In today’s clinical practice, we are confronted with more chronic diseases that are harder to treat and identify. Diseases such as sinusitis, ear infections, skin infections, vaginal infections, arthritis, chronic fatigue (systemic exertion intolerance disease), and many others may actually be a fungal infection from candida. Many of our symptoms that we manifest, we do not attribute to something as benign as candida, which normally resides on our skin, intestinal tract, etc. in appropriate amounts. Add a few antibiotic regimens to the mix to your history, and you start to have what we call dysbiosis or an imbalance in flora. When candida starts to proliferate in certain regions and its visible as white film on surfaces and you experience burning pain, itching, irritation, and discomfort it’s finally time to call your medical provider to address the problem. But what underlies all this is that quite commonly the digestive tract is also effected by an overgrowth of candida. When this does happen you don’t necessarily have to have a full outbreak of thrush or yeast infection presently to have a gut dysbiosis of candida. As a clinician investigating chronic diseases, a simple white coating on top of the tongue can be an early symptom of gut dysbiosis. Other symptoms could be abdominal bloating, fullness, gas, constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, loss of attention, mood swings, fatigue, allergies, food allergies, etc.
While we have certain tools and laboratory tests to evaluate whether you have gut dysbiosis, it really lies on the type of treatment to get rid of the candida. Even though maintaining a certain diet to starve the candida and decreasing inflammation and antigenicity in the gut from certain food groups like gluten or yeast products may help, ultimately the treatment depends on strong antifungal medications. Many times it is quite difficult to eradicate this fungal proliferation because it too can develop a biofilm around the organism resisting conventional methods to kill it off.
Conventional methods of antifungal treatment have proven to create resistance and even more likely a superbug that is harder to kill. Recent research has shown that certain plant compounds have a stronger ability to prevent the further colonization of yeast and are sometimes more effective than antifungal medication alone in the recurrence of fungal diseases. Isao Kubo, a professor of environmental sciences from UC Berkeley, has published quite a few papers on polygodial’s effect on fungal organisms(1-7). Polygodial is the active compound found in several plant species, especially Horopito and Mountain Pepper plants. When the plant like horopito has more red in the margin of its leaves, polygodial has been found to be in higher amounts (8).
Its ability to kill candida in cases such as oral/vaginal thrush and gut candidiasis has been proven in a few studies (9-13). While some studies prove that it has very little side effects, other studies done on rats show some neurotoxic activity by increasing glutamate concentrations (13,14).
The mechanism by which polygodial has on fungal organisms is its ability to act as a non-ionic surfactant disrupting the functional conformation of the membrane and its integral proteins (16). Novel treatment regimes include using polygodial with current conventional antifungal treatment in allowing antifungal medications to penetrate the cells more effectively.
Pharmacy and supermarket shelves are packed with a myriad of herbal remedies for common ailments, especially with winter on its way.
On closer inspection these products are mostly derived from non indigenous plants, which have a long history of medicinal use in Europe.
We need to embrace of NZ native plants.
For instance, Murdoch Riley’s book “Maori Healing and Herbal” has pages of medicinal information, reflecting the depth of Maori knowledge developed over centuries of observation and use.
These plant remedies are still widely used today, by both Maori and pakeha (non Maori) the ritual and spiritual aspects are still relevant in Maori communities.
But we don't use them??? I think knowing about their special properties enriches our experience of native plants, and provides another reason to keep biodiversity in Aotearoa.
Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum, or pepper tree)
Kawakawa is an easily recognized shrub, with aromatic, heart-shaped leaves, that grows widely in coastal regions.
Kawakawa gives us a clue as to why the first arrivals here from Polynesia called it that. The leaves are like its relative, kava (Piper methysticum), used widely in the South Pacific, Kava has a narcotic effect.
Kawakawa leaves are highly valued for relieving bronchial complaints. Boil a handful of the fresh, young leaves in a small saucepan of water for 15-20 minutes, then drink half a cup of the liquid to relieve chesty coughs.
To make a distinguished tea, for use as a general tonic, it’s best to dry the leaves first, then use a small quantity in a teapot. It’s very good for relieving indigestion.
The fruits and leaves were chewed for toothache – swallow the saliva and keep the leaf matter in your mouth for some time. (The active ingredient is myristicin, which is related to eugenol, a dental analgesic)
Kawakawa leaves were commonly used in hot baths for rheumatic and arthritic pains.
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