Say it with us: Boo-PLUR-um. Bupleurum. Yup — you got it!
Here’s a quick ‘n’ dirty rundown of bupleurum basics:
- It’s a family of about 200 herby or shrubby plants, mostly native to Asia.
- Thorow wax is a common name for one of the species.
- Traditional medicine practitioners have used this plant for thousands of years for a whole bunch of conditions ranging from infections to HIV to tummy troubles to cirrhosis.
- The roots are used for medicinal purposes. The flowers and foliage can be used for decoration. Power combo!
- Scientific research on the safety and efficacy of bupleurum is limited.
It’s pretty easy to see why people are clamoring to learn about what this plant could do for them. It’s part of a generations-old herbal medicine tradition that’s getting new attention. Everything old is new again, right?
We’ll be digging into this plant’s uses and possible medicinal powers (aka the whole reason folks have renewed interest in it!).
Bupleurum is a family of annual and perennial plants, mostly native to Asia and the Mediterranean. The 200 or so varieties of bupleurum look like herbs or woody shrubs. Traditional medicine practitioners use the roots in medicinal or supplemental preparations while the above-ground plant parts are primarily ornamental.
Thorow wax is the common name for one of the many species of bupleurum (Bupleurum falcatum, to be exact). So, if that moniker sounds familiar — well, then, you’re already on your way to being a bupleurum buff!
Given that there are about a gazillion types of this plant (okay, like, 200), you won’t be surprised to hear that other common names get bandied about, too.
What do people use bupleurum root for?
Traditional Eastern medicine latched on to bupleurum centuries ago and never loosened its grip.
Chinese medicine practitioners used it to help treat conditions like:
The Japanese herbal formula known as sho-saiko-to contains bupleurum and has been a folk remedy for liver ailments.
It’s possible to use the root alone or in combination with other substances. As mentioned, bupleurum has been in therapeutic rotation for so long and played a possible role in treating countless health concerns. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
This is a bit of a laundry list (and still probably not exhaustive). But it underscores just how prevalent bupleurum is in the traditions of natural medicine. Historically, bupleurum has been sicced on these sicknesses:
- appetite loss
- blood illnesses
- chest pain
- colds, fevers, flus, and infections
- coughing, asthma, and respiratory probs
- gastrointestinal issues
- high cholesterol
- liver diseases
- PMS and menstrual symptoms
Here’s the big but, though (and we cannot lie). Just because people have downed doses of their fave bupleurum formulation doesn’t mean it’s a safe or effective treatment option for these health conditions. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
First, let’s talk liver.
Bupleurum liver cleanse — yea or nay?
If you’re a liver lover — as in ya wanna keep yours in tip-top shape — you might be curious about liver cleansing.
The liver’s a vital organ. Its main duty is to filter the crap out of your system so your body gets what it needs from food and has shiny, purified blood whizzing around it. Important stuff. Liver cleansing may help you support the all-important form and functions of your liver.
In general, the jury’s out on whether or not liver cleansing (or any type of detox) is worthwhile. Only a few low quality studies have looked into the effectiveness of detoxes and cleanses, and there has been no research on the long-term effects.
As a result, there isn’t a whole lot of data backing the effectiveness of liver cleansing products on the market because they aren’t regulated by the FDA.
As for bupleurum in particular, it’s unclear if it would support liver cleansing. But, newer research is showing that bupleurum could be an awesome hepatic helper in other ways.
What — if anything — is bupleurum actually good at? Let’s take a gander at what the science says.
According to research, a few key compounds in bupleurum do the heavy lifting. The main active components of bupleurum are called saikosaponins. Phytosterols and saikogenins are also prime players.
High-quality, large-scale research into bupleurum’s effectiveness is relatively minimal. That said, existing studies do show that saikosaponins can:
- act as antivirals
- help with sleep
- facilitate autophagy (your body’s natural regeneration protocol)
- manage some cancer symptoms
- modulate the immune system
- prevent or reduce fevers
- protect the liver
- reduce pain
And for more benefits take a closer look at some of these….
Liver support and repair
Bupleurum is no n00b on the liver treatment block. Chinese medicine uses it to manage hepatitis and cirrhosis. Modern medicine is investigating bupleurum’s applications for those conditions and more.
- A 2017 review of several bupleurum-based preparations that claim to soothe and cure the liver suggests that bupleurum may be hepatoprotective. Evidence suggested that bupleurum reduced liver injury by regulating levels of substances like calcium, enzymes, lipids, and collagen deposits.
- Other research from preliminary trials shows that sho-saiko-to may alleviate hepatitis symptoms as well as reducing the risk of liver cancer in those with hepatitis or cirrhosis.
- According to a 2019 study, a therapeutic combo of bupleurum and scutellaria (aka skullcap) had synergistic effects. As a combo, the duo was able to target and penetrate the liver better for more focused treatment while causing fewer systemic disturbances.
Immune system boost
A whole slew of studies explore bupleurum’s impact on the immune system and autoimmune disorders. Here’s a quick recap of some of the findings:
- Bupleurum can significantly increase lymphatic system activity. The lymphatic system performs several functions that help protect your body from illness. The more active it is, the more it’s safeguarding your bod.
- An investigation into bupleurum found evidence that backs its use for immune support in traditional medicine.
- Because of its antiviral qualities, bupleurum could complement Western flu treatments like oseltamivir.
- By supporting the efforts of cytokines (proteins that help the body respond to infections), bupleurum helps regulate the immune system.
A long-time staple of diabetes treatment in Japan, bupleurum is getting a more global look. Considering that an estimate 422 million people worldwide (and 34.2 million in the US alone) are living with diabetes — bupleurum could be a boon to many.
In mainland China, docs often prescribe a medication called Tangminling — a formulation containing bupleurum and several other herbal ingredients. Researchers found that this treatment was more effective at improving a host of diabetes biomarkers than placebos and concluded that it might be a promising complementary treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Bupleurum may also ease complications associated with diabetes. In a pair of 2019 studies using mice, bupleurum yielded positive effects on diabetic nephropathy (a kidney disease), blood glucose, blood creatinine, and urine albumin as a result of improving the gut microbiota and reducing inflammation.
Yes, bupleurum is a special little unicorn — as is every living thing. (So Zen here). But, it’s no stranger to adverse reactions. Like any other substance you’re putting on or in your body — you need to proceed with care.
Certain species of bupleurum are poisonous. This is thought to be due to high levels of a neurotoxin (polyacetylene) that can cause seizures. So, it’s critical that you only consume products that contain nontoxic forms of bupleurum.
However, excessive doses of the nonpoisonous varieties of bupleurum are dangerous. Too much the saikosaponins and the essential oil of the bupleurum can damage the liver.
Side effects and possible allergic reactions
Well-documented side effects of bupleurum can include:
- blood in your pee
- frequent urination or the feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bladder (you know, that pesky, tickly feeling!)
- increased pooping
- stomach aches
Allergic reactions to bupleurum have been reported, though there’s not much literature on the nature or circumstances of the allergy. One article indicated that bupleurum can lead to a type of bladder infection by creating a constant need to urinate.
Interactions and precautions
It’s always smart to consult a healthcare pro before beginning any kind of supplement regimen. Bupleurum can interact with other medications and specific supplements. And it’s not for everybody.
Here’s a quick rundown of some people for whom bupleurum may not be a healthy fit:
- pregnant and nursing women
- people taking blood thinners, diabetes medications, and immunosuppressants
- anyone who consumes alcohol, sedatives, or central nervous system depressants
You should also be cautious when using bupleurum and driving or operating heavy machinery.
It’s a plant. It doesn’t exactly come with a frickin’ manual.
Are bupleurum supplements safe?
Because bupleurum isn’t regulated and there isn’t enough data to truly inform us beyond a shadow of a doubt — we can’t definitively say it’s safe.
Not only do we lack info on the plant itself, but supplement products are a whole separate question mark. The FDA regulates them as food, not drugs, so manufacturers are left to their own devices. This can result in wild inconsistencies of their products.
An additional consideration: The other things in the supplement formulation. Other ingredients are basically new vectors for potential safety issues.
Some resources suggest a dose of 3 to 9 grams per day, but there’s not really any clinical evidence validating how safe or effective this is. With that in mind, your next best bet is to read and follow package instructions for your bupleurum supplement.
All this said, how much bupleurum you should take depends on multiple factors. Your age, health profile, and more can influence personal dosing.
Bupleurum root is an herbal supplement that’s been used in traditional medicine practices for centuries. Historically, it’s been used to treat everything from liver conditions to infections to pain.
There’s not enough scientific data to fully support the claimed benefits. The research available suggests that bupleurum may have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and antipyretic properties.
As such, it could be useful for liver health, diabetes management, pain relief, fighting colds and flus, and more. More human studies are needed to truly confirm bupleurum’s safety and efficacy, though.
Talk with your doctor before starting supplementation with bupleurum. It’s contraindicated for certain people and can interact with other medications or supplements.