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Bloodroot: Natural Blood Purifier or Dangerous Toxin?

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Bloodroot - Dr. Axe

For centuries, the bloodroot plant has been thought of as a natural blood purifier, as well as a remedy for fevers and slow-healing wounds. Bloodroot got its name because the bloodroot plant’s stems and roots contain a red-orange juice when cut into. In fact, the species name for the plant, sanguinaria canadensis, comes from the Latin word sanguinarius, which means “bleeding.”

The plant’s nutrient-rich juices, as well at its stems and roots, were used by Native Americans as a natural dye for baskets, clothing and war paint. They were also used as insect repellents and sleep aids.

Different parts of the the bloodroot plant are considered rich sources of compounds that also serve as natural remedies for health issues, including high blood pressure, colds, sinus infections and various skin conditions.

While sanguinaria canadensis does potentially offer some benefits, it’s also toxic and dangerous when consumed in high amounts. Read on to find out the pros and cons of supplementing with this herb, plus tips for using different preparations of bloodroot.

What Is Bloodroot?

Bloodroots (sanguinaria canadensis) are perennial plants in the Papaveraceae (poppy) family that originated in North America. They have  long been used to make herbal medicines, including skin salves and tinctures.

Research suggests bloodroot is effective because the roots and stalks of the plant contain compounds like antioxidants and alkaloids, such as sanguinarine and chelerythrine.

This herb can be taken internally and also applied to the skin, depending on which symptoms it’s being used to treat. It’s been found to have antibacterial properties, which give it the ability to fight various infections — plus it can potentially help dull pain.

Other than being called bloodroot, this plant goes by several other names, including:

  • redroot
  • bloodwort
  • parson
  • puccoon
  • black paste
  • tetterwort

Keep in mind, however, that it’s different from burdock root, which is a research-backed plant that has been used for thousands of years in Asia and Europe due to containing antioxidants such as phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin.

Benefits/Uses

What is bloodroot good for? Bloodroot’s uses include helping treat some of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure and arteriosclerosis
  • Gum diseases, cavities and toothaches
  • Colds, the flu and sinus infections
  • Skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, moles and warts
  • Potentially certain types of cancer, such as skin, prostate and breast cancer (although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and most researchers do not stand behind its effectiveness or safety for this use)

Here’s more about its potential benefits:

1. May Help Reduce Blood Pressure

Bloodroot is known to have blood-pressure lowering effects. Although the evidence from controlled studies is lacking, it’s thought that bloodroot may help prevent plaque from building up in the arteries, which can contribute to problems like arteriosclerosis and heart disease.

There’s some also evidence suggesting that bloodroot may strengthen the heart muscle’s contractions and improve circulation.

2. Can Help Treat Skin Conditions

Due to its antioxidant and antibacterial effects, this herb may be able to help decrease a range of skin problems, including acne breakouts, warts, eczema, skin infections and more. There’s also some evidence suggesting sanguinarine can help treat certain types of skin cancer, although this is controversial.

However, on the other hand it also has corrosive properties and must be used carefully, since it can potentially damage the skin and even lead to serious scarring.

3. Can Support Dental Health

Because it has natural antibacterial properties and may help dull pain, bloodroot is added to some homeopathic dental remedies to help treat cavities and infections.

On the downside, the use of this herb for dental care purposes is risky, because there have been some reports of development of oral cancer and lesions inside the mouth associated with its application. Dental products containing bloodroot were even banned in the U.S. in 2016 due to concerns about their potential ability to cause oral cancer.

4. Might Improve Breathing/Respiratory Function

A traditional use of sanguinaria canadensis has been treating respiratory, sinus and lung infections due to how it may help flush out mucus and phlegm from the airways.

How to Use (Dosage)

In health food stores and online you can find various types of bloodroots, including powders, capsules, ointments/creams and extracts.

At this time there is no standard dosage recommendation, since most experts and authorities, including the FDA, warn against its use for the most part, especially when applied to the skin as black salve.

Because products vary in terms of their strength, always read the dosage recommendations on the product label carefully.

Risks and Side Effects

Although it’s possible to safely use this plant as a form of natural medicine when it’s processed correctly and taken in small amounts, if you take too much it can be toxic and cause side effects.

What part of bloodroot is poisonous?

The bloodroot plant, especially its juices, contains a poisonous alkaloid compound called sanguinarine. It’s unsafe to consume sanguinarine in large amounts because this can cause symptoms such as skin damage, dizziness, breathing problems, slowed heart rate, vomiting, fainting and more.

What happens when you touch bloodroot?

While it’s sometimes used to improve skin health, it can also potentially harm skin by damaging skin cells and tissues when overused. Excessive topical use has been reported to cause tissue death and injuries.

Bloodroot is also used to make the controversial product called black salve, which is an undiluted bloodroot ointment that’s often used to help fight cancer. However, black salve is mostly considered dangerous because it can leave behind serious burns, open wounds and scars.

There have been cases reported in which it’s caused permanent disfigurement, tissue necrosis (death of cells in living tissue) and serious infections.

Can bloodroot kill you? In rare cases, very high intake has led to serious side effects and complications, such as cardiac arrest, respiratory distress, severe blood pressure changes and serious wounds due to corrosion.

Because of potential side effects and interactions, it shouldn’t be used by anyone with a heart rhythm disorder, hypotension/low blood pressure, or who’s pregnant or nursing. Keep in mind that although some people recommend bloodroot and black salve as natural cancer treatments, the FDA has listed these ingredients under the list of “187 Fake Cancer ‘Cures’ Consumers Should Avoid.”

Conclusion

  • Bloodroots (sanguinaria canadensis) are plants native to North America that are used to make herbal remedies, mostly for high blood pressure, skin conditions, dental problems and respiratory issues.
  • These plants have been utilized in traditional systems of medicine for hundreds of years due to containing several alkaloids that have antioxidants and antibacterial effects.
  • While bloodroot supplements and topical ointments may be beneficial in some cases, they are also risky due to potentially being toxic and causing damage to the skin and mouth. Use this herb with caution, and never consume or apply more than is recommended.
Josh Axe

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