How to Use Herbal Medicines to Treat Organophosphate Exposure
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
Barberry is a deciduous, flowering and fruit-producing bush native to the eastern Mediterranean regions in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Though commonly produced primarily for its edible berries, barberry has also been used by traditional cultures for medicinal purposes. Some of the various uses of the barberry plant include:
- Appetite stimulation
- Gastrointestinal issues (root)
- Cough (berries)
- Hypertension / High blood pressure (bark/leaf) – NOTE: Part of the way that barberry works to reduce blood pressure is by blocking calcium channels.
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Edema (bark/leaf)
- Varicose veins (bark/leaf)
- Painful menstruation / Dysmenorrhea (berries)
- Liver problems (berries)
- Lowers blood glucose levels and blood lipid levels
- Regulates insulin sensitivity
- High cholesterol / Hypercholesterolemia
- Staphylococcus spp. Infection
- Escherichia coli / E. coli infection
- Pseudomonas spp. infection
- Candida albicans / Yeast infection
- Kidney stones
- Improves bile secretion from the gallbladder
Barberry has both anticholinergic and antihistaminic effects in the body, meaning that it works by blocking acetylcholine and histamine receptors. It also has a unique calcium-channel blocking activity, meaning that it can reduce abnormally high calcium levels and block the entry of calcium into cells in the heart and arteries. Since organophosphate exposure can increase calcium levels in the cells via the overstimulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, this attribute of barberry is especially important. As an anticholinergic and a calcium-blocker, barberry can help relieve the symptoms of cholinergic toxicity in general, and may also help gradually relieve symptoms of cellular, tissue, or organ calcification.
Barberry may be taken in the form of capsules, tinctures, teas, or as the raw or dried berry. The traditional dosage of barberry for adults (children generally shouldn’t take barberry) is 2 grams (2000mg) taken 2-3 times daily in capsulized form. An equivalent amount may be taken of a barberry tincture or extract. Most sources advise the use of barberry for no longer than 1 week before taking a break from using it.
Women who are pregnant should not take barberry since the plant can induce uterine contractions. Berberine, a compound present in barberry, has been shown to pass into breastmilk, and since some research indicated that barberry may interfere with liver function in infants, breastfeeding mothers should avoid barberry in most cases. Individuals taking cyclosporine shouldn’t take barberry; the plant may also interact with drugs like lovastatin, clarithromycin, indinavir, sildenafil, and triazolam.
Roselle / Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Roselle, which is also sometimes simply referred to as “hibiscus”, is a culinary and medicinal flower used to treat a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure, constipation, bacterial infections, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, some types of hepatitis, some cancers, and more. Its ability to lower blood pressure is due primarily to its calcium-channel blocking effects, which also lend themselves to the treatment of organophosphate exposure.
Hibiscus is also a diuretic, meaning that increases the production of urine and stimulates the need to urinate. Through this mechanism, hibiscus also helps the body to excrete excess, unneeded calcium via the urine. Some studies have also indicated that drinking hibiscus tea can also stimulate the excretion of excess phosphorus, and that the tea may be beneficial for the prevention of kidney stones.
Hibiscus may be taken as a tea, as a tincture, or in capsulized form. Teas can be prepared with tea bags or with the dried roselle calyx. To prepare a tea, use 1 handful of dried hibiscus calyx in 2 liters of water, and boil for 15 minutes on medium heat. Add raw honey or stevia to sweeten and drink in the morning or early afternoon. Take between 1000-5000mg of hibiscus capsules daily, or 100mg of standardized extract twice per day.
Hibiscus sabdariffa should not be taken by women who are pregnant since it has been known to stimulate the start of menstruation. People taking drugs to lower blood pressure should be aware that hibiscus lowers blood pressure. Individuals taking blood sugar medications for diabetes should also use caution since hibiscus can lower blood sugar levels (note that this aspect of hibiscus is beneficial, however, for other people treating organophosphate poisoning/exposure since balanced blood sugar levels can prevent the occurrence of hyperkalemia).
Sweet Basil / Holy Basil (Ocimum basilicum / Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Basil is a common culinary spice that also touts medicinal uses. It has traditionally been used as a digestive health remedy, antiparasitic, immune booster, adaptogen, antimicrobial (working against viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens), hypoglycemic, hypotensive, and more. The herb contains the phytonutrient known as eugenol, a compound that has been noted to be a calcium-channel blocker. Other plant medicines that contain especially high levels of eugenol include clove (perhaps one of the best sources of eugenol), cinnamon, Artemisia spp. (including wormwood), nutmeg, and others.
Basil also is rich in magnesium, an essential mineral that, when deficient, can result in elevated calcium levels and increased susceptibility to hypercalcemia (true calcium toxicity) and aluminum toxicity. While you’d have to eat quite a bit of basil to treat magnesium deficiency since the herb only contains about 3.5mg of magnesium per 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh leaves (for the record, eating a crazy amount of basil isn’t necessarily advisable), it’s still interesting to note that basil contains calcium-channel blocking compounds and magnesium. These two aspects of the plant work well together in the treatment of organophosphate exposure since they target two different aspects of hyperphosphatemia.
In addition, basil has the ability to help lower blood sugar levels, which may also be of benefit in the treatment of organophosphate poisoning. One of the symptoms of organophosphate exposure is hyperkalemia, or potassium toxicity, which is likely linked to the overstimulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the nervous system. When nicotinic receptors are overstimulated, this can sometimes lead to the development of hyperglycemia (among other symptoms); hyperglycemia is a contributing factor in the development of hyperkalemia. Through basil’s hypoglycemic action, the plant may also be able to help prevent the development of hyperkalemia as a result of organophosphate exposure.
Include basil in your meals in the form of a spice (the fresh spice is ideal, though a high quality dried spice also works), or take it in the form of capsules, a tincture or extract, or as a tea. Essential oil of different basil plants is also available. Follow the dosing guidelines below to use basil for organophosphate exposure:
- Tea – Prepare basil tea by using 2-3 teaspoons of dried basil leaf added to boiling water. Steep for 5-6 minutes and drink before bedtime (basil is relaxing, so this is a good time to drink it).
- Capsules – Take 300-500mg once or twice daily. Basil may be taken for 30+ days.
- Tincture – Take the equivalent amount as with the capsulized form of basil.
Women who are pregnant should not take basil medicinally, though occasionally including basil in small amounts in the diet is acceptable. Breastfeeding mothers may find basil to be of benefit for increasing breastmilk supply as the plant has traditionally been used as a galactagogue. Individuals who are taking blood thinners should also avoid basil except under the supervision of a qualified professional; because of basil’s blood thinning/anticoagulant effects, it also shouldn’t be taken therapeutically in the 2 weeks before and after major surgery.
White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
White horehound is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family of plants. It has the unique gift of being both anticholinergic as well as calcium-channel blocking, making it a potentially well-suited herb for the treatment of organophosphate exposure. White horehound is also a diuretic and hypoglycemic; its diuretic properties may contribute to its potassium-lowering effects (a positive, since hyperkalemia is an issue in some cases of organophosphate exposure), and its effects on hyperglycemia are also valuable in the prevention of hyperkalemia. The diuretic effects of horehound may also lower high phosphorus and calcium levels, thus helping restore the balance of these two minerals in the body.
Other studied therapeutic uses of white horehound include the treatment of:
- Type 2 diabetes and autoimmune diabetes mellitus
- Chronic bronchitis
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Common cold
- High blood pressure
- Bacterial infection (including activity against E. coli, Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Proteus vulgaris)
- Fungal infection (including Candida albicans, Microsporum spp., Trichophyton spp, Botrytis cinerea, Pythium ultimum, Arthroderma cajetani, and Epidermophyton floccosum)
- Viral infection (including Herpes simplex)
- Parasitic infection (including Toxoplasma gondii, Trichomonas vaginalis, and Plasmodium berghei-berghei)
- Sore throat
- Bloating and/or flatulence (gas)
- Loss of appetite
- Painful menstruation
- Ulcers, wounds, and other skin problems (when applied topically)
- Liver disease
- Gastric ulcers
- Hypertrophy of the aorta
- Interstitial fibrosis
- Cancer (including cervical cancer, melanoma, glioma, glioblastoma, myeloid leukemia, and Ehrlich tumors)
- High norepinephrine levels
White horehound has been shown to be (generally) a nontoxic herb that is tolerated well even in higher doses. Some people may prefer lower doses, however, since this is a powerful plant. The herb may be taken to the dosing guidelines below:
- Herbal infusion – Boil 250mL of hot water, and then pour it over 1 gram (2-3 teaspoons) of dried horehound in a teapot. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes to 1 hour, then strain and drink this quantity of tea 3 times per day for up to 3 weeks.
- Tincture / Liquid extract – Take 1.5-4mL per dose, three times daily.
- Capsules – For capsules containing the powdered herb, take 225-450mg per dose, three times daily.
Wait to take any mineral supplements, supplements containing vitamin B1/thiamine, or pharmaceuticals until at least 30 minutes after taking horehound, and wait 30 minutes after taking these to take any more horehound later. Take the herb for up to 3 weeks, then take a 1 week break to reassess your condition.
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White horehound should not be taken by women who are pregnant since the herb has abortifacient and emmenagogue-type effects (and therefore, women who are trying to conceive should also avoid white horehound since it has been shown to potentially interfere with implantation). The plant is also contraindicated in children less than 12 years of age. Since white horehound has some anticoagulant (blood-thinning) effects, individuals who are already taking blood thinning drugs or who will have/have had major surgery should use extra caution and only take the herb under the supervision of a professional.
Black Cumin Seed / Black Seed (Nigella sativa)
Black cumin seed (Nigella sativa) is an Ayurvedic remedy for all manners of health complaints. In traditional Indian and African medicine systems, this seed is seen as a sort of panacea, and is used in the treatment of hair loss, diarrhea/constipation, gastrointestinal issues of all kinds, inflammation, tension and chronic pain, cancer, liver and gallbladder issues, memory loss, diabetes, weight loss, acne and other skin problems, and more.
In regard to organophosphate poisoning, black cumin seed may be of benefit since the plant has been shown to possess anticholinergic and calcium-channel blocking effects. It also may be able to act as a muscarinic receptor antagonist, thus preventing the effects of overstimulation of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Essential oil of black cumin seed, which contains alpha-pinene, has been shown to be anticholinergic, meaning that it can block the action of or break-down excess acetylcholine in the nervous system.
Black cumin seed’s ability to lower blood pressure has previously been attributed to its status as an herbal calcium-channel blocker. Its antagonism of calcium has also been noted to contribute to the relaxation of muscles, and may be part of the reason why the herb works as an antispasmodic and relaxation of smooth muscles in particular. Many studies have observed that black seed has bronchodilatory effects and that it may be of special use in the relaxation of spasms of smooth muscles in the trachea. The calcium-blocking effects of black cumin seed also may counteract some of the effects of hyperkalemia/potassium toxicity seen in some organophosphate exposure cases.
Black cumin seed is available as whole seeds, oil extracts, capsulized oil extracts, and powders. Any of these options are good choices for the treatment of organophosphate exposure. Follow the dosing guidelines below (always start with a lower dose and work your way up; so me people report that using black seed takes some adjustment, so check in with your own body to see what it needs):
- Whole Black Cumin Seeds / Powder – The whole black cumin seeds can be lightly ground and taken with raw honey, or they may be boiled in water to be made into a tea. One recipe recommends combining 1 teaspoon of raw honey, 1 teaspoon of either crushed black cumin seeds or black cumin seed powder, and 2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar and/or 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk powder in a glass of warm water to be drank at least 30 minutes before breakfast.
- Black Cumin Seed Oil – Take a dose of 1-2.5 grams daily for at least 8-12 weeks. Ideally, take the oil in the morning before eating anything. It’s also possible to rub the oil on your skin, if you prefer.
- Capsulized Black Cumin Seed Oil – Like with the plain black cumin seed oil, take 1-2.5 grams (1000-2500mg) daily of black cumin seed oil in capsule form for at least 8-12 weeks. Take in the morning before eating or taking any other supplements.
Individuals who will be having surgery should stop taking black seed oil at least 2 weeks before the surgery takes place, since black seed oil has blood-thinning qualities (for this reason, people taking anticoagulants/blood thinners should also use caution when taking black seed oil). Small amounts of black cumin seed can be added to food during pregnancy, but high doses have been shown to potentially harm fetal health and/or cause uterine contractions, so keep your intake to a minimum or avoid black seed entirely. The seed is used as a traditional galactagogue in Iran, and is generally considered safe in low to moderate doses in breastfeeding mothers. Children also may safely take black cumin seed in very small doses.
Chocho / Tarwi / Andean Lupin (Lupinus mutabilis)
Lupinus mutabilis, otherwise known by its common names chocho, tarwi, or Andean lupin, is a flowering herb in the Fabaceae (Bean) family of plants. It is native to South America, and is found primarily in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, where the bean of the plant has been used for over 1500 years as an important source of protein and general nutrition. The bean is particularly rich in lysine, omega-6’s and omega-3’s, sparteine (a sodium-blocking antiarrhythmic alkaloid), vitamin E, folic acid/vitamin B9, copper, zinc, magnesium, and other nutrients. They are a staple food in countries like Peru, where the beans are recommended for optimal health at all stages of life, including during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the childhood years. It has been used as a therapeutic treatment for:
- Cardiovascular disease (including heart arrhythmias)
- High blood sugar / diabetes
- And more…
Tarwi is considered an anticholinergic and a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist. The effects of the plant are so strong that cases of anticholinergic toxicity have even been observed in individuals who consumed tarwi seeds that were raw or improperly prepared (since the alkaloids and other potential toxins in the bean are present in significantly higher quantities in these cases). The plant also has hypoglycemic (blood-sugar lowering) effects, making it a good candidate for the prevention of hyperkalemia caused by overstimulation of nicotinic receptors. So, in the treatment of organophosphates, even though tarwi’s main focus is on relieving muscarinic receptor overstimulation, it also can positively influence the recovery of nicotinic receptors.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow has both calcium-channel blocking effects as well as anticholinergic effects that have been noted in reports of individuals taking an especially high dose of yarrow (and then experiencing symptoms of anticholinergic toxicity). It also possesses pain-killing, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anti-hemorrhagic effects, in addition to being a treatment for the following health conditions (among others):
- Liver and gallbladder problems
- Irregular menstruation
- Cardiovascular disease
- Wounds and sores
- Skin inflammation
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Eye problems
- High blood pressure
Yarrow may be taken in the form of a tincture/extract, in capsules, or as a tea made from the dried herb. Make absolutely certain that you understand the instructions for dosing before starting a protocol involving yarrow, since this is a powerful plant. Follow the dosing guidelines below or those recommended by your herbal practitioner or on the yarrow product you receive:
- Tincture/extract – Take 15-20 drops of hydroalcoholic extract twice daily for up to 6 months.
- Capsules – Follow the instructions on the bottle.
- Tea – Steep 1 tablespoon of fresh (or 1 teaspoon of dried) yarrow leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Sweeten with honey or stevia, if you wish, and drink this tea once or twice daily.
Women who are pregnant should not take yarrow since it is associated with miscarriage and low fetal birth weight. Breastfeeding mothers should keep in mind that yarrow may decrease milk supply in some cases. Couples who are trying to conceive should be aware that yarrow has estrogen-related effects in women, and that it has antispermatogenic effects in men; some studies suggest that administration of yarrow extract to men may increase their percentage of abnormal sperm.
Individuals who are allergic to any plants in the Asterceae family of plants should use caution with yarrow as well, and people taking blood thinners, lithium carbonate/pharmaceutical lithium (which is different from supplemental lithium orotate, an essential nutrient), sedatives, or high blood pressure medications should also avoid yarrow unless they have supervision.
Graviola Leaves (Annona muricata)
Graviola, otherwise known as soursop, is a plant with powerful anticancer properties that has also been used in the treatment of diabetes, ulcers, pain-related conditions, inflammation, viral infections, bacterial infections, parasite infections, insomnia, fevers, and more. The leaves of the Annona muricata plant possess calcium-channel blocking effects, as well as mild nicotinic receptor antagonist effects due to the presence of the alkaloid reticuline.
Graviola leaves are available as a tincture/extract or in capsules. Follow the dosing guidelines on the product you buy to use this herb. Women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid the use of this herb in most cases, as should people with Parkinson’s disease since some studies indicate that graviola leaves may make the symptoms of Parkinson’s worse.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) / Silymarin / Silibinin
Milk thistle is a hepatoprotective and detoxifying herb. It also possesses anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and cardioprotective effects, and is an antioxidant. Silybum marianum is a noted antidote to mushroom poisoning by the Amanita phalloides/Death Cap mushroom, as well as an antidote for poisoning by a variety of other substances, including thallium (a heavy metal), tetracycline, halothane, acetaminophen/Tylenol, and others.
In the treatment of organophosphate exposure, milk thistle has unique effects on neurotransmitters and the nervous system. One study observed that silibinin, a compound found in milk thistle, was able to restore the normal function of acetylcholinesterase in rat models of Alzheimer’s disease. Since organophosphates specifically are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, milk thistle may be able to help regulate the presence of this enzyme in the brain and nervous system.
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Milk thistle is safe for use in most people, including women who are pregnant (in small doses) or breastfeeding, and in children (again, in small doses). It is available in the form of a tincture, a capsulized supplement, or as a tea, and may be taken over the long-term as a treatment or as an herb for health maintenance.
Rhubarb (Rheum officinale)
Rhubarb is a plant in the Polygonaceae family of plants; rhubarb stalks are frequently used as a vegetable in cooking and baking. In Chinese traditional medicine, the root plant is used medicinally and known as Da Huang. Rhubarb is rich in vitamin K1 and vitamin C, and also contains notable amounts of magnesium and potassium. Medicinally, rhubarb has been used in the treatment of:
- Constipation (rhubarb root specifically is considered a laxative)
- Cold sores
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Menopausal symptoms
- Menstrual cramps
- Pancreatic swelling / Pancreatitis
- Hypercholesterolemia / High cholesterol levels
- Pancreatic cancer
- Liver disease
Some studies have indicated that administration of raw rhubarb may be beneficial for the treatment of acute organophosphate poisoning. In particular, the plant may be able to reduce the incidence of intermediate syndrome and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome in cases of organophosphate pesticide exposure.
One particular study analyzed the effects of administration of rhubarb, montmorillonite clay powder, and blood purification treatment on a group of patients with severe acute organophosphate exposure. The study concluded that the group receiving the treatment including rhubarb fared significantly better than the control group of patients receiving the standard treatment for organophosphate poisoning. In the test group, patients had significantly higher cholinesterase activity levels on days 5, 6, and 7 of treatment than the control group patients, and the test group patients also required less treatment with atropine and pyraloxime to manage their most severe symptoms.
Raw rhubarb is high in oxalic acid/oxalates, plant compounds known to be associated with the development or aggravation of kidney stones when consumed in high enough quantities. (NOTE: However, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, rhubarb extracts have actually been used to treat kidney stones in some cases) Cooked rhubarb contains somewhat less oxalic acid, though it’s still worth mentioning the presence of this compound in rhubarb since it means that individuals with kidney disease or kidney stones should avoid this medicine in most cases. People who don’t struggle with these kidney related problems can, however, use rhubarb safely in a medicinal context.
Atropa Belladonna is an herb that can be used to treat a variety of health issues, though it must be used with caution because of its effects on acetylcholine. It is an anticholinergic that blocks the acetylcholine receptors to cause a parasympatholytic effect (sleepiness, reduced memory function, anesthetic effects etc.).
Atropine is a synthetic medicine that is derived from the Atropa Belladonna plant. It was first manufactured in 1901. Prior to that time, it was used as an anesthetic and to dilate the pupils to make women visually more attractive to men.
Today, atropine is still used to treat the following:
- Supraventricular dysrhythmias
- Organophosphate exposure
The Atropa Belladonna plant contains atropine. This plant is a member of the nightshade family and it can be found growing wild in certain parts of the world. It produces dark-colored, purplish berries that can cause Anticholinergic Toxidrome Symptoms that include the following:
- Temperature elevation
- Dilated pupils
- Mucosal dryness
- Confusion, delirium, hallucinations
- Skin redness due to vasodilation
- Urinary retention
So this is a plant medicine that must be handled with great care even as an herbal treatment for organophosphate toxicity.
Other Herbs for Organophosphate Exposure
- Celery Seed (Apium graveolens) – Celery seed acts as a calcium antagonist/calcium-channel blocker and has been shown to help inhibit the influx of calcium into smooth muscle cells. Luteolin, a healing compound present in celery seed, has been thought to be responsible for this action.
- Saffron (Crocus sativus) – Saffron is an herbal calcium-channel blocker and a muscarinic receptor inhibitor.
- French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) – French lavender is a specific variety of lavender. It has anticholinergic and calcium-blocking effects in the body. Linalool is a specific compound in french lavender and most other lavender species that may be specifically responsible for the plant’s anticholinergic effects.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) – Ginger is a common medicinal and culinary herb with calcium-blocking effects. One study observed that these calcium-blocking effects are primarily due to ginger’s ability to manage acetylcholine toxicity.
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