Monday, November 24, 2008
Plants from the Mint Family Found Highly Effective Against HIV and Herpes
Herbs from the Lamiaceae family, also known as the mint family have been shown to drastically reduce the infectivity of HIV-1 virions, single infective viral particles. A research team from the University of Heidelberg has found that extracts of lemon balm, sage and peppermint work rapidly to produce their effects in amounts that display no toxicity. The extracts were seen to enhance the density of the virions prior to their surface engagement. They also displayed a strong activity against herpes simplex virus type 2.
The researchers examined water extracts from the leaves of lemon balm, sage and peppermint for their potency to inhibit infection by HIV-1. They found that the extracts exhibited a high and concentration-dependent activity against the infection of HIV-1 in T-cell lines, primary macrophages, and in ex vivo tonsil histocultures. This effect was produced at extract concentrations as low as 0.004% without affect to cell viability.
Exposing free virions to the extract potently and rapidly inhibited infection, while exposure of surface-bound virions or target cells alone had virtually no antiviral effect. In line with this observation, a virion fusion assay demonstrated that HIV-1 entry was drastically impaired following treatment of particles with Lamiaceae extracts, and the magnitude of this effect at the early stage of infection correlated with the inhibitory potency on HIV-1 replication.
Lamiaceae is a family of potent healers
Along with the plants used in the study, the Lamiaceae family includes such healing superstars as oregano and mint. The tannins and polyphenols in these plants have strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects. The plants are usually cultivated in mild temperature zones such as the Mediterranean where they find needed winter protection and sandy soil. They are all featured in Mediterranean cuisine, undoubtedly one reason why people who eat the Mediterranean diet live such long, health lives. Each member of the family also has a long list of characteristics unique to it.
Lemon balm calms and sooths
The antibacterial and antiviral effects of lemon balm have made it a popular choice for the treatment of strep throat, mumps and herpes. These properties come from caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid, compounds found in the plant. When treated with lemon balm, infections do not tend to spread. Lemon balm also offers topical relief from symptoms such as redness and itching. Another study found that a cream containing about 700 milligrams of lemon balm sped healing of herpes sores by several days, providing improvement comparable to the prescription drugs used to treat herpes, but without the side effects associated with the drugs such as nausea and vomiting.
In addition to wound healing healing compounds, lemon balm contains eugenol, a natural pain reliever. Lemon balm containing ointments are frequently used for treatment of cold sores, and genital herpes.
Lemon balm is fragrant plant with leaves that give off a strong lemon scent when rubbed. Studies have found that lemon balm has a sedative effect, and it's frequently used for treatment of insomnia, nervousness and anxiety. It has a positive effect on the stomach and digestive system, and is used to relieve gas and bloating. It has been shown to relax spasms affecting the smooth muscles such as those in the uterus and intestines, making is an effective choice against menstrual cramps and other abdominal cramping. Increased dosages can induce sleep.
Lemon balm is used for stomach complaints, cramping, flatulence or bloating as a tea using 1.5 to 4.5 grams of the herb, several times a day. It is also available as a tincture to be used at the rate of 2 to 3 mL of tincture three times a day, or the equivalent in capsule form. For sores or herpes, steep 2 to 4 tsp of crushed leaf in a cup of boiling water.
Sage boosts brain function and memory
Also known as 'garden meadow', sage is a 2,000 year old healer and preservative as well as a culinary favorite. It has been used to treat everything from snakebite to mental illness. Modern research has shown that sage can help reduce excessive perspiration by as much as 50 percent. The German Commission E approves sage infusions for the treatment of excessive perspiration. Most health food stores sell sage-based deodorants.
The tannins in sage make it effective against the bacteria that cause gingivitis, and some natural mouthwashes contain sage. These can be used to fight canker sores, bleeding gums, sore throat, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. In addition to being extremely effective against viruses, sage is highly effective against bacteria.
Sage has been found to boost the brains supply of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is critical to proper brain functioning and memory. There is no coincidence that people who possess the great wisdom of age are called 'sages'. Research is underway to determine the effectiveness of sage against Alzheimer's disease.
Sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids (including apigenin, diosmetin, and luteolin), and phenolic acids including rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid is readily absorbed from the GI tract and acts to reduce inflammatory messaging molecules like leukotriene B4. The acid contains powerful antioxidant enzymes, including SOD and peroxidase. Like lemon balm, sage is a soother of disorders of the stomach and intestinal tract. It is effective against muscle spasms and indigestion.
Sage is available in liquid leaf extract form. The usual dose is 1 tsp three times per day. For sage tea, use 1 to 2 tsp of dried leaf to a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. The tea is useful as a gargle for sore throat or as a mouthwash for gingivitis. Drink up to 3 cups a day to improve digestion and help regulate blood sugar or to reduce perspiration.
Peppermint oil can stop tumors in their tracks
Of all the species of mint, peppermint contains the highest levels of menthol, a phytochemical that promotes the calming of muscle spasms and improved digestion. It has been used since the Middle Ages as a cough suppressant and decongestant, and is a common ingredient in many natural anti-congestant medications as well as many traditional potions such as mentholatum chest rub. Peppermint is an FDA approved cold remedy.
One explanation for how peppermint oil helps irritable bowel suffers is that the oil blocks calcium channels, allowing the muscles to relax. It also relaxes the sphincter that keeps the contents of the stomach from backing up into the esophagus. That's why peppermint oil is often sold in enteric-coated capsules designed to bypass the stomach and dissolve in the small intestine.
Peppermint contains perillyl alcohol as a phytonutrient called monoterpene. Animal studies have shown this monoterpene to be effective in stopping the growth of pancreatic, mammary and liver tumors. It has also been shown effective against cancer formation in the colon, skin and lungs.
The antimicrobial power of peppermint rivals that of its cousin, oregano. It is effective against helicobacter pylori, Salmonella, E. coli, and Staphylococcus, as well as many fungi. And like all the members of the mint family, peppermint contains a good amount of rosmarinic acid that has been shown to block the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals such as leukotrienes. This encourages the cells to produce prostacyclins that keep airways open for breathing.
In laboratory studies, peppermint oil was found to kill bacteria that cause urinary tract infections and the herpes simplex virus. It is effective against insect bites, rashes and headaches.
Peppermint is available as bulk oil, coated capsules, soft gels, and liquid extract. Many peppermint teas are on the market.
Growing your own supply of these powerful healers
The plants of the Lamiaceae family may prefer the glorious climate of the Mediterranean, but they can be grown almost anywhere. Many people remember a stand of these plants outside their grandmother's kitchen door before pharmaceuticals gained such favor. The plants only need to be purchased once, as they are perennials and will return year after year even in zones where hard freeze is the norm for the winter. The leaves can withstand temperature down to about 29 or 30 degrees and will survive a few nippy nights, but they need to be harvested before a sustained period of freezing cold. Harvest the whole plant and hang it in the kitchen to dry.
Plants are readily available at nurseries in the spring, or they can be bought on line. Some of the health food stores, such as Whole Foods carry organic plants in springtime. There are few things on earth that make you feel more in control of your health destiny than to know your garden is full of healing plants and herbs, and that you are able to dry them and store them to see yourself safely through the winter.
Geuenich, S. et al, "Aqueous extracts from peppermint, sage and lemon balm leaves display potent anti-HIV-1 activity by increasing the virion density", Retrovirology, 2008.