myricetin, ocimene, copene, elemene, caryophyllene, humulene, farnesens, cadinene, cadinol, phytol, luteolin, naringenin, bergamotene, bicyclogermacrene, spathulenol, ruin and formic acid.
Unlike pharmaceuticals that tend to have no more than one or two active constituents, plant medicines provide a complex yet safe array of constituents. The constituents in medicinal plants act synergistically and balance each other for safety.
Nature is smart
Nature’s intelligence is illustrated by not only the lack of side effects. It is shown by some of the other problems with pharmaceutical treatments. One of the problems with pharmaceutical anti-diabetic treatments to date is that while they might regulate insulin supply, they do little to help prevent damage to the pancreas.
Rather, their chemical nature has demonstrated the ability to increase inflammation. The liver and immune system must work to break down and eliminate their chemical metabolites.
Most medicinal plants don’t seem to have this problem: Because nature is smart.
Shi-Hui Cheng, Amin Ismail, Joseph Anthony, Ooi Chuan Ng, Azizah Abdul Hamid, and Mohd Yusof Barakatun-Nisak, “Eight Weeks of Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja) Supplementation Improves Glycemic Status in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 405615, 7 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/405615
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.