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Ethnomedical Uses of Sangre de Drago (Croton lechleri) and Clinical Research
Date 06-15-2004
HC# 020142-258
Ethnomedical Uses
Sangre de Drago (Croton lechleri)

Jones K. Review of sangre de drago (Croton lechleri) - A South American tree sap in the treatment of diarrhea, inflammation, insect bites, viral infections, and wounds: traditional uses to clinical research Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2003;9(6):877-896.

Known as sangre de drago (Spanish for 'blood of the dragon') because of its thick red sap, Croton lechleri is a medium-sized tree that grows throughout the Amazon and in the low mountainous areas of the Peruvian Andean regions, as well as in Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The blood-red latex or sap is used as a common household remedy in Peru, other Latin American countries, and among the Latin American population of the United States. Sangre de drago is available as a dietary supplement in the United States.

The author sought to determine if pharmacologic evidence in the literature supports the clinical and ethnomedical uses of the sap of sangre de drago. Jones searched BIOSIS, EMBASE, PubMed, TOXLIT, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, manual searches, papers from peer-reviewed journals, textbooks available at Armana Research, Inc., and the studies of researchers of South American botanical medicine. In the process, the author, like many of the researchers cited in this review, gained insight from the peoples of the northwest Amazon basin and their intellectual and medical achievements.

The sap of sangre de drago has been used to treat various illnesses in adults, children, and infants. Jones reports the results of in vitro and in vivo studies largely support most of the ethnomedical uses of sangre de drago. These include the treatment of diarrhea; wounds; tumors; stomach ulcers; herpes infection; and the itching, pain, and swelling of insect bites. In addition, the reported studies demonstrate the agent's low toxicity and ease of toleration. The author does point out that because the chemical makeup of the sap varies from one geographic area to another, materials developed for clinical use should be standardized.

Jones also reports on recent evidence suggesting that one important potential use of the sap may be in the treatment of rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea in young children and infants worldwide. Additionally, studies have shown that one component of the sap of sangre de drago is the phenanthrene alkaloid taspine; this alkaloid has been shown to be potent in vitro cytotoxicity from taspine against human oral epidermoid carcinoma. Animal studies have demonstrated taspine's anti-inflammatory activity. Because of its pain- and itch-relieving activity, the sap may be used in the future as a substitute for capsaicin, the topical use of which is limited because of its burning sensation.

Clinical research on the topical use of SP-303 (another component of the sap) against genital and anal herpes lesions in HIV-positive patients yielded results of borderline significance. However, clinical trials of sangre de drago products for treating diarrhea and insect bites have had positive results, says the author. Further studies involving larger, controlled trials are warranted for all the above conditions.

'Pending the development of clinically efficacious preparations, sangre de drago has the potential of becoming a readily sustainable medicinal resource of financial benefit to the indigenous peoples of northwest Amazonia and therapeutic benefit to the world,' concludes the author.

Shari Henson