Wormwood Tea and Parasite Infection: Risks You Need to Know

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2012-03-01 13:14

A recently televised health show promoted the use of drinking wormwood tea as a way to prevent and treat parasite infection from parasitic species such as roundworms, which are believed to contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome. However, what the show failed to warn viewers of is that wormwood tea is not without side effects that can range from mild irritation and inability to sleep to severe organ damage and possible death.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a shrub native to Europe and Africa, but can be found in North America. Historically, its upper shoots, leaves and flowers are used in traditional herbal medicines, but the plant is known more infamously for the role it played in the history of the mind-altering drink absinthe.

Recorded use of wormwood extract dates back to Biblical times and is known to have been used in the treatment of tapeworms and other gastrointestinal parasites during the Middle Ages. In the 19th century, it was discovered that a distillate of wormwood along with alcohol and some herbs would result in an alcoholic beverage known for its tart taste, a tantalizing blue-green color and mind-altering properties that made it widely popular in Europe among artists and writers such as van Gogh and Oscar Wilde.

The mind-altering property of absinthe is attributed to a natural organic oil-like compound called “thujone” that is found in high concentrations in the wormwood plant. Some studies have indicated that thujone acts on the central nervous system and if consumed in large enough quantities can result in muscle tremors and spasms. Fears that absinthe made from the wormwood plant was addicitive and extremely harmful to health by inducing psychosis and suicide, led to its ban in the early 20th century in Europe and the U.S.

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As a herbal remedy, wormwood is claimed to be effective in treating loss of appetite, digestive disorders, liver and gallbladder complaints, irregular menstruation as well as the purging of intestinal worms. As a poultice, it has been used to treat poorly healing wounds, ulcers, skin blotches, and insect bites. However, its uses as an herbal remedy are without scientific backing and it is not recommended by the medical community as a cure or treatment for any medical conditions.

However, for those who are into trying out herbal remedies, a “thujone-free” wormwood extract is legally available as a dietary supplement in capsule or liquid form that can be added to water to make a tincture for use in foods and as a flavoring in some alchoholic drinks. Some sources provide the entire herb that can be brewed as a tea.

The health risk of using wormwood is that it it is not always clear how much thujone exposure a person may be getting. Even “thujone-free” woodworm products contain some level of thujone in them, but just how much is not strictly quantified or regulated. Furthermore, brewing directly from the wormwood plant increases the risk of dangerous levels of thujone exposure. Currently, there are a lot of conflicting opinions regarding just how much thujone exposure is dangerous to the human body.

However, animal studies have shown that high enough levels of thujone from the wormwood plant resulted in convulsons and death in mice. Other studies analyzing essential oils of the wormwood plant have demonstrated side effects such as sleeplessness and anxiety in humans.

In one medical case reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, an individual ordered some essential oil of wormwood from an online source and drank just ten milliters of it believing that it was in the form of a pre-made absinthe beverage. Hours later he went into convulsions and wound up suffering multiple organ damage including liver failure.

Wormwood is contraindicated for individuals who are breastfeeding and/or pregnant, taking anti-convulsant effects of medicines such as phenobarbital, and individuals who may be allergic to ragweed and other similar types of plants.

The take-home message is that depending on the source of a dietary supplement of wormwood and how it is prepared, your wormwood supplement may not be safe for internal use as a tea for preventing or treating roundworm parasites. Before considering taking any supplement, talk to your doctor about the supplement for safe and appropriate guidance.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

References:

1. American Cancer Society

2. “Poison on Line — Acute Renal Failure Caused by Oil of Wormwood Purchased through the Internet” The New England Journal of Medicine 1997; 337:825-827 September, Steven D. Weisbord, M.D., Jeremy B. Soule, M.D., and Paul L. Kimmel, M.D.

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Comments

Wormwood tea is consumed in morocco ,specially in winter , daily. I consumed it during winters for many years.In morocco , it is known as sheba.
Hi Brian, do you know if can you take the leafs fresh or do you have to dry them and make it in to tea?
Yes I am Moroccan it is my favourite and we also drink mint tea since born I am still taking wormwood unti now here in US and nothing happened to me instead i feel energy and creative whenever I drink it still . I think our bodies not same each person has his her metabolic system function differently and may be sensitive to one thing and not the other . Also if a person is already sick wormwood could trigger those sickness to go away ..so i do not recommend everybody do like me I am used to it since born :) take cautions see doctor before take it is my advice to those never tried it before.
I think it would be better to state how much wormwood is toxic because it does help when getting rid of parasites. This article is incomplete as it only incites fear in using the herb. How much thujone causes convulsions, death? Can you use it to kill parasites without harming yourself? This would be interesting to know.
I completely agree. I asked myself the same thing when reading. What is the maximum amount to take in capsules, tea or other forms?
Research thujone. It effects your GABA receptor negatively. Things like alcohol and Xanax also effect the GABA receptor. It's the binding to the GABA receptor that causes people to stumble or be incoherent. Thujone effects it negatively in that it binds to the GABA receptor in a way that can - with persistent high use - can cause muscle spasms and seizure. That's why it's so dangerous.
Hi all: Kathleen here from EmaxHealth. Supplements are not controlled, so you never know how much you're getting. But it's classified as unsafe by the FDA. You can do an internet search of "traditional" dosing for certain conditions. We also report news and don't recommend any sort of medical treatments. You really would want to ask your doctor or see a holistic or naturopathic physician for such recommendations. I hope that helps some.
I have been taking Thorne Artecin (Chinese wormwood) daily for the last three and half years, sometimes at doses of 5000 mg a day, and have never observed any of the effects listed above. I have noticed only health improvements. And I am one prone to terrible side effects from some prescription drugs and herbs, but have not seen that with Thorne Artecin.