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Sassafras (Sassafras spp.)

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Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Brazilian sassafras, Chinese sassafras, Lauraceae (family), Ocotea pretiosa, red sassafras, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees, Sassafras randaiense (Hayata) Rehd., Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl., silky sassafras, Taiwan sassafras, tzumu (Chinesese), white sassafras.

Background
  • The genus Sassafras contains two main species, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees and Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl. Sassafras albidum is found in eastern North America, and Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl. is found in Asia, primarily in China.
  • Although sassafras was used originally in Native American medicine, sassafras should not be used internally, as safrole found in sassafras oil and tea is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Increased incidence of esophageal cancer has been noted in areas with habitual sassafras consumption. In addition, safrole is hepatotoxic (liver damaging).
  • There is insufficient evidence in humans to support the use of sassafras for any indication.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Anticoagulant (blood thinner), antifungal, diaphoretic (promotes sweating).

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older):

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for sassafras in adults.

Children (younger than 18 years):

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for sassafras in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to Sassafras species, their constituents, or members of the Lauraceae family.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Safrole found in sassafras oil and tea is carcinogenic (cancer causing). Increased incidence of esophageal cancer has been noted in areas with habitual sassafras consumption. In addition, safrole is hepatotoxic (liver damaging), and may inhibit some cytochrome P450 pathways. Sassafras may also have a diaphoretic (promotes sweating) side effect.
  • Use cautiously in patients taking drugs or herbs metabolized by the cytochrome P450 pathways, as safrole may be a potent inhibitor of several of these pathways.
  • Avoid in patients with compromised liver function.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Avoid sassafras tea and oil if pregnant or breastfeeding as they are considered carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • Although not well studied in humans, the aryl-sulfonamide compounds found in safrole may induce platelet aggregation. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders, and in those taking agents to either clot or thin the blood.
  • Safrole may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be increased in the blood, and may cause increased effects or potentially serious adverse reactions. Patients using any medications should check the package insert, and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Although not well studied in humans, the aryl-sulfonamide compounds found in safrole may induce platelet aggregation. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders, and in those taking herbs or supplements that may either clot or thin the blood.
  • Safrole may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of other herbs or supplements may become too high in the blood. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements possibly have on the P450 system.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Haines JD, Jr. Ipecac, Indian turnip, and sassafras: a sampling of American Indian medicine. J.Okla.State Med.Assoc. 1996;89(9):326-327.
  2. Haines JD, Jr. Sassafras tea and diaphoresis. Postgrad.Med. 9-15-1991;90(4):75-76.
  3. Kapadia GJ, Chung EB, Ghosh B, et al. Carcinogenicity of some folk medicinal herbs in rats. J Natl.Cancer Inst. 1978;60(3):683-686.
  4. Klepser TB, Klepser ME. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Am J Health Syst.Pharm 1-15-1999;56(2):125-138.
  5. Lima LM, Ormelli CB, Brito FF, et al. Synthesis and antiplatelet evaluation of novel aryl-sulfonamide derivatives, from natural safrole. Pharm Acta Helv 1999;73(6):281-292.
  6. Segelman AB, Segelman FP, Karliner J, et al. Sassafras and herb tea. Potential health hazards. JAMA 8-2-1976;236(5):477.
  7. Simic A, Sokovic MD, Ristic M, et al. The chemical composition of some Lauraceae essential oils and their antifungal activities. Phytother.Res 2004;18(9):713-717.
  8. Ueng YF, Hsieh CH, Don MJ. Inhibition of human cytochrome P450 enzymes by the natural hepatotoxin safrole. Food Chem Toxicol 2005;43(5):707-712.
  9. Ueng YF, Hsieh CH, Don MJ, et al. Identification of the main human cytochrome P450 enzymes involved in safrole 1'-hydroxylation. Chem Res Toxicol 2004;17(8):1151-1156.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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