The Health Benefits of Blood of the Dragon

This South American tree sap may help treat diarrhea

Blood of the dragon tincture and sap

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Blood of the dragon (Croton lechleri) is a flowering tree found throughout South America. It gets its name from its dark red, latex-containing sap, which has long been used to treat traveler's diarrhea and help heal wounds.

Among practitioners of alternative and traditional herbal medicine, the sap is also believed to offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may prevent or treat peptic ulcers, indigestion, and certain forms of cancer.

Some of these claims are better supported by research than others.

Also Known As

  • Dragon's blood
  • Sangre de drago (Ecuadorian Spanish)
  • Sangre de grado (Peruvian Spanish)
  • Sangue do dragão (Portuguese)

Health Benefits

Blood of the dragon has both proven and unproven medical benefits. Current research supports its use in treating certain forms of diarrhea. Claims that it can treat ulcers, reduce fever, swelling and redness, or promote wound healing are more loosely supported.

There is currently no evidence that blood of the dragon can aid in the treatment or prevention of cancer, although there are some promising findings.

Diarrhea

Blood of the dragon may be helpful as a remedy for traveler's diarrhea, a generally mild form of diarrhea caused by consuming contaminated food or water.

The active ingredient in blood of the dragon has been identified as oligomeric proanthocyanidin, a plant-based compound that decreases the excretion of sodium and chloride in the intestines. By doing so, less water is drawn into the intestines, thereby alleviating watery stools.

Used on its own, blood of the dragon may also ease diarrhea by significantly slowing down small intestinal transit, thereby controlling diarrhea and loose stools.

Purified oligomeric proanthocyanin is today used in the manufacturing of Mytesi (crofelemer), a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 for the treatment of HIV-associated diarrhea.

Wound Healing

Blood of the dragon may aid in wound healing, a claim long-held by practitioners of traditional herbal medicine in equatorial South America. When applied to the skin, the sap congeals to forms a protective seal over the skin. Blood of the dragon is also believed to contain plant-based compounds that speed the regeneration of skin cells.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine aimed to test the hypothesis in 60 people, ages 14 to 65, who had just undergone skin tag removal. Half were given a topical cream infused with C. lechleri sap, while the other half received an inactive placebo.

According to the researchers, those provided the C. lechleri topical cream experienced faster healing than those given the placebo, especially in the early part of the 14-day study period. After just three days of use, people given C. lechleri cream has 31.06% healing (as measured by area of exposed tissue) compared to only 4.74% healing in those given a placebo.

Blood of the dragon appeared to be well-tolerated among users with no notable side effects. The researchers believe that a compound in C. lehleri, called taspine, stimulates the production of fibroblasts (cells that produce collagen, the main structural protein in skin).

Cancer

Preliminary tests on animals and human cancer cells suggest that blood of the dragon may help slow the growth of tumors by inducing apoptosis. This programmed cell death is a naturally occurring event that allows old cells to be replaced with new cells—but one that does not occur with cancer cells.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology evaluated the effect of a C. lechleri extract both on human cancer cells in the test tube and in mice injected with the extract for 18 consecutive days.

What they found was that the C. lechleri extract was able to increase the level of apoptosis by 30% compared to untreated cells. This translated to a 38%, 48%, and 59% reduction in tumor size in mice based, respectively, on increasing doses. With that being said, moderate toxic effects were noted in all treated mice.

Further research is needed to test the safety of the injectable C. lechleri in humans and whether the same benefits can be achieved.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about the long-term safety of blood of the dragon. When taken by mouth, common side effects may include:

  • Flatulence
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Bronchitis

When applied topically, blood of the dragon may cause a burning or stinging sensation.

Blood of the dragon may also increase bilirubin levels in the blood, indicating liver inflammation. As such, liver function should be checked before beginning blood of the dragon supplements, as well as periodically during the course of use. People with liver impairment should use these supplements with caution, ideally under the care of a qualified physician.

Because blood of the dragon affects calcium channels, it may amplify the action of calcium channel blockers and increase the risk of side effects, including headaches, dizziness, flushing, and palpitations.

The safety of blood of the dragon supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children has not been established. It is always best to advise your doctor if you are using or planning to use blood of the dragon so that your condition can be monitored.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

In the United States, blood of the dragon is mainly sold in liquid extract or tincture forms. Dried C. lechleri sap is also available, as are oral capsules or tablets and topical soaps or creams. You may also notice blood of the dragon listed as an ingredient in certain higher-end skincare products.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of blood of the dragon. Some manufacturers endorse the use of blood of the dragon tincture for both topical and oral use; the safety of this practice is unknown. Others offer their tinctures purely for skincare purposes, which is generally safer.

Blood of the dragon capsules or tablets offer consistent dosing. Per manufacturers, they are generally dosed at 100 to 500 milligrams (mg) per day.

Because few manufacturers of blood of the dragon products voluntarily submit their products for quality testing, and such testing is not required by the FDA, it is up to you make an informed choice when choosing brands. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Always read the product label. It should say "Croton lechleri," not just "blood of the dragon." It should also state the percentage of C. lechleri in the formulation as well as any inactive ingredients (such as carrier oils or preservatives). If you don't know what an ingredient is, ask your pharmacist.
  • Buy organic. Organic goods are less likely to expose you to pesticides and other unwanted chemicals. In order for a product to be labeled organic, it must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Avoid wildcrafted products. These include powders, resins, and dried bark that are marketed as blood in the dragon in its "most natural form." There is no way of knowing if these products are contaminated or even authentic.
  • Don't assume that higher prices mean higher quality. Instead, follow the above guidelines and omit from consideration any product that doesn't meet these minimum requirements. If you're not 100% sure about a product, it is best not to use it.

Most blood of the dragon products can be stored safely at room temperature.

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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Highlights of Prescribing Information: Mytesi (crofelemer) delayed-release tablets, for oral use. Silver Spring, Maryland; 2012.

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