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Chaparral - Some Benefits on Usage of Chaparral

Taxonomic Class

Zygophyllaceae

Common Trade Names

None known.

Common Forms

Available as capsules, tablets, and teas.

Source

Active components are extracted from the leaves of Larrea tridentata or Larrea divaricata, desert -dwelling evergreen shrubs that are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Chemical Components

Phenolic compounds isolated from L. tridentata include nordihyroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) and the related lignans, nor-isoguaiasin, dihydroguaiaretic acid, partially demethylated dihydroguaiartic acid, and 3'-demethoxyisoguaiasin. Younger plants yield more phenolic compounds than older plants.

Actions

The biological activity of chaparral is attributed to NDGA, a lipoxygenase inhibitor that was previously used as a food additive to prevent fermentation and decomposition. Despite studies showing NDGA to have an anticancer effect in vitro, earlier research by the National Cancer Institute found no such effect in vivo . Some reports suggest that NDGA may stimulate certain cancers, such as renal cell carcinoma.

NDGA has been shown to inhibit proviral expression and thus may be able to interrupt the life cycle of the causative organism in HIV infections .

Results from an in vitro study of rat hippocampal neurons suggest that NDGA may playa neuroprotective role in Alzheimer's disease .

Reported Uses

Chaparral tea is derived from the plant leaves. It was widely used by Native Americans as a remedy for bronchitis, colds, pain, and skin disorders. Human clinical trials are lacking to support the claim of anticancer properties.

Dosage

No consensus exists.

Adverse reactions

  • GI: hepatotoxicity (cholestatic hepatitis).

  • GU: renal cell carcinoma, renal cystic disease.

  • Skin: contact dermatitis.

Interactions

None reported.

Contraindications And Precautions

Chaparral is contraindicated because of numerous reports of serious hepatotoxicity.

Special Considerations

  • Alert Hepatotoxicity (cholestatic hepatitis) can occur. Jaundice is characterized with markedly elevated liver function test results. Onset occurs within 3 to 52 weeks after ingestion, and symptoms resolve within 1 to 17 weeks after discontinuing the herb in most cases. Some damage progresses to cirrhosis and acute hepatic failure, requiring transplantation .

  • Monitor the patient who has taken chaparral for fatigue, changes in hepatic function, jaundice, and other signs of hepatotoxicity.

  • Caution the patient against using chaparral because of its strong hepatotoxic property.

  • Although no known chemical interactions have been reported in clinical studies, consideration must be given to the pharmacologic properties of the herbal product and the potential for exacerbation of the intended therapeutic effect of conventional drugs.

Points of Interest

Chaparral is considered an unsafe herb and was removed by the FDA from its generally recognized as safe list in 1970.

Anecdotal reports indicate that chaparral tea was used as an anticancer agent from the late 1950s to the 1970s.

Commentary

In vitro studies have yielded conflicting results for the use of NDGA, an active component of chaparral, in treating AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Further in vivo and human clinical studies are needed. Because of its strong association with hepatotoxicity, use of this herb is not recommended.

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