Life Root

Scientific Name(s): Senecio aureus L. Family: Asteraceae (daisies)

Common Name(s): Life root , golden groundsel , golden senecio , ragwort , false valerian , coughweed , cocashweed , female regulator , grundy-swallow 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5

Uses

Life root has been used as a traditional medicine to hasten labor and relieve labor pains. It has also been used to treat a wide range of illnesses, from colds to hemorrhage. Use is not recommended; the plant is toxic and possibly carcinogenic.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of life root. The potential for toxicity due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids should lead to extreme caution in its use.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids and emmenagogue and teratogenic effects. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product.

Toxicology

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been associated with the development of hepatotoxicity, liver cancer, and hypertensive pulmonary vascular disease.

Botany

Life root is a perennial herb with a slender, erect stem that bears bright yellow flower heads. It grows to a height of about approximately 1.2 m in swampy thickets and moist ground in the eastern and central United States. The lower leaves are heart-shaped. The entire dried plant, not only the roots, is used medicinally. 2 , 3 , 5 Do not confuse life root with a variety of other plants that have been ascribed broad healing powers, including the mandrake root and ginseng root.

History

Life root has played an important role in traditional Native American herbal medicine and was used by the Catawba women as a tea to relieve the pain of childbirth as well as to hasten labor. 6 The plant has been used to treat a variety of illnesses, including hemorrhage and colds. 1 Despite concern about its safety, this plant continues to be found in some herbal preparations designed to control irregular menses and other gynecologic disturbances. 7

Chemistry

The plant contains a number of pyrrolizidine alkaloids including senecionine (approximately 0.006% in the root), senecifoline, senecine, otosenine, floridanine, florosenine, and other related compounds. An astringent tannin has been reported to be present. 1 , 2 , 7 Chemical composition of other various Senecio species has been reported. 8 , 9

Uses and Pharmacology

Traditional Uses

Traditional use of the plant includes treatment for amenorrhea, menopause, and leucorrhea. 7 Life root has also been used for its uterine tonic, diuretic, and mild expectorant properties. 7 Although it is widely recognized that this plant can influence the activity of female reproductive organs (hence the name “female regulator”), there is little pharmacologic evidence that this plant has a uterotonic effect or that it can influence hormone levels in women. 2 , 4 , 7

Antimicrobial analyses of related species S. graveolens have been performed on the essential oil. 9

Pregnancy/Lactation

Life root is contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation, partially because of its abortifacient and uterine tonic effects. Animal studies confirm transferring of pyrrolizidine alkaloids into the placenta and breast milk. 7

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of life root. The potential for toxicity due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids should lead to extreme caution in its use.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids and emmenagogue and teratogenic effects. Avoid use. 10 , 11 , 12

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product.

Toxicology

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been associated with the development of hypertensive pulmonary vascular disease. However, of greatest concern appears to be the association of this class of alkaloids with the development of hepatotoxicity and liver cancer. 13 In general, pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been shown to produce toxic necrosis of the liver, particularly in grazing animals that have ingested large amounts of plants containing these compounds. There is strong evidence that such alkaloids are involved in human liver diseases, including primary liver cancer (see monograph on Comfrey). 2 , 14 The action of pyrrolizidine alkaloids can lead to veno-occlusive disease and liver congestion leading to acute and chronic liver disease. The Senecio species are generally most toxic when young, and there is some indication that the combination of alkaloids in S. aureus may be at the lower end of the toxicity scale for this genus. 13 However, because of the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, do not recommended this plant for internal use.

Bibliography

1. Duke J. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985.
2. Tyler V. The New Honest Herbal . Philadelphia, PA: G.F. Stickley Co., 1987.
3. Dobelis I, ed. Magic and Medicine of Plants . Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1986.
4. Meyer J. The Herbalist . Hammond, IN: Hammond Book Co., 1934.
5. http://newcrop.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/herbhunters/groundsel.html
6. Lewis W. Medical Botany . New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons, 1977.
7. Newall, C. et al. Herbal Medicines . London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996;180.
8. Dooren, B. et al. Composition of essential oils of some Senecio species. Planta Med 1981;42:385-9.
9. Perez, C. et al. The essential oil of Senecio graveolens (Compositae) : chemical composition and antimicrobial activity tests. J Ethnopharmacol 1999; 66(1):91-6.
10. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions . Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.
11. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109:227-235.
12. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD, eds. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals . London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.
13. Spoerke D, Jr. Herbal Medications . Santa Barbara, CA: Woodbridge Press Publishing Co., 1980.
14. Liener I, ed. Toxic Constituents of Plant Foodstuffs . New York, NY: Academic Press, 1980.

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