The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Botanical Medicines for Diuresis: Cross-Cultural Comparisons


Anthropology and Nursing, University of Miami

Saturday Afternoon, Ballroom B Add to calendar

Throughout history and cross-culturally, healers have employed procedures and medicinal substances to expel toxins, poisons, evil spirits, etc. from a sick patient’s body. Purging, blood-letting, sweat induction and the use of natural laxatives, expectorants, and diuretics are all prominently featured in traditional medical systems. Diuretic herbs have been frequently prescribed to rid the body of excess fluids through increased urine production, as well as for detoxification and dehydration for such conditions as high blood pressure, kidney infections, obesity, and the edema associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or traumatic injuries. A survey of 92 medicinal plant shops (“botanicas”) in Miami, Florida discovered 13 botanical species sold specifically for their diuretic effects. An additional 394 species used for this purpose worldwide were catalogued in the literature for a total of 407. These plants contain a number of phytochemical compounds that induce diuresis, including saponin (C27H42O3) and arbutin (C12H16O7). Research suggests that saponin ingestion is associated with reduced incidence of kidney stones, and arbutin has an anti-bacterial effect on the urinary tract. Many of the plants contain a number of flavonoids and polyphenols which also may impart therapeutic benefits for the renal system. The two main preparation methods of herbal medicines—decoction and infusion—permit the extraction and concentration of their curative bioactive constituents while simultaneously eliminating or neutralizing toxins, irritants and impurities. The most commonly utilized plant parts to produce traditional diuretic medications are leaves, stems, seeds, roots, berries, barks, saps, resins, pollens, and fruit juices.

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