Science / Medicine : Ancient Cure Heals Athlete’s Foot

<i> Times science writer Thomas H. Maugh II reports from the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science in Washington</i>

An herb that the ancient Mayans claimed could cure athlete’s foot has proved to be more effective than modern medications in combating the ailment, according to anthropologist Brent Berlin of UC Berkeley. He said tests of the plant, a member of the nightshade family, found it to be an effective cure for athlete’s foot in a large number of patients.

Athlete’s foot is an irritating but harmless condition in which a fungus grows on the skin between and under the toes, causing skin to become red, flaky and itchy.

Berlin said researchers now want to test five more Mayan herbal remedies that are claimed to be effective in treating diarrhea. Berlin, Dr. Xavier Lozoya of Mexico and their colleagues are also putting together an encyclopedia of about 900 Mayan plant remedies and their uses. The native “cures” will be subject to a range of tests, in the laboratory and in human patients, to verify their claims.