A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The feverfew herb has been used as an herbal remedy since the time of Dioscorides-78 A.D. The herbal remedies made from the feverfew was used to treat problems such as headache, the development of menstrual irregularities in women, disorders such as stomachache, and all types of fevers in particular. The common name of the herb itself is a simple corruption of the name in Latin- febrifugia or the fever reducer. Botanist are still agreed about what proper scientific name to give to this strongly aromatic and perennial herb. The feverfew belong to the plant family Asteraceae, the disagreement among botanists about naming the plant has been existing for a long time now. The feverfew was in fact, placed into five different genera at different times. At this present time, the herb is known by the botanical name Tanacetum parthenium (L.), and this Latin name is the scientific designation which is currently and widely accepted within the United States by the botanical community. The use of the herb as an alternative remedy began in the 1970s, the herb was first tried out by individuals who did not obtain any relief from the painful symptoms induced by migraine and arthritis through conventional medications - these individuals began to popularize this herb as an alternative remedy in the treatment of these conditions. The pain as well as the frequency of migraine attacks was found to decrease when the person consumed even only two or three fresh leaves of the herb, every day for prolonged periods of time. Thus the first extensive use of the herb was in dealing with the symptoms and frequency of migraine attacks. The effectiveness of this herbal remedy has been proven by the considerable evidence, received from studies carried out using fresh whole leaves of the herb, and from tests done on the freeze-dried and powdered leaves, studies done on the leaf extracts etc. Through various studies conducted on the plant, the principal active compound in the herb was identified at first as the chemical parthenolide, which is a form of chemical called a sesquiterpene lactone. The effectiveness of this principal active component is now in question, and by the results obtained via a recently conducted prospective study, the action of the feverfew on migraines was examined. The compound that was utilized consisted of a dried ethanol extract which was prepared from the fresh leaves of the herb, and this dosage delivered 0.5 mg of the compound parthenolide through the agency of microcrystalline cellulose. The study found no significant or valuable results, in controlled and placebo groups - the study consisted of a placebo-controlled, full crossover study on fifty patients for a period of four months, there was very little difference between the placebos treated group and the true treatment groups in terms of recovery. The clinical studies that were conducted before this trial had utilized a variety of whole leaf preparations of the herb. The results obtained have now called into question the exact value of the compound parthenolide, there are reasons to believe that it may not be the definitive active constituent or compound of the herb and further studies are required. The presence of the compound parthenolide and its high content in the herb may thus not correspond to the actual clinical ability of the herbal extract or remedy. What this means, is that there may be additional chemical compounds, working in combination with the parthenolide to bring about the reduction in frequency and severity of migraine attacks. This combination of compound may also bring along a lowering in the migraine-related nausea and vomiting symptoms, which are normally seen in patients. Further studies are required in order to clearly establish the nature of the compounds in the herb.
The spasmolytic action of several of the sesquiterpene lactones has been identified and verified in various clinical tests. This means that the compounds tend to make the smooth muscles along the walls of the cerebral blood vessels less reactive to the presence of certain compounds that are common inside the body and thus they tend to have a pronounced influence over the actions of these compounds by limiting their role. The hormones such as norepinephrine, the pain compound known as prostaglandins, and the hormone serotonin are examples of these endogenous substances. The action of the active compound in the herb, and its anti-migraine effect within the body, may be in a manner which is similar to that of the compound methysergide, which is an identified serotonin antagonist in the human body.
The ancient Greek physicians used herbal remedies made from the feverfew in the treatment of "melancholy," the term may have included disorders such as persistent headaches as well as long term depression. Seventeenth century doctors in England used the remedy for the treatment of disorders and problems such as vertigo, disorders such as depression, and persistent headaches, they may have also prescribed its use for the treatment of fevers, to bring the temperature down. The use of the herb in the medical community faded after the seventeenth century, and most herbalists never used the herbal remedy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the feverfew had a reputation for repelling insects, it was, however, often planted in well laid out gardens, this cultivation may also have been for the aesthetic value endowed by its many small daisy like flowers. The herb was also sometimes used in the form of an herbal balm which could be applied in order to ease the itching in the skin due to insect bites. The plant escaped from cultivated areas in many places and the feverfew now grows as a wildflower in large areas throughout much of the northeastern United States. The regular use of the herb as an herbal remedy has revived only in recent decades, but its use in herbal medicine is primarily as a preventive measure against the symptoms and pain of migraine headaches in affected patients. While all the parts of the herb are used in herbal medicine, the preferred parts are dried leaves and stems, which are often picked when the plant is still in full bloom - from July to October.
Several physiological changes in the human body induced by the feverfew herb has measured and observed. For example, the herbal extracts of the upper parts of the plant is known to be capable of reducing the production of the chemicals known as prostaglandin in the body, this chemical is important in inflammation reaction of the human body. The reduction in the production of this chemical in the body was up to 88 percent from normal. This distinct property of the herb and its other well known anti-inflammatory activities may help explain the reason the feverfew has been successfully used in the treatment of disorders such as psoriasis in many patients. However, the use of the herbal remedy, in a clinical trial for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis showed no observable benefits over the actions of a placebo. The ability of the feverfew have also been measured in other laboratory settings, and extracts of the feverfew can keep blood platelets from sticking together and clotting inside the test tube, from such studies, it can be seen that the feverfew herb may prove useful as a mild herbal anticoagulant compound. The herbal extract manages this process via a different chemical pathway, which is not similar to the action of aspirin or other salicylates that also induce this action. The release of the hormone serotonin by the platelets is blocked by the compounds present in the feverfew herb, this property of the herbal extract can be one explanation about mode of action in preventing the occurrence of migraines. The release of histamine from mast cells is also prevented by extracts of the feverfew herb, for this reason, it has been speculated that the herbal remedies made from the feverfew may prove useful in the treatment of all kinds of allergies and allergic reactions in the body of affected patients. While lacking in evidence from modern clinical studies, it is also believed to be able to bring about a lowering in fevers - no current studies substantiate this traditional claim.
The herbal remedies made from the feverfew herb have a stimulant effect on the uterus - the remedy is also capable of inducing relaxation in the uterine tissues. The herbal remedies made from the feverfew can be used to induce flows in patients suffering from delayed or suppressed menstrual periods, at the same time, the herb is also useful in relieving the painful sensations associated with the menstrual periods and it also reduces the physical symptoms associated with PMS, including persistent headaches, irritability and muscular tension. Hot flashes in women have been traditionally treated using the feverfew herb and the remedy has also been used in the treatment of all other symptoms related to the period of menopause in women. The feverfew ensures equalization in the circulation of blood if it is taken during the period of childbirth by women, and the herb makes the pains and the muscular contractions come much more regularly. At the same time the contractions become firmer if the process of labor during the birth is slow in starting. Herbal remedies made from the feverfew herb also help in relieving the tension present in a rigid cervix which can affect some women. The use of the feverfew herb has gained recent fame, as an effective and excellent herbal remedy for the treatment of all kinds of headaches and chronic migraines. The benefits of taking the feverfew herb was studied during clinical trials, where at least 70 per cent of the patients suffering from intractable migraines spoke of improvements when they took doses of the feverfew herb, at the same time 33 per cent of them reported the cessation of further attacks following the treatment. There are many ways to supplement the herb in the diet, and fresh leaves can be eaten every day inserted between slices of bread - it is best not to eat them alone, as they are known to cause mouth ulcers in some individuals. The bitter taste of the feverfew may also put off some people, but the herbal bitterness gives a beneficial push to the functioning of the liver, and results in beneficially enhancing the general appetite as well as the digestive process. The bitterness also allays and stanches the nausea and persistent vomiting affecting some people. The herb helps the body to clear away excess heat and accumulated toxins from the system and helps the body rids these substances. The symptoms related to a sluggish liver can be relieved by the feverfew herb, and herbal remedies made from the feverfew have also been used to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. The herbal feverfew remedy actively relieves the lethargy, persistent irritability and headaches which accompany a sluggishly performing liver in patients. The nervous system is also benefited as the feverfew acts as a tonic, it helps in relaxing the tension and aids in lifting away persistent depression while also promoting sleep at the same time. Nerve pain in the body has also been effectively relieved using the herbal remedies made from the feverfew; these include pains associated with trigeminal nerve neuralgia and disorders such as sciatica in the lower limbs. The feverfew herb can be prepared in the form of a hot herbal infusion, which will increase the rate of perspiration in the body and reduce fevers in patients. The decongestant action of the feverfew herb is another beneficial property of this plant, it helps the body clear away accumulated phlegm, it relieves chronic catarrh and symptoms associated with disorders such as sinusitis in patients. The herbal feverfew remedies have also been used to treat disorders such as asthma, allergic reactions such as the hay fever, in the treatment of spells of dizziness and to treat ear problems such as tinnitus.
Habitat and cultivation
The feverfew grows throughout much of Europe, Australia, and North America though the original wild stock is from the regions around southeastern Europe. Propagation of the feverfew herb is via the use of stored seed or stem cuttings, and the plant prefers lots of sunlight and well-drained soils - such areas are the ideal habitat for cultivation of the herb. The plant flowers in the summer and most of the aerial parts are harvested during this time, while most of the leaves are picked as and when required for use in herbal medicine.
Initial interest in the herbal properties of the feverfew plant began in the modern era, when the wife of a Welsh doctor found relief from her unfortunate fifty year struggle with a persistent migraine after being on a course of the feverfew. As interest revived, a detailed scientific investigation of the feverfew as a potential herbal remedy began, and in the 1980's in the clinical trials held in Britain, the herbal prowess of the feverfew was demonstrated, it was found to be a very effective remedy for the treatment of long term migraine in people. The underlying nature and the exact mechanism of this migraine defeating property of the herb has not been understood till now, this is despite the extensive research already conducted on the herb. At the same time, the compound known as parthenolide seems to inhibit the release of the hormone serotonin within the body of test subjects, the release of this hormone is thought to trigger migraine in patients and thus the possibility exists that this chemical compound is in some way linked to the herbal powers of the feverfew.
At the present time, researchers are involved in investigating the supposed ability of the feverfew's and its reputed effectiveness in treating cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
Dosages of the various herbal remedies made from the herb differs, and it is normal to use leaf extracts of the feverfew with at least 0.2 % parthenolide content on patients being treated using this form of the remedy. When the herbal extracts are taken in the form of capsules or as tablets, doses of at least 250 mg parthenolide content are suggested, for use every day by the patient. The first beneficial effects are normally seen in four to six weeks time, and during this time period the first signs of recovery become noticeable in the patient.
Side effects and cautions
The side effects when taking the recommended standardized feverfew herbal remedy is minimal and there are no major problems associated with the remedy. Some of the more prominent and minor side effects can include problems with the gastrointestinal tract and sudden nervousness or irritability in the patient. Children below two years of age must not be given the feverfew herb, furthermore, the herbal remedy is not recommended for use during a term of pregnancy or by lactating women.
How it works in the body
The well known action of feverfew's against elevated body temperature during fevers is believed to be due to the action of the compounds sesquiterpene lactones in the herb. These chemical compounds can inhibit the release of the arachidonic acid within the body of the patients and thus reduce temperature. The inhibition of other compounds in the body has also been attributed to these chemical compounds - the active chemical compounds in the herb inhibit other substances which may contribute to the anti-blood clotting factors in the body. The ability to promote menstrual flow in the reproductive system of women with menstrual disorders is also another traditional role attributed to the feverfew herb. The prevention and alleviation of headaches, and especially persistent migraines is the main role in which the feverfew herb is used by herbalists these days. The inhibition of the hormone serotonin has also been linked to the feverfew herb in various researches; the suggestion is that the chemical compounds called sesquiterpene lactones, among the other chemical constituents in the herb are responsible for this inhibition of serotonin secretion. As has been mention, serotonin secretion is implicated in the onset of migraine in the body. The role of feverfew herb in the actions of the musculoskeletal system is another area currently being researched; the inhibitory effects of the herb are believed to be able to help in the control of pain in conditions such as arthritis - which normally affect this particular system within the body.
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