Herbs for Health: Supplement News for April 2001

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Black Cohosh was traditionally used to allay symptoms of menopause.
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Plantain may act as an immunostimulant.

Black cohosh–confirmation of traditional use

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), formerly Cimicifuga racemosa, is a member of the buttercup family native to deciduous forests of eastern North America. Historically, there are six species of Cimicifuga recognized from North America and thirteen from East Asia. Many Asian species have been used similarly to black cohosh in the West. Use of the herb for gynecological conditions predates European settlement of the New World. In the nineteenth century, it emerged as an important treatment for various female-related conditions, championed by John King, an eclectic physician. Prior to these uses, and its modern use in phytomedicine to allay symptoms of menopause, black cohosh was primarily regarded as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever for rheumatism, arthritis, and related inflammatory conditions. In Korea, an Asian species, C. dahurica, has been used as a folk medicine for treating fever, pain, and inflammation.

Last year, researchers at the School of Dentistry and Institute of Oral Biology at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, Korea, conducted a battery of laboratory tests to explore the plant’s analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory effects. The researchers tested several extract fractions. Starting with an alcoholic extract of the root, they created additional extracts in other solvents including water, ether, and butanol. The alcoholic and butanol-soluble extracts produced dramatic analgesic effects in a laboratory test system. Alcohol, water, and butanol extracts exerted strong anti-inflammatory activity in animal models. Scientists know that pain and inflammation are mediated by a number of irritant compounds at the site of inflammation including prostaglandins, histamine, and bradykinin, among others. The researchers found that several of the fractions had significant anti-bradykinin effects, antihistamine activity, and inhibited an enzyme associated with inducing inflam- mation by prostaglandins.

The authors concluded that methanol extracts of Asian relatives of black cohosh (and presumably black cohosh itself, based on its similar chemistry) could have an interesting future to treat pain and inflammation effectively without side effects. (1)

Plantain–the next immunostimulant?

Most of us know plantain (Plantago major) as a lawn weed. American Indian groups deemed this European native “white man’s foot” because wherever European populations settled, plantain became established. Not only common in North America, European species of plantain have also become well-established in South America and other continents where Europeans made new homes. Plantain has been used topically for centuries to treat insect bites and stings, inflammation, and promote wound healing. It’s used in the form of a tea for its expectorant activity. Scientific studies confirm bronchodilation action, and plantain preparations are widely used in Europe to treat bronchitis and bronchial spasms due to colds. The herb is approved in Germany for treatment of catarrh of the upper respiratory tract and inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Scientists have identified at least five groups of compounds responsible for plantain’s wound-healing action. It is known to neutralize poisons internally and externally, and to rapidly relieve pain from stings, bites, and poison ivy.

Researchers at the Department of Biomedical and Thera- peutic Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, along with colleagues in Mexico, recently published results of a study explaining how previously reported immunostimulant activity works. The researchers found that a metha-nolic extract of the leaves of plantain enhances the production of nitric oxide and tumor- necrosis factor alpha by white blood cells. Both activities associated with increasing cellular immune response. The extract also increased the number of specialized white blood cells, which attack bacteria and viruses. This study helps to provide a clearer understanding of how plantain works to protect against disease, as well as its potential for treating infections. (2)

Ginger for motion sickness in children

We all have memories of Mom’s home remedy, something she gave us whenever we complained of a minor upset stomach. For my siblings and me that remedy was ginger ale. In recent years, ginger extracts have emerged as dietary supplements for the treatment of motion sickness, backed by at least six positive controlled clinical studies. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is believed to reduce nausea by increasing digestive fluids and absorbing and neutralizing toxins and stomach acid. Ginger increases bile secretion as well as the action and tone of the bowels.

At one time or another, all of us have probably experienced the effects of motion sickness. Severity can vary with the experience–boat, train, plane or car–and our own personal sensitivity. Motion sickness, which can include symptoms such as nausea, pallor, malaise and vomiting, results from an imbalance of information supplied by the inner ear’s vestibular apparatus and signals sent to the brain on the body’s position. Conventional drugs for treating motion sickness inhibit central nervous system receptors that reduce the feedback loop between the inner ear and nausea centers in the brain. But they have side effects (particularly drowsiness), especially in children.

Based on the confirmed effectiveness and safety of ginger in adults, an Israeli research group (associated with the manufacture of a commercial ginger extract, Zintona capsules, produced by Dalidar Pharma in Israel) conducted the first study on the use of ginger in children. Eighteen boys and girls between the ages of four and eight with histories of motion sickness were entered into the study. The children were divided into two groups. One group received ginger (one 250-mg capsule for children under six, or 2 capsules–500 mg–for children over six), thirty minutes before a two-day car trip. The other group received standard doses of dimenhydrinate (an over-the-counter motion sickness drug). The dose was repeated every four hours if needed. The physician monitoring the study reported that 100 percent of the children in the ginger group experienced relief, while only 30.8 percent had success using dimenhydrinate. The dimenhydrinate group also experienced side effects including vertigo, increased salivation, stomachache, dry mouth, and cold sweats. No side effects were reported in the ginger group. Obviously, more studies are needed, but this adds one more positive scientific piece to the centuries-old use of ginger to treat nausea. (3)

(1) Kim, S. J. and M. S. Kim. “Inhibitory effects of cimicifugae rhizoma extracts on histamine, bradykinin and COX-2 mediated inflammatory actions.” Phytotherapy Research 2000, 14:596-600.
(2) Gomez-Flores, R., et al. “Immunoenhancing properties of Plantago major leaf extract.” Phytotherapy Research 2000, 14:617-622.
(3) Careddu, P. “Motion sickness in children: Results of a double-blind study with ginger (Zintona) and dimenhydrinate.” HealthNotes Review 1999, 6:102-107. 

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