General description of the plant

Caigua, whose botanical name is Cyclantera pedata, belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family; this family consists of 100 genera and more than 750 species. There is considerable genetic diversity within the family, diversity that relates to both vegetative and reproductive characteristics; the range of environmental adaptation, for the member species, includes tropical, subtropical regions, arid deserts and temperate zones, few species have adapted to high altitudes (2000 m). Specifically, Cyclantera pedata, also called Korila, wild melon, Caihua, Achoccha, and an annual plant, is easily adapted to cold and high temperatures but is also easily grown in tropical and subtropical areas. It is usually grown in South and Central America.

The leaves are glabrous and fragrant; the fruits are light green with darker green veins; the seeds are attached to a single placenta and number about twelve. The seeds are generally removed and the fruits are eaten raw or cooked. Species belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family are known to be sources of secondary metabolites.


Hyperlipidemia is recognized as a leading cause of death from coronary heart disease, and efforts made to reduce hypercholesterolemia have produced a significant reduction in this mortality. Decrease in cholesterol levels particularly in the fraction bound to low-density lipoprotein can prevent coronary heart disease. In contrast, an increase in the concentration of the cholesterol fraction in high-density lipoprotein is inversely related to coronary heart disease. These data suggest the importance of serum LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol measurements, as well as the beneficial effects of any therapy that reduces serum LDL-cholesterol levels and increases serum HDL-cholesterol levels.

There are physiological situations such as menopause, where there are changes in the lipid picture as a result of the decrease in estrogen production by the ovaries. Under these circumstances, total serum cholesterol increases as a result of an increase in the LDL-cholesterol fraction and a decrease in the HDL-cholesterol fraction; this change in the lipid picture is also associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The prevalence of coronary heart disease is relatively low among pre-menopausal women however, it increases significantly during postmenopause.

Diet is the preferred method of treating hypercholesterolemia but in many cases is insufficient to reduce cholesterol levels to below 250 mg/dl, for which drugs with cholesterol-reducing properties are used. These agents include clofibrates, cholesterolamine, nicotinic acid, gemfibrozil, simvastatin, and fosinopril, an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. These drugs have the drawbacks of having side effects, and the majority of them increase HDL-cholesterol levels, only in a mild or moderate form, which is why attempts have been made in natural products, the search for other substances with cholesterol-LDL reducing properties and elevating the cholesterol-HDL fraction.

For centuries Peruvians have used many plants to treat diseases; among them Caigua has been used to treat hypercholesterolemia, and is in common use among people suffering from this condition.

Recently a double-blind study was carried out using dehydrated and encapsulated caigua and trying to determine its effect on lipid profile finding that, treatment with dehydrated caigua decreased total serum cholesterol by 18.3 percent, LDL-cholesterol fraction by 23 percent, and produced a 42 percent increase in HDL-cholesterol fraction. However, it is not known whether this natural product has any restorative effect on dyslipidemia caused by the cessation of ovarian function. If effective, the treatment would be of great public health significance considering the significant proportion of women currently living in the postmenopausal period who would therefore be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to disturbances in their lipid profile.

The present study was designed with two purposes, the first to determine the lipid profile in postmenopausal women and compare it with that of regularly menstruating women, and the second, to determine the effect of treatment with dehydrated caigua capsules on serum total cholesterol levels, LDL-cholesterol fraction, HDL-cholesterol fraction, and triglyceride levels in postmenopausal women.

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