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delusional parasitosis

Charles T. Faulkner ctfaulkn at utkux.utcc.utk.edu
Tue Mar 24 00:25:25 EST 1998

On 23 Mar 1998, Gerald L. McLaughlin, Ph.D wrote:

> I regard herbalists with even more uncertainty, and really wish we had more
> controlled trials.  People of most primitive cultures (even the
> glacier-frozen iceman of Europe), carried a bag of herbs, many similar to
> those suggested by herbalists.  
	Herbal medicine is very well established throughout Mexico, other
Latin American and African countries. Herbal remedies are prescribed for a
wide range of illnesses including both acute (diarrheal manifestations)
and chronic debilitating conditions like diabetes, arthritis, etc. I have
been especially interested in the herbal compounds used for intestinal
parasites for several years. 

There have been a couple of limited field studies which addressed the
efficacy of indigenous herbal preps for removing GI nematodes (especially
A.  lumbricoides). Knightlinger et al (1996, Jour Parasit 82:25) noted the
possible effect of indigenous herbal remedies on worm burdens (as measured
by total worm expulsion using pyrantel pamoate)  in children from
Madagascar. Kliks (1985, So Sci Med 21:879) described a field trial in
Chiapas, Mx which evaluated the efficacy of Chenopodium ambrosioides for
removing Ascarid infections. Although the native regimen was not as
effective at removing worms as the pharmaceutical compounds, he noted that
spontaneous passage of Ascarids provided the people with sufficent
evidence to reinforce the belief that the herbal anthelmintics were

Pharmacologic properties aside, it is interesting that on a global scale
members of the Chenopodiacea consistently show up in ethnobotanical
inventories as anthelmintics.  Although some of these occurences are the
result of diffusion of knowledge between human groups living in the same
regions, the historical evidence supports the conclusion that the
hemispheric distributions are largely independent of each other.  Some of
the best evidence of this comes from the ancient aztec materia medica
where the Chenopods show up as anthelmintics, and cures for GI problems. 
This seems to indicate that the plant cure and the illness have a
long-standing historical association that predates European contact. 

I don't think there is any reason to substitute ABZ or MBZ with herbal
remedies when it comes to conducting community based deworming programs. 
However, the chenpod story does raise interesting questions regarding
its widespread recognition as a plant with anthelmintic properties. Also
it is interesting that the distilled oil of chenopodium was a treatment of
choice for ascariasis not to long ago. Does anyone know where this drug
actually originated?  Was it a product of the European colonial presence
in Africa, or was it developed from the Americas?

     *  Charles T. Faulkner, M.A.                   *
     *  Clinical Parasitology Service               *
     *  Dept. of Comparative Medicine               *
     *  2407 River Drive                            *
     *  Knoxville, TN 37996-4500                    *
     *  Voice: (423) 974-5645  Fax: (423) 974-5640  *
     *  E-Mail: ctfaulkner at utk.edu                  *

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