Herbalism hasn’t always fascinated me like it does now. When I was younger, I wanted to be a medical doctor of the Western variety. It wasn’t until I taught Human Anatomy lab at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln that I realized wasn’t cut out for the politics of modern medicine in the United States. Some of the stupidest students got into medical school, while the most knowledgeable, driven, and talented ones kept trying and trying to get in, with no success.
While in college, I had a minor crisis about uninspired students getting into med school. And thank God. Western medicine didn’t suit me. I changed directions in life. I believe that health is so much more holistic than what medical school teaches students today. Since that time, I’ve explored everything from acupuncture and massage therapy to herbs and hypnotherapy. There is no cure-all out there, but it’s unfortunate that more people don’t realize how valuable alternative medicine is when it is applied with thought and careful consideration.
When our family travels to tropical countries, we take along a medicine bag full of various antibiotics and Western remedies for things like malaria, diarrhea, and other ailments, but I also bring along herbs. Often, herbs are less harsh and more effective than Western remedies at either preventing or curing different health issues in the U.S. and abroad. It can be hard to procure necessary meds for everything that can go wrong abroad. Sometimes pharmaceuticals in foreign countries are “suspect” (not what they say they are). Herbs, in contrast generally have a broader spectrum of action as well as fewer undesirable side effects associated with them.
Neem is one excellent example of a broad spectrum herb that’s incredibly valuable in tropical countries. I discovered this herb when our family was looking at going on a trip to Costa Rica. I didn’t really want my 12 year old daughter taking harsh drugs the whole time we were going to be there (3 months). Neem had several benefits that I was able to find online. One was that it could help prevent malaria. The other was that it could also help prevent Dengue Fever, a disease for which there are no preventive medications and few treatment options other than just keeping the patient hydrated until the disease has run its course. But Dengue can kill. If you get infected, your vacation will be definitively ruined.
Dengue is characterized by a high fever of between 104 and 105 degrees. Anyone with a fever this high should see a doctor, especially if they’re in a tropical country or returning home from a visit to a tropical country. Between 2 and 5 days after the onset of fever, infected individuals develop a rash. EMT’s are trained that fever + rash = a trip to the hospital. Dengue infected folks develop TWO rashes. A second rash develops after the first. Achiness, nausea, and swollen lymph nodes finish out the package.
In summary…I don’t want Dengue Fever. Or Malaria. I don’t want my family members to end up getting ill with these diseases. But I also don’t want to feel mildly ill for months at a time while we make our way through India, Costa Rica, or wherever taking pharmaceuticals that cause nausea or other side effects. Prophylactic malaria treatments unfortunately tend to make people feel ill (which leads to non-compliance—people naturally stop taking them in favor of feeling good). Even Doxycycline can cause a daily tummy upset for about 30 minutes after taking the drug and Doxycycline is a relatively mild drug (it doesn’t work to prevent malaria in a lot of countries, by the way). Further, Doxycycline can’t prevent Dengue Fever.
But Neem can.
In fact, Neem is an amazing plant. Spread the oil over your body and it acts as an insect repellent. We put some of the oil in our soap and shampoo while we were in Costa Rica. It isn’t toxic like other insect repellents such as DEET. You don’t want to ingest the Neem oil, but you can ingest other parts of the plant (I don’t know enough about how the plants are harvested to provide solid info about this aspect of using Neem). Neem capsules are available for use by mouth and, according to some sources, if taken in a high enough dose, it can prevent Dengue as well as Malaria. The use of Neem and papaya leaf extracts have been used to cure Dengue once a person becomes infected, as well. This fact has been suppressed in medical communities, probably because the pharmaceutical companies haven’t figured out how to exploit the molecules responsible for causing the positive effects. Once they figure that out, they’ll create a synthetic version that can be sold to people at exorbitant prices.
But that’s not all that Neem can do, apparently.
Neem is being researched for effectiveness against West Nile, which is more important as this disease becomes more prevalent in the United States. Some doctors have even realized that Neem has some value in lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar and diabetes.
Some sources recommend taking three to four 50 mg capsules of Neem per day to prevent Dengue or malaria. Neem tea is also an option if you have access to the leaves. One to two liters of the tea is recommended per day using 5-10 leaves per liter to make it. The tea is cheaper, but perhaps less convenient if you’re traveling. Nonetheless, it’s worth a try if you’re traveling to areas where Dengue, West Nile, or malaria are prevalent. There are hardly any side effects from the herb and research has demonstrated that it is highly effective when taken in the right dosage. Do not, however, under any circumstances take Neem if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant. Neem has been researched for its effectiveness as a “morning after pill”. It can cause miscarriage.
Neem may be used in conjunction with Carica papaya extract to help patients recover once they’ve contracted Dengue. An herbal concoction of juice from the papaya leaf along with common Neem and hill Neem have been used on patients in some tropical countries. This concoction lessened symptoms and sped up the recovery for people infected with Dengue. In vitro studies have shown that the Neem + Papaya leaf concoction prevents entry of the virus into healthy human cells or prevents replication of the virus once it enters the cells.
Special thanks to Gil and Cristie Romero for dosage information about preventive Neem treatments! And thank you to Nicasio Martinez for information about the concoction of papaya leaf extract and Neem for the treatment of Dengue!
For more information: