What is sarsaparilla?
Sarsaparilla is a plant of the genus Smilax and it belongs to the lily (Liliacae) family. The roots of sarsaparilla are used to make a tonic of the same name. The tonic is aromatic and used as a flavoring agent. It masks the flavor and taste of several medicines. Sarsaparilla is also used to make several carbonated beverages including root beer. Its taste resembles the flavors of wintergreen, licorice and vanilla. Sarsaparilla is commercially available in the form of sarsaparilla tea, root powder, capsules and extracts. Sarsaparilla plants are large, perennial, trailing or climbing vines and are native to the southern and western coasts of Mexico to Peru. They have short, thick, underground stems with several prickly, angular stems jutting above the ground. Species providing the sarsaparilla flavoring agent commercially are mainly Mexican (Smilax aristolochiaefolia), Honduran (S. regelii) and Ecuadorian sarsaparillas (S. febrifuga). The roots of these plants are sun-dried and gathered into bundles. Sarsaparilla is often contaminated with the “false sarsaparilla” (Hemidesmus indicus). False sarsaparilla does not contain any beneficial components found in true sarsaparilla.
What is sarsaparilla used for?
Sarsaparilla is used for several purposes including skin conditions, infections and kidney diseases. Athletes use sarsaparilla to enhance strength and stamina. Sarsaparilla, however, does not contain any of the claimed performance-enhancing substances such as steroids including the male hormone testosterone. Although sarsaparilla is used to manage several medical conditions, there is insufficient evidence to support its effectiveness. Always take your doctor’s advice before consuming sarsaparilla. Some of the uses (lacking sufficient medical evidence) of sarsaparilla include:
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis
- Gonorrhea (a sexually transmitted disease [STD])
- Arthritis including gout and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating)
- Fluid retention
- Kidney problems
- Liver diseases
- Certain allergies
- Improving sex drive
- Increasing the muscle mass
Sarsaparilla contains certain chemicals that may reduce inflammation in the body. This may help relieve symptoms such as pain and swelling. Sarsaparilla also reduces itching. Studies have suggested that sarsaparilla can help fight bacterial infections. Certain chemicals present in sarsaparilla may protect the liver from toxins. Sarsaparilla, because of its aromatic flavor, is used to make several beverages, foods and medications.
Are there any side effects of sarsaparilla?
Sarsaparilla can irritate the inner lining of the gut causing symptoms such as bellyache, diarrhea and indigestion in some individuals, and in some, the powdered form of sarsaparilla (called sarsaparilla dust) can cause allergic reactions. The symptoms may resemble asthma.
Sarsaparilla acts as a diuretic (increases the urine output). Thus, you must ensure that you have adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Although advocated for use in kidney diseases, you must not use sarsaparilla if you have kidney problems because it can worsen the condition.
The dosage of sarsaparilla varies according to the individual’s age, weight and presence of any underlying health conditions. Always take your doctor’s advice before taking any supplements containing sarsaparilla.
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