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Known to Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, Hippophae rhamnoides has only recently been incorporated into the Western alternative medical pharmacopoeia. While all parts of the plant are considered to be medicinal, the oil is most commonly manufactured and sold as a treatment for cough, inflammation, indigestion, poor circulation and arthritic pain. In traditional Asian herbal medical traditions, Hippophae rhamnoides is generally used in combination with other herbs as a treatment for disorders of the heart, lungs, blood, stomach, colon and metabolism. Although it has never been used traditionally for cancer or viral infections, contemporary medical research suggests that certain phytochemicals in the plant may suppress Dengue virus and slow the growth of some cancers.
One study found that the use of the oil-rich Hippophae rhamnoides fruit may reduce gastrointestinal inflammation and promote the healing of peptic and gastric ulcers. The mechanism of Hippophae rhamnoides' anti-inflammatory activity is not well-understood, but is thought to result from its inhibition of the synthesis of prostaglandins — the body's inflammatory chemicals. Some evidence exists that suggests the plant may also help to treat cirrhosis of the liver, normalizing the levels of liver enzymes and serum bile acids that serve as indicators of hepatic function. More research is needed though to substantiate these findings.
When Hippophae rhamnoides is sold in Europe and North America, these properties are not usually emphasized. Instead, vendors typically focus on the plant's value as a nutritional supplement. While it is true that the plant contains high levels of vitamin C, amino acids, trace minerals and polyunsaturated fats, these are not likely to be the components responsible for its pharmacological properties. Instead, it is the high concentration of beta sitosterol and antioxidant polyphenols that are likely to produce any anti-inflammatory properties it may possess. Several of these polyphenols have been the subject of research as cancer-preventative agents.
The use of these commercial Hippophae rhamnoides products can be challenging. As the fruit of Hippophae rhamnoides are full of astringent phytochemicals, it may be necessary to treat the raw material by freezing and pulping to render it palatable before consumption. While most of the commercial products have not been pre-treated to remove the unpleasant flavor, they do typically come in an easily diluted liquid form. Some herbal medical practitioners recommend mixing the fruit pulp or oil in a generous quantity of juice to mask the unpleasant tasting plant chemicals with the juice's natural sweetness.
Though they are not frequently used in the west, the leaves and bark of the Hippophae rhamnoides plant are rather different from that of the fruit. As potent astringents, these parts are generally used externally to treat wounds, suppuration and minor bleeding. Internally, they are used to treat diarrhea. The astringent properties of these plant parts are produced by the high level of tannins they contain. Plants rich in tannins should only be used for short periods of time, however, as long term exposure to tannins has been associated with a slight increase in cancer risk.
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