Herbs for Health: Capsules

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The Effectiveness of Fennel Seeds

Since the time of Hippocrates and Dioscorides, fennel seeds have been prescribed as a diuretic and digestive. Currently, they are one of the more widely used folk medicines of the Arabian peninsula, where they are used as a diuretic, appetite stimulant, and digestive aid, as well as to treat fevers in children. Their wide use led researchers at the United Arab Emirates University,­­ King Saud University, and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health to conduct a comprehensive study of their pharmacology. A battery of laboratory tests demonstrated that the equivalent of 500 mg per kilogram (about 2 pounds) of body weight of an ethanol extract nearly doubled urinary output, prevented the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis, and increased bile volume by 33 percent. The last finding clearly supports the use of the seeds to improve digestion. ­Reduction of pain and fever was moderate but statistically significant.(1)

Anticancer Activity in Papaw Relatives

In “Capsules”, April/May 1996, we reported research by scientists at Taegu Hyosung Catholic University in Korea and Purdue University on antitumor compounds isolated from seeds of the papaw (Asimina triloba), a member of the annona family (Annonaceae). In their search for other bioactive compounds from this family, researchers at Purdue University have taken a closer look at the seeds of the custard apple (Annona squa­mosa), a fruit tree native to the American tropics that has become naturalized in tropical regions throughout the world. They recently isolated a new compound, squamotacin, which they found to be more than 100 million times as potent against human prostate cancer cells as doxorubicin hydrochloride (adriamycin), a conventional drug that has produced regression in a number of cancers.(2)

In another study, five new compounds were isolated from the seeds of the soursop or guanabana (A. muricata), another popular tropical table fruit, whose toxic seeds had hitherto been discarded when the fruit was served or juiced. Researchers at the Agr­Ecvo Research Center in Pikeville, North Carolina, and Purdue University discovered that one of the compounds, cis-annonacin, is 10,000 times as potent as adriamycin against colon adenocarcinoma cells.(3)

Although both studies are only preliminary, cancer cures of the twenty-first century may very likely come from the papaw and its relatives.

Review of Echinacea Studies

There are more than 300 echinacea products currently on the German market; in 1994 alone, German physicians prescribed echinacea 2.5 million times, a figure that does not include products bought over the counter for self-medication. Given the herb’s popularity, researchers in Munich and Düsseldorf recently evaluated twenty-six controlled clinical trials of echinacea’s immunomodulating effect. Preparations that contain only echinacea were the subject of six of the studies, whereas twenty studies involved products with additional ingredients. The authors concluded that although the methodology of most of the studies was unsatisfactory, the studies do show that echinacea-containing medicines can effectively stimulate the immune system. The trials failed to demonstrate the best preparation to use or the most effective dose, however.(4)


(1) Tanira, M.O.M., et al. Phytotherapy Research 1996, 10:37–41.
(2) Hopp, D. C., et al. Journal of Natural Products 1996, 59(2):96–99.
(3) Rieser, M. J., et al. Journal of Natural Products 1996, 59(2):100–108.
(4) Melchart, D., et al. Phytomedicine 1994, 1:245–254.