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What Are the Medical Uses of Podophyllin?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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Derived from the American mayapple, or Podophyllum peltatum, a tincture of podophyllin is credited with several health benefits. Available in a gel, resin and liquid form, this herbal medicine is fairly respected in the mainstream medical community for removing genital warts. It is also the focus of chemists who use it to make several types of anti-cancer drugs.

According to the Web MD Web site, a podophyllin resin can successfully remove warts from as many as 40 of 100 patients, with the doctor applying this medicine weekly for a few months or more. Another clinical option is for the doctor to freeze off the wart. An at-home alternative is called podofilox, or Condylox®, which is a podophyllin gel proven to remove as many as about 60 percent of warts.

Pregnant women are advised to stay away from this treatment for genital warts. It can be toxic to the fetus. Some side effects are also possible, including red, burning, itchy or swelling skin. After removal, the human papillomavirus will remain, so it is still transmittable and likely to return in another wart at some later period.

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The University of Purdue Department of Agriculture notes how podophyllin is a root tincture for creating several useful drugs that have little to do with genital warts. Among these are teniposide, etopophos and etoposide, which have been used to fight leukemia as well as lung and testicular cancers. The Himalayan mayapple was once the principle source for these podophyllotoxins, but that shifted to the equally effective, but much more abundant, American mayapple toward the end of the 20th century.

In addition to anti-cancer medication, podophyllotoxin is needed to make other types of drugs. Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturers Conpharm and Analytecon have created a Reumacon® drug reputed to fight rheumatoid arthritis. It was first developed as the drug CPH-82, which needs podophyllotoxin to take shape. According to Purdue University, the mayapple also is used in drugs for malaria and psoriasis.

Podophyllin is typically made available in two concentrations: 0.5 and 2 percent by volume. It is also available in a variation called podophyllotoxin, at 0.5 percent by volume. Though the American mayapple, or mandrake, is the principal source of this tincture, the Himalayan mayapple, or Podophyllum emodi, is also rich in podophyllotoxins, as is Juniperus virginiana, the red cedar bush native to North America.

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