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Wormwood Tea and Parasite Infection: Risks You Need to Know

2012-03-01 13:14
Wormwood Tea

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.

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.

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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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