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Sarsaparilla (Smilax ornata)  Sarsaparilla root has been used for centuries by the people of Central and South America for sexual impotence, rheumatism, skin ailments, and as a general tonic for physical weakness. It has long been used by tribes for headaches and joint pain, and against common cold. People in the Amazon use sarsaparilla root internally and externally for leprosy and other skin problems (such as psoriasis and dermatitis).

European physicians considered sarsaparilla root a tonic, blood purifier, diuretic, and sweat promoter. From the sixteenth century to the present, sarsaparilla has been used as a blood purifier and general tonic and also has been used worldwide for gout, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, wounds, arthritis, fever, cough, scrofula, hypertension, digestive disorders, psoriasis, skin diseases, and cancer.

Sarsaparilla contains the plant steroids sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol; and the saponins sarsasaponin, smilasaponin, sarsaparilloside, and sitosterol glucoside, among others. The saponins have been reported to facilitate the body's absorption of other drugs and phytochemicals, which accounts for its history of use in herbal formulas as an agent for bioavailability and to enhance the power and effect of other herbs.

Flavonoids in sarsaparilla have been documented to have immune modulation and liver protective activities. They have been proved to be effective in treating autoimmune diseases and inflammatory reactions through their immunomodulating effects.

Clinical research has validated the traditional use of sarsaparilla for skin conditions such as psoriasis and other skin abnormalities. One of the possible mechanisms of action in psoriasis is sarsaparilla's blood cleansing properties. Individuals with psoriasis have been found to have high levels of endotoxins circulating in the bloodstream (endotoxins are cell wall fragments of normal gut bacteria). Sarsaponin, one of sarsaparilla's main steroids, was found to bind to these endotoxins and remove them, thus improving psoriasis.

No major side effects have been reported from using oral or topical sarsaparilla in recommended amounts. Rarely, prolonged exposure to large amounts of the dust associated with commercial processing of sarsaparilla root has resulted in cases of asthma.

Taking oral sarsaparilla in very large amounts possibly could lead to nausea, stomach upset or intestinal irritation. Kidney function can also be disrupted temporarily if excessively large doses of sarsaparilla are taken. However, reports of these effects have not been verified by clinical research.


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