Asafetida

Scientific Name(s): Ferula assa-foetida L. (synonym Ferula foetida [Bunge] Regal). Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

Common Name(s): Asa Foetida , asafetida , asafoetida , devil's dung , gum asafoetida , hing , stinkasant

Uses of Asafetida

The gum resin asafetida is used as a flavoring, food preservative, and fragrance. It is used as a folk remedy for a wide variety of purposes, including carminative, antispasmodic, expectorant, sedative diuretic, anthelminthic, aphrodisiac, and emmenagogue. Antiviral activity has been demonstrated in vitro against the influenza A virus (H1N1). There is no clinical evidence to support therapeutic claims.

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Asafetida Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support dosage recommendations. Traditionally, a daily dosage of asafetida resin 200 to 500 mg is used for medicinal purposes.

Contraindications

May cause methemoglobinemia in children.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Ethanolic extracts of F. assa-foetida have prevented successful implantation in rats. Asafetida has been used traditionally as an emmenagogue and abortifacient. Avoid use.

Asafetida Interactions

None well documented.

Asafetida Adverse Reactions

None well documented.

Toxicology

Potentially life-threatening to infants; however, ingestion has not been associated with severe toxicity in adults.

Botany

Indigenous to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan, asafetida is the gum resin obtained from the roots and rhizomes of F. asa-foetida . In Afghanistan, the plant grows wild at elevations of 0.61 to 1.22 km on plains that are arid in winter and where few other plants survive. The plant reaches a height of up to 2 m and bears clusters of pale, greenish-yellow flowers and an oval fruit. All parts of the plant have a distinctive fetid odor. Extraction of the gum begins just before flowering. After the stalks are cut close to the ground and the roots are exposed and slashed, a milky liquid oozes out. The liquid then dries to form a resin and a fresh cut is made. The process is continued for about 3 months from the first incision; a single plant may yield up to 1 kg of resin before it dries out. The fresh gum is a soft, semiliquid mass that undergoes a gradual color change from shimmering yellowish-white to reddish-brown. 1 , 2 , 3

History

The common name “asafetida” is derived from the Farsi word aza (resin) and the Latin foetidus (smelling, fetid). Many unusual medical claims have been made for the resin, most stemming from the belief that its fetid odor acts as a deterrent to germs. The shock of the sulfurous smell was once thought to calm hysteria and, in the days of the American Wild West, asafetida was included in a mixture with other strong spices as a cure for alcoholism.

Asafetida has been used for abdominal tumors and as a carminative, intestinal spasmodic, abortifacient, aphrodisiac, diuretic, sedative, and stimulant. Use in respiratory conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough, has also been documented, and in 1918 asafetida was used in the Spanish influenza pandemic. Today, asafetida is commonly used as a fragrance component in perfumes and in minute quantities in Asian vegetarian cooking. The antiflatulent qualities are utilized in dishes containing large quantities of pulses such as beans or lentils. It is sold as a spice and food preservative and, at very low levels, has been used in candies, beverages, relishes, and sauces. 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8

Chemistry

Asafetida is composed of approximately 4% to 20% volatile oil, 40% to 60% resin, and 25% gum. The most striking features of the gum are its putrid odor and bitter, acrid taste caused by organic, sulfur-containing compounds found in the essential oil. Isolated sulfur compounds include disulfides (eg, asadisulfide, symmetric tri- and tetrasulfides). Several sesquiterpene coumarins have been identified, including assafoetidnol A and B, hydroxyumbelliumprenin, asafoetidin, and saradaferin. Characteristically, the plant also contains glucuronic acid, galactose, arabinose, and rhamnose. Pinene, cadinene, and vanillin are found in the oil and umbelliferone, and asaresinotannol, foetidin, kamolonol, and ferulic acid are found in the resin. In addition, asafetida contains a number of terpenes and lipid-soluble substances that have not been well characterized. Caffeic acid cinnamyl ester with inhibitory actions on nitric oxide production and sesquiterpene dienones with cytotoxic activity have been identified. 5 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13

Asafetida Uses and Pharmacology

Cancer

Asafetida is a potent antioxidant, 14 and ferulic acid, a component of the resin, has shown promise as a chemopreventive agent, 15 suggesting that asafetida may offer some protection against carcinogenesis. In vitro studies have shown some cytotoxicity against lymphoma ascites, tumor cells, and human lymphocytes. 16 Protection against the mutagenicity induced by aflatoxin B 1 has also been demonstrated; 17 however, this effect was only evident against one strain of Salmonella typhimurium and was less than that observed with tumeric and garlic. The mechanism through which asafetida exerts its antitumor activity is unclear. Hypotheses include interception of free radicals, inhibition of natural killer cells, induction of enzymes such as glutathione S-transferase and quinone reductase, and inhibition of polyamine and DNA biosynthesis. 11 , 14

Animal data

Administration of F. asafoetida conferred considerable protection against chemically induced mammary carcinogenesis in young female rats. 15 The reduction in the mean number of mammary carcinomas per rat (regarded as the most reliable index of mammary tumorogenesis in experimental animals) was highly significant in rats receiving asafetida as part of their diets (1.25% or 2.5% w/w). Long-term studies showed reduction in the multiplicity and size of palpable mammary tumors, as well as a delay in mean latency period of tumor appearance. The administration of asafetida in the diet did not affect food intake.

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of asafetida in cancer.

Other uses

Antispasmodic and hypotensive activity of the gum extract has been demonstrated in animal experiments. 18

Antiviral activity by sesquiterpene compounds of F. assa-foetida has been demonstrated in vitro against the influenza A virus (H1N1). 8

Molluscicidal activity of plant extracts has been demonstrated against snails, which act as intermediate hosts for the fasciola cattle fluke. 19 , 20

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence to support dosage recommendations.

Traditionally, a daily dosage of asafetida resin 200 to 500 mg is used for medicinal purposes. In dietary use, 5 mL of the ground spice is added to 8 oz of hot water to prepare asafetida water, with approximately 50 to 200 mg consumed twice a week. 5

Pregnancy/Lactation

Ethanolic extracts of F. assa-foetida were used in an experiment to determine the (non-estrogen-related) effect on pregnant rats. Pregnancy interceptive activities were established for the extract, possibly caused by interference in the energy metabolism of the uterus. 21

Asafetida has been used traditionally as an emmenagogue and abortifacient. Avoid use. 22

Interactions

Several coumarin derivatives have been isolated from asafetida resin, 9 suggesting the possibility of a potentiation of the pharmacologic activity of anticoagulant drugs (eg, warfarin). 23 Published reports of such interactions are lacking and the clinical importance is unknown.

Adverse Reactions

None well documented.

Toxicology

Ingestion has not been associated with severe toxicity in adults. However, 1 case report described the development of severe methemoglobinemia in a 5-week-old child following ingestion of an undetermined quantity of glycerated asafetida solution (a mixture of asafetida, glycerol, propylene glycol, and calcium carbonate). 24 In vitro testing found that asafetida gum exerts a strong oxidative effect on purified fetal hemoglobin, leading to the recommendation that this folk remedy be considered potentially life-threatening to infants.

Bibliography

1. Ferula assa-foetida L. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database ( http://plants.usda.gov , 9 April 2010). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Kurzyna-Mtynik R, Oskolski AA, Downie Sr, et al. Phylogenetic position of the genus Ferula ( Apiaceae ) and its placement in tribe Scandiceae as inferred from nrDNA ITS sequence variation. Plant Syst Evol . 2008;274(1):47-66.
3. Carrubba RW. The first report of the harvesting of Asafetida in Iran. Agric Hist . 1979;53(2):451-461.
4. Kandeler R, Ullrich WR. Symbolism of plants: examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art. J Exp Bot . 2009;60(3):715-717.
5. Eigner D, Scholz D. Ferula asa-foetida and Curcuma longa in traditional medical treatment and diet in Nepal. J Ethnopharmacol . 1999;67(1):1-6.
6. Tyler VE, Brady LR, Robbers JE. Pharmacognosy . 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger; 1988.
7. Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1985.
8. Lee CL, Chiang LC, Cheng LH, et al. Influenza A (H(1)N(1)) antiviral and cytotoxic agents from Ferula assa-foetida . J Nat Prod . 2009;72(9):1568-1572.
9. Abd El-Razek, Ohta S, Ahmed AA, Hirata T. Sesquiterpene coumarins from the roots of Ferula assa-foetida . Phytochemistry . 2001;58(8):1289-1295.
10. Abd El-Razek MH. A new ester isolated from Ferula asa-foetida L. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem . 2007;71(9):2300-2303.
11. Appendino G, Maxia L, Bascope M, et al. A meroterpenoid NF-kappaB inhibitor and drimane sesquiterpenoids from Asafetida. J Nat Prod . 2006;69(7):1101-1104.
12. Duan H, Takaishi Y, Tori M, et al. Polysulfide derivatives from Ferula foetida . J Nat Prod . 2002;65(11):1667-1669.
13. Bandyopadhyay D, Basak B, Chatterjee A, et al. Saradaferin, a new sesquiterpenoid coumarin from Ferula assafoetida . Nat Prod Res . 2006;20(10):961-965.
14. Saleem M, Alam A, Sultana S. Asafoetida inhibits early events of carcinogenesis: a chemopreventive study. Life Sci . 2001;68(16):1913-1921.
15. Mallikarjuna GU, Dhanalakshmi S, Raisuddin S, Rao AR. Chemomodulatory influence of Ferula asafoetida on mammary epithelial differentiation, hepatic drug metabolising enzymes, antioxidant profiles and N-methyl-N-nitrosourea-induced mammary carcinogenesis in rats. Breast Cancer Res Treat . 2003;81(1):1-10.
16. Unnikrishnan MC, Kuttan R. Cytotoxicity of extracts of spices to cultured cells. Nutr Cancer . 1988;11(4):251-257.
17. Soni KB, Lahiri M, Chackradeo P, Bhide SV, Kuttan R. Protective effect of food additives on aflatoxin-induced mutagenicity and hepatocarcinogenicity. Cancer Lett . 1997;115(2):129-133.
18. Fatehi M, Farifteh F, Fatehi-Hassanabad Z. Antispasmodic and hypotensive effects of Ferula asafoetida gum extract. J Ethnopharmacol . 2004;91(2-3):321-324.
19. Kumar P, Singh VK, Singh DK. Kinetics of enzyme inhibition by active molluscicidal agents ferulic acid, umbelliferone, eugenol and limonene in the nervous tissue of snail Lymnaea acuminata . Phytother Res . 2009;23(2):172-177.
20. Kumar P, Singh DK. Molluscicidal activity of Ferula asafoetida , Syzygium aromaticum and Carum carvi and their active components against the snail Lymnaea acuminata . Chemosphere . 2006;63(9):1568-1574.
21. Keshri G, Bajpai M, Lakshmi V, Setty BS, Gupta G. Role of energy metabolism in the pregnancy interceptive action of Ferula assafoetida and Melia azedarach extracts in rat. Contraception . 2004;70(5):429-432.
22. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109(3):227-235.
23. Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL. Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm . 2000;57(13):1221-1230.
24. Kelly KJ, Neu J, Camitta BM, Honig GR. Methemoglobinemia in an infant treated with the folk remedy glycerited asafoetida. Pediatrics . 1984;73(5):717-719.

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