Medically reviewed on January 1, 2018
Scientific Name(s): Ipomoea batatas L. Family: Convolvulaceae.
Common Name(s): Sweet potato , caiapo , nyamis (Africa), yam , kumara (New Zealand), camote (southwest United States)
Pharmacological investigations on the antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity of sweet potato have been conducted.
Clinical studies of the efficacy of the nutraceutical caiapo, an extract of sweet potato, used a total of 4 capsules daily, with each capsule containing caiapo 168 to 336 mg. Sweet potato is available in powder and capsule (caiapo) forms. Dosage regimens vary, but most commercial manufacturers suggest 2 capsules 30 minutes before meals, up to a total of 6 capsules daily.
Hypersensitivity to any of the chemical components in the plant species.
There are no case reports or clinical studies relevant to pregnancy or lactation. However, women with hypersensitivity reactions to the plant should avoid use.
None well documented.
Historical and clinical data document no serious adverse reactions. Patients with known hypersensitivity reactions to the plant may develop generalized urticaria, hypotension, and edema of the hands and face. Dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, and a sensation of tickling and tightness in the throat have been documented.
Very little toxicity data are available about the plant.
The sweet potato plant originated in Central America. Although China is considered the leading producer of sweet potatoes, the plant is widely cultivated and consumed throughout the world. It is a herbaceous perennial vine with alternate heart-shaped, lobed leaves and medium-sized flowers. The root is edible and is often long and tapered. The skin may be red, purple, or brown and white in color. The interior, or flesh, may be white, yellow, orange, or purple. The leaves and shoots sometimes are eaten as greens. 1
Sweet potato is the world's sixth largest food crop and is important for the growing populations in Asian and African countries. The plant has been used medicinally in Japan for treating diabetes and other diseases. American Indians used sweet potato to treat thirst and weight loss attributed to diabetes. 2 , 3 , 4 , 5
There are numerous, extensive phytochemical investigations. Most studies focus on the nutraceutical properties and understanding the physiological functions of sweet potato. Only selective studies will be discussed because of the extent of these investigations.
The root and skin contain most of the studied medicinal components. High levels of polyphenols, such as anthocyanins and phenolic acids (eg, caffeic acid), have been isolated from sweet potato. Chlorogenic, dicaffeoylquinic, and tricaffeoylquinic acids are derivatives of caffeoylquinic acid that protect the root from fungal diseases and have potential cancer chemoprotective effects. The numerous acylated anthocyanins are the major color constituents in the storage roots and are important in the plant's use in diabetes. Sesquiterpenoids include 6-myoporol and ipomeamarone. Structural properties of the anthocyanins important for bioactivity include phenolic esters of the sugar, presence of 2 hydroxyl groups on the aromatic ring, and the presence of an unsaturated alkyl chain in the acylated moiety. 4 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9
The plant's antioxidant activity is associated with its alpha-tocopherol content, which is the most common form of vitamin E, and comprises 25 mg per 100 g of sweet potato shoots. The 2 storage proteins, sporamins A and B, account for more than 80% of the total protein isolated from the roots of sweet potato. 10 , 11
Uses and Pharmacology
Pharmacological investigations on the antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity of sweet potato in animals have been conducted.Cardiovascular effects
In vitro data
An extract was examined for relaxant activity on isolated rat vascular aortic preparations. Sweet potato showed 97% relaxation activity for endothelium-intact aortic ring preparations but only 35% in the mesenteric vascular bed. The vasorelaxation mechanism of action was similar to that of the pharmacological agent acetylcholine. 12Antioxidant effects
In vitro and in vivo data
The major phenolic components in a 70% methanol extract of sweet potatoes showed strong antioxidant activity in a linoleic acid-aqueous system. 13
Anthocyanins of purple sweet potato (PSP) have antioxidant activity. DPPH (1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl) radical scavenging activity in collected urine samples increased in PSP anthocyanin-injected rats and in 6 PSP beverage-administered human volunteers. The degree of radical-scavenging activity for some of the anthocyanins was higher than that for ascorbic acid. 14Immune system effects
Sweet potato fiber may be useful in combination with other therapeutic agents used in skin wound therapy. The healing effect of sweet potato fiber was evaluated for burns or decubital wounds in rats over 19 days. Outcome measures included reduction in size and changes in quality of the wounds. Rats treated with the sweet potato fiber covering had reduced wound areas by 21% at day 9, 19.5% at day 11, and 18.7% at day 13, compared with controls. Healing times for both groups were 19 days for treated rats and 21 days for controls. 15
In a mouse model, purified sweet potato polysaccharide (PSPP) isolated from the roots acted as a biological response modifier. In a dose-dependent manner, mice treated with PSPP (50, 150, and 250 mg/kg body weight for 7 days) had increased in phagocytic function, hemolytic activity, and serum IgG concentration. 1Clinical data
A randomized, crossover study involving 16 healthy, nonsmoking adults (7 men and 9 women) examined the effects of physiological doses of purple sweet potato leaves (PSPL) over 6 weeks. During week 1, control and experimental groups were subjected to a low-polyphenol diet. During weeks 2 and 3, the experimental group consumed a PSPL diet consisting of 200 g daily of PSPL, and the control group consumed a diet consisting of low polyphenols and carotenoids adjusted to the same level as that of PSPL. The washout diet followed week 4. During weeks 5 and 6, experimental and control groups switched diets. Results from blood and urine samples indicate that dietary intervention in the form of PSPL consumption modulated various aspects of immune function, including increased proliferation responsiveness of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, secretion of cytokines IL-2 and IL-4, and increased lytic activity of natural killer cells. 16
Similar immune system effects also have been documented for the white-skinned sweet potato (WSSP). 17Diabetes
In vitro data
In a free-glucosidase (AGH) assay system, potent AGH inhibitory activity was seen with anthocyanin extracts from the storage roots of PSP (IC 50 = 0.36 mg/mL). The extracts also inhibited alpha-amylase activity, indicating a potential role in suppressing the increase in postprandial glucose levels. 18Animal data
The antidiabetic activity of WSSP versus troglitazine was examined in Zucker fatty rats over 8 weeks. After starting oral dosing with WSSP, hyperinsulinemia was reduced 23%, 26%, 60% and 50%, at 3, 4, 6, and 8 weeks, respectively. WSSP also inhibited increases in blood sugar levels after administration of a glucose challenge test during week 7. Histology of the pancreas showed regranulation of pancreatic islet B cells. Isolation and purification of the antidiabetic component in WSSP was unsuccessful. 2 , 19
Evidence and similar experiments in rats indicate that acylated anthocyanins, such as caffeoylsophorose, are responsible for alpha-glucosidase inhibition of the extract. The production of adiponectin by transgenic sweet potatoes has gained pharmaceutical interest. Adiponectin is a cytokine produced and secreted only from adipose tissue and is found in human plasma. Low levels of this cytokine or protein are associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, and hypertension. 8 , 20Clinical data
Caiapo, an extract of WSSP, improves glucose tolerance by reducing insulin resistance without affecting body weight or insulin secretion and clearance.
A 6-week, prospective, placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study involving 18 men examined the effects of caiapo. Patients were randomized into 3 groups and received a total of 4 tablets daily containing placebo, caiapo 168 mg, or caiapo 336 mg. Outcome measures assessed included an intravenous glucose tolerance test and oral glucose tolerance test. Overall, only high-dose caiapo improved metabolic control by decreasing insulin resistance without affecting body weight. No serious side effects were observed. 5 , 21
Results from an uncontrolled study in 145 Japanese patients with type 2 diabetes treated with the nutraceutical caiapo indicated a decrease in blood glucose levels. 5Other pharmacological activity
Chemoprotective effects may be associated with the anthocyanins and phenolic acids in sweet potato. Sweet potato contains provitamin A or beta-carotene and clinical studies document its potential role as a long-term, food-based strategy in reducing vitamin A deficiency in children in many developing countries. 3 , 4 , 22 , 23
Clinical studies of the efficacy of the nutraceutical caiapo used a total of 4 tablets daily, with each tablet containing caiapo 168 to 336 mg. Sweet potato is available in powder and capsule (caiapo) forms. Dosage regimens vary, but most commercial manufacturers suggest 2 capsules 30 minutes before meals, up to a total of 6 capsules daily.
There are no case reports or clinical studies relevant to pregnancy or lactation. However, women with a history of hypersensitivity reactions to the plant should avoid use. 24
No drug interaction data could be found in medical literature.
Historical and clinical data document no serious adverse reactions. Patients with known hypersensitivity reactions to the plant may develop generalized urticaria, hypotension, and edema of the hands and face. Other case reports also document dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, and a sensation of tickling and tightness in the throat. 24
Very little toxicity data are available for the plant. Animal studies document temporary neurological effects followed by extensive liver necrosis for 3 sesquiterpenoids in sweet potato with a median lethal dose varying from 184 to 266 mg/kg. 9 Sweet potato consumption should be avoided by individuals hypersensitive to any of the chemical components in the plant species. 24
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19. Kusano S , Abe H . Antidiabetic activity of white skinned sweet potato ( Ipomoea batatas L.) in obese Zucker fatty rats . Biol Pharm Bull . 2000;23:23-26.
20. Berberich T , Takagi T , Miyazaki A , Otani M , Shimada T , Kusano T . Production of mouse adiponectin, an anti-diabetic protein, in transgenic sweet potato plants . J Plant Physiol . 2005;162:1169-1176.
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