Thursday, October 25, 2012

Helpful Herbs: Chamomile

Today's Helpful Herb: Chamomile

There are two common varieties of chamomile: German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile.  German Chamomile, Matriacaria chamomilla, is the most widely used, and is also known as Blue Chamomile.  Chamomile has been used for centuries for a number of applications, from a tea to help ease digestive problems, to a healing poultice for wounds. It's estimated that around the world, we drink over a million cups of chamomile tea a day!  But is chamomile's reputation as a helpful herb backed by science?  What are some of the proven benefits of chamomile?


Skin Benefits
Chamomile has long been used on skin to help heal wounds and soothe irritation.  And indeed, research has found it to be a helpful topical anti-inflammatory. It is thought that it inhibits the release of prostaglandin E(2) (an inflammatory hormone-like substance in the body), as well as certain enzyme activity that helps reduce inflammation in the skin.  One study looked at chamomile's healing effects on patients who had undergone dermabrasion of tattoos.  Chamomile significantly helped the patients' wounds heal more quickly. Another study also found chamomile sped the healing of wounds faster than corticosteroid medicines.  Finally, a double-blind study found that topical application of Roman Chamomile helped heal eczema better than hydrocortisone cream.  


A compound in chamomile called apigenin has been studied for its effects on skin, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers, with promising results. Chamomile extracts containing apigenin were found to have an anti-estrogenic effect on breast cancer cells (thus, not stimulating their growth.) A recent study found that chamomile was toxic to cancer cells, but not healthy cells, and a standardized chamomile extract was found to help shrink prostate tumors in both lab and in animal studies.  

Heart Health
Chamomile is rich in flavonoids, which are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease.  A five-year study of over 800 men aged 65-84 found that flavonoid intake "was significantly inversley associated with mortality from coronary heart disease."  In other words, the more flavonoids in their diet, the healthier they were.  


Digestive Health
Chamomile extracts have been studied and found to reduce stomach acid output and increase the secretion of mucin, a protective mucus lining in the stomach, thus helping to protect from gastric ulcers.  Researchers found this extract lowered stomach acid as effectively as a commercial antacid.  


There are internet rumors that chamomile or chamomile essential oil is "estrogenic" and that women with estrogen dominance or other hormonal imbalances should avoid this herb. However, the opposite is true.  Chamomile has been found in numerous studies to be an
anti-estrogen that helps prevent bone loss.


Blood pressure, General HealthChamomile has been found to help normalize blood pressure and promote general wellness.

"The health promoting benefits of chamomile was assessed in a study which involved fourteen volunteers who each drank five cups of the herbal tea daily for two consecutive weeks. Daily urine samples were taken and tested throughout the study, both before and after drinking chamomile tea. Drinking chamomile was associated with a significant increase in urinary levels of hippurate and glycine, which have been associated with increased antibacterial activity. In another study, chamomile relieved hypertensive symptoms and decreased the systolic blood pressure significantly, increasing urinary output."

Traditionally, chamomile has been used to induce labor and many medical websites advise women to avoid it during pregnancy. Howevever, there are no studies that suggest that chamomile induces labor or causes miscarriages.  The science behind it would suggest otherwise, as chamomile has been found to reduce prostaglandin E2, a natural hormone-like substance that induces labor. So, if chamomile is indeed a labor-inducer, the function whereby is unknown.


This article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.  

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