Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids in Healing Herbs

Borage ~ Borago officinalis
Folks continue to ask about the safety of PA alkaloids (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that are found in many healing herbs such as borage, coltsfoot and comfrey. Point-by-point, here are things to consider:

1) No viable animal testing was done with any PA containing herbs on primates so there is no proof for fear of PA's in humans.

2) No viable testing was done at all. The studies have had serious flaws, such as using amounts of the herbs that would far exceed even accidental over-use, and using the PA's only extracted from the plant material in a lab, which few herb users would have access to or be likely to do. Herbs wisely contain many buffering agents to their more potent constituents. This is why we always use herbs in their natural, intact state, not standardized to concentrate some constituents and not others, and not just one constituent from a whole plant.

Comfrey ~ Symphytum

3) PA's are metabolized through the liver, and have been implicated in liver trouble *in people* whose liver health was unknown before ingestion, so logic prevailing: don't use herbs containing PA's if you already have liver problems, or if you take anything else that might compromise liver health, such as taking NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs, like aspirin or Ibuprofen ) or most pharmaceutical medications, just in case. To quote Paracelsus "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy."

4) Make sure the herb is correctly identified. Foxglove leaves look allot like small comfrey leaves. This mistake can be deadly and has nothing to do with PA's.

Coltsfoot~ Tussilago farfara
Also, 5) As trained herbalists we learn how to harvest and prepare herbs for best effects. PA's are more plentiful in annual herbs than perennial, more plentiful in the roots than in the leaves. PA's are used in the process of blooming and so this is why we harvest these herbs for use while they are blooming, while flowers are on the plant. Another way to obtain lower PA's is that we know that PA's are not very water soluble, and so drying these herbs and making herbal infusions is usually how they are used. Tincture these herbs from fresh plant material, using low alcohol content, such as 40% -80 proof alcohol.

5) Use time tested applications for herbs high in PA's. Many of these herbs have been used for hundreds of thousands of years with good results. Learn how they were used, how much to use, and with what health concerns to use them. This takes plenty of study and is well worth the time.

6) If you are not confident in using these herbs yourself but feel they may be helpful to you, consult a more experienced herbalist as your guide.

7) Education is the solution to fear, not restriction and regulation.

Here is a link for detailed study: Gerneral Information about Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

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