Medicinal plants

Thuja (Thuja occidentalis) - application and effects

Thuja (Thuja occidentalis) - application and effects


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The tree of life bears its name because it saved the lives of French sailors. Also because of its evergreen branches, it is considered a symbol of life. We know it as a ubiquitous hedge plant. Thuja occidentalis, the Latin name, can be used medically - for example against infections of the respiratory tract and bacterial and viral diseases. However, you should not make medicines yourself, as you can poison yourself with the thujone contained in the tree of life.

Characteristics

  • Scientific name: Thuja occidentalis
  • Common names: Thuja
  • Occurrence: USA, Canada, Europe
  • Parts of plants used: Branch tips
  • application areas: Rheumatism, gout, chronic pain, as an insecticide, bacterial skin infections such as herpes simplex, warts, in combined preparations, especially for inflammatory diseases of the respiratory tract and for the common cold.

Ingredients

In the categories of medicinal plant lexica, Lebensbaum is considered an essential oil drug: 0.4 to 4 percent of essential oils are present, especially the toxic thujone in the forms a-thujone and ß-thujone, as well as a-terpine, sabine, limonene, Camphor, borneol and fenchon. There are also traces of carvotane acetone, origigan, origanol, terpinolene, thujyalcohol, a- and y-thujaplicin.

Added to this are the lignan plicate acid, the sesquiterpenes occidentalol, occidol (in the wooden parts of the tree), the flavonoids procyanidin-B3, prodelphinidine 2, the bioflavonoids amentoflavone and bilobetin. Thuja contains catechin and gallocatechin in tannins, occidoside, umbelliferone and p-cumaric acid in glycosides.

The tree of life also offers water-soluble polysaccharides (4.1 percent in the fresh branch tips), especially pentoses and glycoproteins; plus 2.1 percent water-soluble minerals in the branch tips, 1.7 percent free acids and 1.3 percent tannins. Thuja has a high content of vitamin C.

Effects

Active substances in the branch tips stimulate the immune system and act against viruses, certain bacteria and other microbes. Extracts from the branch tips are contained in finished preparations with echinacea to treat inflammatory diseases of the respiratory tract.

Pharmacological properties - in vitro and in vivo studies

Numerous studies, both in vitro and in vivo, have now shown that thuja stimulates and strengthens the immune system and also acts against viruses. The antiviral potential has effects above all via the macrophages and monocytes. Thuja activates the macrophages, which is shown by the fact that the cytokine secretion increases, the NO2 production is stimulated and the CD-4 positive T cells are activated.

In vivo experiments in mice showed that thuja polysaccharides caused the colony-forming granulocytes and macrophages to increase, as did the spleen cells, while the hematopoietic progenitor cells regenerated.

How does thuja affect the immune system?

The mechanism of action of Thuja on the immune defense of the body has been insufficiently researched. One hypothesis is that the active ingredients responsible communicate with the lymphoid tissue around the intestine by means of the M cells in the intestine and thus trigger the mucosal immune response.

Thuja extract as a medicine - clinical studies

Polysaccharides from thuja stimulate the immune system and can be isolated. Cold medicines contain a mixture of coneflower, wild indigo and thuja. Thuja as a single drug has hardly been clinically tested. However, there are many clinical studies on a water ethanol extract from the following plants: Thuja occidentalis, Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida and Baptisia tinctoria. These studies showed a clear superiority of the herbal product over placebos, measured using the AUC values ​​of the rhinitis scale, bronchitis scale and the doctor's assessment of the severity of the disease. The greatest effect was seen when the person concerned took the preparation right at the start of a cold.

Further studies on this herbal medicinal product showed significant effects when it was used as a complementary medicine to antibiotics in the treatment of bacterial inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.

Toxicity - tree of life and deadly poison

The main active ingredient, thujone, is toxic. Thujon was previously contained in the absinthe drink, which made it dangerous to enjoy this intoxicant in large quantities. Then alcohol poisoning was accompanied by the toxic effects of thujone: convulsions and permanent damage to the liver and kidneys. An overdose leads to nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and gastrointestinal catarrh, headache, nervousness and chronic cramps. A high overdose can lead to death.

Symptoms can also occur if you drink tea from fresh branch tips in large quantities - it is hardly possible to specify a safe amount of such teas because the thujone content fluctuates in the branch tips.

That is why you should not use Thuja internally in an uncontrolled manner and should definitely use ready-made medicinal products that contain the active ingredients for liquid leaf extracts. A dose of 1.25 milligrams of thujone per kilogram of body weight is considered safe. In finished medicinal products that contain thuja and which are used against respiratory diseases, the thujone content is so low that there are no dangers.

When used externally, thuja (thujone extract) is only recommended in precise doses and under medical supervision. Human skin tends to be very sensitive to the active ingredient - eczema and pathological reactions of the skin with wheals, redness and itching can result.

The amount of thujone in the extracts depends on the extracting agent and the temperature during the extraction. An extract made with 90 percent ethanol contains 7.9 milligrams of thujone per gram of the drug, a 30 percent ethanol extract only 2.8 milligrams of thujone, an extract with purified water only 0.6 milligrams of thujone. Distillation with steam gives a high thujone content of 7.6 milligrams. Phytotherapy generally uses a 30 percent ethanol extract for herbal medicines with a tree of life - the thujone content is harmless to health.

Against viruses, bacteria and insects

The toxic effect was and is sometimes desired. The toxin also slows down the multiplication of viruses that trigger warts. The prerequisite is that no thick cornea prevents the thujone from penetrating the skin layers. Thuja oil is also toxic to insects and can be used to kill or repel insects.

Phytotherapy for insects

In naturopathy there are other medicinal plants that also work against insects and are less irritating to the skin. These include oils from lavender, lemon balm, bergamot, walnut, spice laurel, lemon grass and catnip.

Thuja oil in complementary medicine

In complementary medicine, the irritating thuja oil serves as a counterirritant. The skin irritated by the oil is supposed to start the biochemical processes in order to supply and activate the affected body region. A pain caused by the Tree of Life oil is said to alleviate the chronic pain by activating the body's own pain regulation through the acute and local stimulus.

Areas of application are rheumatic pain, joint pain, stiff muscles, headache and neuralgic pain. In order to use the irritating effect of the oil for medical purposes, it should only be used in a very targeted and controlled manner. Thuja extracts can also be used in concomitant therapy for antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections, especially against herpes simplex labialis.

Tree of life in folk medicine, myth and homeopathy

Thuja is derived from the Greek word thyein, which went into Latin as thus, and that means incense. This did not specifically mean the plant of the same name, but the offering of a smoke offering to the gods. Thuja occidentalis only got the name many centuries later, because the tree originally comes from North America.

Thuja was considered a protective plant by American indigenous peoples. They used the branches to smoke the rooms of the dead and cleaned the walls and floors with branches of Thuja. The tree of life is an example of how real biochemical effects have been transferred to metaphysics - the active ingredients in the tree of life fight pathogenic microbes that are as invisible to the human eye as the damaging spirits in the ideas of the indigenous people.

In Europe in early modern times, the newly introduced tree of life was quickly assigned symbolic meanings. The evergreen branches were considered a symbol of immortality - one reason why Thuja is popular as a cemetery plant. At All Saints Day and Palm Sunday, Thuja branches soon became a symbol of overcoming death. Today there are numerous cultivated forms of thuja that grow on wet, but also dry and shady soils. The best known include spiralis, Brabant and emerald.

Symbolic attributions of the thuja were incorporated into salvation teachings, in which medical application and esoteric-religious association were mixed. The tree of life should bring body and soul together and strengthen identity. Incense with thuja is used in esoteric rituals to bring back "lost soul parts".

Homeopathy uses Thuja in extremely dilute solutions against inflammation: against skin diseases such as ulcers, rash, shingles or lichen as well as against infections of the respiratory and urinary tract, also against genital herpes. "Thuja extern" is used in homeopathy to treat warts. In homeopathy, extremely diluted thuja extracts are also said to help against oily hair and the smell of sweat. An effect has not been proven, and since there are no more active ingredients at high dilutions, it is also unlikely.

Thuja as an abortion

In the early modern era, when abortions were illegal, thuja branches served as a means of aborting unwanted fetuses. It was an emergency, as dangerous as it was ineffective method of ending pregnancy. Thujon has no abortive effect. If the fetus was sometimes rejected, it was the convulsions caused by poisoning - more often than abortion, such consumption of thuja led to death.

Why Tree of Life? The medical history

The Occidental Tree of Life does not come from the "Christian Occident", ie the premodern term for Europe, but from the "New World" viewed from Europe - from the east of North America. In 1535, the Frenchman Jacques Cartier and his team landed in Newfoundland. The sailors were seriously ill and suffered from scurvy. No one in Europe knew then that this disease was a deficiency in vitamin C. Local hurons gave the men tea from Thuja bark, and the sick recovered. Cartier called the tree that had saved the lives of sailors "Arbor vitae" - the tree of life.

Thuja in phytotherapy

Herbal medicines from Thuja contain branch tips of bushes from controlled cultivation, about two centimeters high. These are usually harvested in June. The drug Thujae occidentalis herba or tree tips comes from the basic form Thuja occidentalis or cultivated forms such as Aureospicata, Lutea, Vervaeneana or Wareana.

Conclusion

Thuja occidentalis is an often used medicinal plant in evidence-based phytotherapy and evidence-based complementary medicine. Their positive effects on the immune system and against viruses have been proven by both in vitro and in vivo studies. Combined medicinal products with several medicinal plants that contain thuja (Esberitox R) are as effective as they are safe and have been confirmed as an effective complementary medicine to antibiotic therapy for severe bacterial infections. However, you should not use the fresh plants as a home remedy - thujone is a poison and dangerous in higher doses. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Swell:

  • S. Chakraborty et al .: Antimicrobial activity of Cannabis sativa, Thuja orientalis and Psidium guajava leaf extracts against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. In: J Integr Med. 2018 Sep; 16 (5): 350-357. doi: 10.1016 / j.joim.2018.07.005. Epub 2018 Jul 29, PubMed
  • Belal Naser et al .: Thuja occidentalis (Arbor vitae): A Review of its Pharmaceutical, Pharmacological and Clinical Properties. In: Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 Mar; 2 (1): 69-78. Published online 2005 Feb 9, PubMed
  • M. Pudelek et al .: Therapeutic potential of monoterpenes α-thujone, the main compound of Thuja occidentalis L. essential oil, against malignant glioblastoma multiforme cells in vitro. In: Fitoterapia. 2019 Apr; 134: 172-181. doi: 10.1016 / j.fitote.2019.02.020. Epub 2019 Feb 27, PubMed
  • IS Silva et al .: Evaluation of anti-inflammatory potential of aqueous extract and polysaccharide fraction of Thuja occidentalis Linn. in mice. In: Int J Biol Macromol. 2017 Dec; 105 (Pt 1): 1105-1116. doi: 10.1016 / j.ijbiomac.2017.07.142. Epub 2017 Jul 24, PubMed


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