What is nux vomica? Well, there is a Nux Vomica band, but I’m talking about nux vomica as in the homeopathic medicine that — despite known dangers — is used for a range of common problems like motion sickness, headaches and menopause symptoms to more serious concerns like lung, eye and circulatory diseases. (1)
Nux vomica is even used for male erectile dysfunction, but many experts believe that nux vomica isn’t worth the risk, especially when you can choose a different natural remedy instead. (2) It’s well-known that nux vomica is extremely dangerous and even deadly in large doses, but in very small doses can it be helpful?
What Is Nux Vomica?
Nux vomica is a homeopathic remedy that comes from the seeds of the nux vomica tree, also known as strychnos nux vomica, S. nux-vomica, Strychnine tree, poison nut or vomiting nut. It’s an evergreen tree belonging to the Loganiaceae family and it’s native to Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. (3)
What is a homeopathic remedy? Homeopathy or homeopathic medicine treats a disease by using minute doses of a remedy that in larger amounts would cause a healthy person to have symptoms similar to those of the disease. Homeopathic medicine uses a variety of natural substances in its remedies including plant, mineral and animal-based ingredients. The FDA recognizes homeopathy and defines it as: “The practice of treating the syndromes and conditions which constitute disease with remedies that have produced similar syndromes and conditions in healthy subjects.” (4)
According to a scientific review published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, nux vomica is high in antioxidants and its two main active alkaloids, strychnine and brucine, are found in the seeds. These “pharmacologically active phytoconstituents” of the Strychnos nux-vomica tree have been shown to help certain health concerns in small dosages. “Small dosages” are the key words here because in high doses these active plant compounds can be straight-up poisonous. (5)
The dried seeds of S. nux-vomica, commonly called kuchla, also contain the alkaloids vomicine and igasurine, as well as some other minor alkaloids. These alkaloids have been shown to possibly have some impressive health benefits. For example, animal research has shown that S. nux-vomica seed extracts are effective in controlling diabetes in animal subjects. (6)
Any good nux vomica materia medica will tell you that nux vomica can be dangerous in high doses, especially to the central nervous system. At the same time, in low doses, people use it today for a wide range of health concerns. Let’s take a look at some of the proposed health benefits of this intriguing homeopathic remedy.
6 Possible (but Controversial) Health Benefits of Nux Vomica
Below are some suggested nux vomica uses. I’m also going to talk about what uses scientific research has or has not backed up.
1. Motion Sickness
According to the National Center for Homeopathy, nux vomica may be the right choice for motion sickness if “you have severe nausea with difficulty vomiting, and an intense headache at the back of your head or over one eye. You are chilly and feel worse from the smell of food, tobacco, and coffee.” (7)
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, scientific studies are lacking when it comes to nux vomica’s ability to improve motion sickness, but if you seek the advice of a homeopath, then nux vomica may likely be a recommended homeopathic remedy depending upon your exact symptoms. (8)
If you were searching the internet for “nux vomica constipation” and ended up here, it’s because nux vomica is often recommended by homeopaths for constipation. According to the National Center for Homeopathy, nux vomica is used “to help break a ‘laxative habit’ where the person is unable to move their bowels without taking a laxative,” and typically one dose is used before bedtime for several days. (9)
Again, research is lacking to back up the use of this homeopathic remedy for constipation. However, when it comes to the common problem of constipation, there are, thankfully, a lot of other natural constipation remedies to consider.
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is no fun and if you’ve experienced it before, you know how quickly you want it gone. In certain situations, nux vomica is used for flu symptoms. According to the National Center for Homeopathy, “Nux vomica is for gastric flus with vomiting and diarrhea.” (10)
To date, studies have shown that the nux vomica plant’s stem bark has a high level of flavonoids and hence antiviral effects, which lends itself to be a potential therapeutic compound to fight viral diseases like the flu. (11) However, the nux vomica homeopathic remedy comes from the seeds, not the stem bark.
4. Urinary Tract Infection
Nux vomica is used for some urinary tract infections (also known as UTIs) when the following UTI symptoms occur:
Irritable bladder with a constant need to urinate, passing only small amounts, suggests a need for this remedy. Burning or cramping pain may be felt in the bladder area, with an itching sensation in the urethra while the urine passes. The person may feel very irritable, impatient, and chilly. Symptoms may be relieved by hot baths or other forms of warmth. (12)
Research is again limited here. One pilot study demonstrated helpful effects of homeopathic remedies like nux vomica in addition to conventional treatment methods on recurrent UTIs in patients with spinal cord injuries. However, the study was very small and had no control group. (13)
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder with estimates that it affects about 10 percent of adults. According to the Maryland University Medical Center, nux vomica also makes the list of homeopathic remedies that are sometimes used for insomnia, specifically:
… for insomnia caused by anxiety, anger, irritability, or use of caffeine, alcohol, or drugs. This remedy is most appropriate for individuals who wake up early in the morning, or for children who often have dreams of school or fights and may be awakened by slight disturbances. Nux vomica may also be used to treat insomnia that occurs as a side effect of medications. (14)
What does the research say here? A four week-long study published in the journal Homeopathy looked at the effects of nux vomica on 54 males and females between the ages of 18 and 31 who had a history of coffee-induced insomnia. The subjects took a 30c dose of either nux vomica or another homeopathic remedy, coffea cruda, at bed time. It was a small study with multiple limitations, but overall the researchers conclude that both homeopathic remedies had “significant, remedy-specific directional effects, especially later in the night.” (15)
So nux vomica may have a positive impact on REM sleep, but further research is needed and will need to look at insomnia in general as well, not just insomnia caused by caffeine consumption.
6. Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is another common problem that keeps people from enjoying their everyday lives and sleeping well. Nux vomica is recommended for lower back pain under the following conditions:
This remedy is indicated for muscle cramps or constricting pains in the back. Discomfort is made worse by cold and relieved by warmth. Pain usually is worse night, and the person may have to sit up in bed to turn over. Backache is also worse during constipation, and the pain is aggravated when the person feels the urge to move the bowels. (16)
So far, sound studies are lacking to confirm using nux vomica for lower back pain.
History and Interesting Facts
Some historians believe that the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. was due to consumption of wine containing strychnine.
The medicinal use of the nux vomica tree nut is said to go all the way back to the mid-16th century. Around this time, Valerius Cordus, a German physician and botanist, is said to be the first European to have written about nux vomica. Back then, Germans used the nut as an antidote for the plague as well as worms, rabies, hysteria, gout and rheumatism. However, people knew the dangers of these “vomiting nuts” was great and needed to be “mixed with other compositions.” (17, 18)
Strychnine has also been used in rat poisons. It’s also been used by veterinarians in smaller doses as a stimulant. Symptoms of strychnine poisoning are typically obvious within 20 minutes of it entering the bloodstream. (19)
Homeopathic Use of Nux Vomica
The appropriate dose of any homeopathic remedy depends upon several things including a person’s age, nature of the illness and current health status.
Nux vomica 6 CH or 6C and nux vomica 30 CH or 30C are some common potencies of this homeopathic remedy. The numbers and letters (“C”, “X” or “M”) next to a homeopathic remedy name signify the amount of dilution and the method of dilution used on the original substance to create the remedy.
Always read package directions carefully for dosage instructions and other important information before taking a homeopathic remedy. A certified homeopathic practitioner is the best person to guide you if you are interested in using homeopathic medicine.
Possible Side Effects and Caution
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists nux vomica as a chemical hazard. According to the CDC website, exposure to strychnine (nux vomica) by inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact targets the central nervous system and may lead to the following symptoms: stiff neck, facial muscles; restlessness, anxiety, increased acuity of perception; increased reflex excitability; cyanosis; and tetanic convulsions with opisthotonos. (20)
Nux vomica is generally considered unsafe by people outside of the homeopathic medicine world. Taking nux vomica for longer than a week or in high amounts (30 milligrams or more) has been known to cause severe unwanted side effects including:
- neck and back stiffness
- jaw and neck muscle spasms
- breathing difficulty
- liver failure
Anyone who is pregnant, breast-feeding or has liver disease should never take nux vomica. (21)
Speak with your doctor before taking nux vomica, especially if you are being treated for a medical condition and are currently taking other medications. Nux vomica may cause dangerous drug interactions, especially with antipsychotics. (22)
If you believe you’re experiencing nux vomica poisoning, seek urgent medical attention.
The FDA does regulate homeopathic remedies, but they do not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness. Use caution. According to the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Medicine:
There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition. Although people sometimes assume that all homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and therefore unlikely to cause harm, some products labeled as homeopathic can contain substantial amounts of active ingredients and therefore could cause side effects and drug interactions. (23)
Nux Vomica Key Points
- Is nux vomica safe? That really all depends on who you ask as well as how much you take.
- Nux vomica can definitely be extremely dangerous, or even deadly, in high doses.
- In small homeopathic dosages, nux vomica is recommended by homeopaths for a wide variety of health conditions including urinary tract infections, lower back pain, insomnia, constipation, influenza, and motion sickness.
- Additional and higher quality studies will hopefully be conducted to better determine whether or not nux vomica is safe to use for various health problems.
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