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What Is Chamomile Used for Today?
The modern use of chamomile dates back to 1921, when a German firm introduced a topical form of chamomile. This cream became a popular treatment for a wide variety of skin disorders, including eczema, bedsores, post radiation therapy skin inflammation, and contact dermatitis (e.g., poison ivy). Today, Germany's Commission E authorizes the use of various topical chamomile preparations for a variety of diseases of the skin and mouth.
The Commission E has also authorized oral chamomile as a treatment for pain and inflammation in the stomach and intestines, and inhaled chamomile vapor for asthma and other lung problems.
Chamomile tea remains popular for mild tension and stress, although it has not been shown to have any particular stress-relieving properties.
It also might possibly help protect the stomach against irritation caused by alcohol or anti-inflammatory drugs, but this has not been proven.
Concentrated alcohol extracts of chamomile are sometimes used to treat the pain caused by various types of arthritis. It has been suggested that chamomile's reported benefits are due to the constituents of its bright blue oil, including chamazulene, alpha-bisabolol, and bisaboloxides. However, the water-soluble part of chamomile may possess some relaxant properties.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Chamomile?
Animal research suggests that chamomile extracts taken orally can relax the intestines and reduce inflammation. Nonetheless, properly performed double-blind studies are largely lacking.
Numerous case reports and poorly designed or reported studies claim benefits of chamomile cream in inflammatory skin diseases and wound healing. For example, one controlled study of 161 individuals found chamomile cream equally effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone cream for the treatment of eczema. However, the report didn't state whether doctors or patients were blinded as to which treatment was which, so it isn't clear how reliable the results may be.
Another double-blind placebo-controlled trial by the same authors, involving 72 individuals with eczema, found somewhat odd results: In this trial, chamomile was not significantly more effective than placebo, but both were better than 0.5% hydrocortisone cream. It is difficult to interpret what these paradoxical results actually mean, but they certainly cannot be taken as proof that chamomile cream is effective.
A recent double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 164 individuals found that chamomile mouthwash was not effective for treating the mouth sores caused by chemotherapy with the drug 5-FU. Negative results were also seen in a physician-blind trial of chamomile cream to reduce skin inflammation caused by radiation therapy. Fifty women receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer were treated with either chamomile or placebo. No differences in radiation-induced skin damage between the two groups were seen.
Chamomile tinctures and pills should be taken according to the directions on the label. Alcoholic tincture may be the most potent form for internal use
Chamomile tea can be made by pouring boiling water over 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons of
flowers and steeping for 10 minutes.
Chamomile cream is applied to the affected area 1 to 4 times daily
Chamomile is listed on the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.
Reports that chamomile can cause severe reactions in people allergic to ragweed have received significant media attention. However, when all the evidence is examined, it does not appear that chamomile is actually more allergenic than any other plant. The cause of these reports may be products contaminated with "dog chamomile," a highly allergenic and bad-tasting plant of similar appearance.
Chamomile also contains naturally occurring coumarin compounds that might act as "blood thinners" under certain circumstances. Excessive use of chamomile is therefore not recommended when taking prescription anticoagulants. Some evidence suggests that chamomile might interact with other medications as well, but the extent of this effect has not been fully determined.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with liver or kidney disease has not been established, although there have not been any credible reports of toxicity caused by this common beverage tea.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin (warfarin), heparin, Plavix (clopidogrel), or Trental (pentoxifylline), you should avoid using chamomile as it might increase their effect. This could potentially cause problems
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