Chaparral and Heartburn - Can it Help?

Heartburn is a commonly experienced painful burning sensation in the chest or upper stomach due to the reflux of acid from stomach to oesophagus.

The reflux usually is a result of poor diet, obesity and unhealthy lifestyle but other reasons such as a disease might cause it too.

All these reflux promoting factors decrease the pressure on lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) which guards the stomach entrance and cause its relaxation, which consequently opens up and gives way to the acid to flow backwards.

Severe form of heartburn which cannot be treated with simple medications and persists for a longer time is known as gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Chaparral for heartburn treatment

Chaparral is a shrub found in the desert regions of the world, especially dry regions of the United States and Mexico.

It has been used traditionally by the Native Americans for treating chicken pox, stomach ailments, cold, snake bites, rheumatic diseases and menstrual cramps.

Due to its anti-oxidative properties, it was also believed to cure cancer but research and clinical trials found that instead of amelioration of tumours, it can exacerbate its effects, which is why its use as an anti-cancer has been discarded.

The leaf of this plant contains active ingredients which are responsible for its therapeutic properties.

However, the U.S. food and drug administration has advised consumers against the use of this herb because of the serious health related consequences that it causes.

Despite warnings, it is still available in the United States and in other parts of the world .

Chaparral is sometimes used in diluted homeopathic preparations too.

However, the safety issues of chaparral in homeopathic medications are not of high concern because of extreme dilutions of the herb in such cases which makes it safe for consumption .

Chaparral has anti-oxidative properties

During heartburn, excessive acid exposure of the gut membrane causes its damage which activates reactive oxygen species such as peroxide and superoxide anions.

These reactive oxygen species attack the damaged cells and the nearby tissue and cause cell death, thereby exacerbating the effects of heartburn.

Research on the anti-oxidative properties of chaparral suggests that it actively scavenges the superoxide anion.

These studies have been done in vitro meaning outside the living tissues.

However, the effect of chaparral in live tissue is supposed to be similarly effective in removing the reactive oxygen species and ameliorating the effects of certain disorders such as heartburn.

Studies done on the active components of chaparral involved in anti-oxidative activities have shown that it contains compounds called nordihydroguaiaretic acid ("NDGA") and related lignans.

There are different types of lignans present in chaparral such as (7S,8S,7′S,8′S)-3,3′,4′-trihydroxy-4-methoxy-7,7′-epoxylignan, meso-(rel7S,8S,7′R,8′R)-3,4,3′,4′-tetrahydroxy-7,7′-epoxylignan, and (E)-4,4′-dihydroxy-7,7′-dioxolign-8(8′)-ene together with 10 other known similar compounds which exert the anti-oxidant activities.

These lignans are majorly present in the leaves of chaparral which can be consumed as tea or tincture to get relief from disorders involving oxidation in tissues .

Chaparral exerts anti-inflammatory effects on inflamed tissues

As a result of oxidation and tissue damage by the acid, inflammation arises in the tissue which causes pain and the characteristic burning sensation in heartburn. it also leads to ulceration in future.

It has been found that apart from NDGA and other lignans, which constitute about 50% of the leaf extract, compounds called flavonoids occupy the remaining 50%.

These flavonoids show a potent anti-inflammatory activity when incubated with inflamed cells.

Also, NDGA not just acts as an anti-oxidant but as an anti-inflammatory compound too. It is a powerful inhibitor of an enzyme called lipoxygenase.

Lipoxygenase is a mediator for the production of a pro-inflammatory molecule called leukotrine.

Thus, NDGA suppresses lipoxygenase and consequently the production of leukotrines in the affected tissues to successfully ameliorate inflammation .

Chaparral and liver toxicity

Though chaparral is highly effective in treating gastro-intestinal disorders instantly, it is associated with hepatotoxic reactions in the body which means that it damages the liver if taken in large quantities.

The first case of chaparral induced liver toxicity was reported in 1990 and subsequently, many more cases were registered for severe liver injury.

The time of onset of these injuries can range from 3 weeks of chaparral consumption to up to several years but it is usually within the first 3-12 weeks of daily ingestion of chaparral, especially in high doses or due to high frequency of consumption.

The damage can also lead to emergency liver transplantation if the symptoms are not treated or if chaparral consumption is not stopped.

Though liver failure and sever hepatotoxicity from chaparral consumption is rare, it might frequently cause cirrhosis and hepatitis.

The pattern of injury is marked by hepatitis like symptoms of viral origin and a marked increase in the toxin levels of the blood since the liver is unable to detoxify the system.

The mechanism of toxicity is largely unknown but is attributed to the composition of its leaves which predominantly contain NDGA. NDGA has the ability to inhibit enzymes like cycloxygenase and lipoxygenase which are required for liver functioning.

It has been hypothesised that in low doses, inhibition of these enzymes ameliorates inflammation but since they are critical to the proper liver functioning, high doses of NDGA in chaparral might greatly affect the functioning of these enzymes, thus paralysing the liver function .

Dosage and consumption

The dose and consumption of chaparral is based on the traditional usage and scientific theories.

There is a lack of specific scientific evidence stating an effective dose for consumption of this herb.

It has however, been established that in low concentrations, it is safe to consume with no claim or insufficient evidence for effectiveness .

There are numerous products available in the market which constitutes chaparral as their absolute constituent or in part with some other herbs.

Chaparral oil, dried leaves, tablets and capsules are also available.

Chaparral tea can be made by taking a teaspoonful of leaf powder and flowers steeped in a pint of water for 15 minutes, consumed 1-3 times a day for maximum 2 weeks if taken without any supervision.

Chaparral tea can also be prepared by boiling 7-8 crumbled dried leaves in a cup of water for a few minutes.

It is recommended that chaparral consumption, especially beyond 2 weeks should be done in presence or by prescription of a registered practitioner or medical supervisor.

A chaparral tincture is prepared from preserving the leaves and flowers in alcohol.

About 20 drops of this tincture can be taken 3 times daily to relieve gastro-intestinal symptoms.

It is not recommended to use chaparral tablets or capsules as they contain absolute amounts of the herb in large quantities which can be toxic.

The herbal preparations such as tea or tinctures or oils significantly dilute the amounts of the herb and pose lesser threat to the body.

Also, due to lack of scientific data, it is highly discouraged to give chaparral preparations to children below 18 years of age to avoid any complications.

Side effects and warnings

The American food and drug association does not strictly regulate the consumption of natural herbs; however, several warnings against chaparral consumption in high doses or without supervision have been issued in public.

It is important to read labels of the tablets or preparations of chaparral if brought from the market.

It is not advisable for pregnant ladies and nursing mothers due to its toxicity.

Normally, people with allergies to NDGA or chaparral like herbs should also avoid chaparral consumption .

Consuming high amounts of chaparral has been associated with increased risk of liver failure, gastro-intestinal cysts and kidney disorders in animals and humans.

It may also lower blood sugar levels and thus should be consumed with care by the people suffering from diabetes or hypoglycaemia.

It interacts significantly with the drugs acting on enzymes such as cycloxygenase and other liver specific proteins.

An example of such a drug is NSAIDS and chaparral may increase the effects of this drug.

It also reacts with warfarin and increases bleeding if taken frequently or in high amounts .


Chaparral is a highly efficient herb for gastro-intestinal disorders such as diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, bloating, gas and indigestion.

However, it is associated with a high risk of occurrence of liver injuries, kidney disorders and formation of cysts in the gut, if taken in large enough amounts for a long period of time.

Thus it is recommended to take chaparral under the supervision of a medical practitioner or by prescription from a registered person.

Though it has been established that it is free of side effects in lower quantities and is safe to consume but to avoid any discomfort, it is recommended to consume the herb with extra care.

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